22nd Oct 2020

UN climate chief: 'The world is waiting for the EU'

  • Amazon rain forest: one of the "lungs of the world" (Photo: leoffreitas)

UN climate chief Yvo de Boer has said that a strong global agreement is still possible at the international climate summit in Copenhagen in 13 days' time, but the EU must "provide clarity" on its negotiating position to make it happen.

"The EU has been at the front of climate change policy, but leadership is about courage to storm the final breach," the Dutchman and secretary-general of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change told reporters in Brussels ahead of the last meeting of EU environment ministers before the Copenhagen climate conference.

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Mr de Boer - in many ways, the referee keeping an eye on the talks - gave one of the most straightforward assessments yet on the state of play of the difficult negotiations, saying that Europe's leadership on the issue was slipping and that much depended on what the bloc did in the next few days.

"The EU must be clearer now about what it has in its final hand and put that final hand on the table," he said. "Significant public money is needed and the world is waiting for the EU to commit to concrete financial numbers."

"The EU has not yet been entirely clear on its level of financial support, both in terms of start up and long-term funding.

"Europe is still leading within the group of industrialised counties. Having said that, I also find the recent Japanese [-25%] targets to be incredibly ambitious," he added. "The actions that China has put in place, already, are also a strong sign of leadership."

Last week, Brazil announced it would work to achieve a 40 percent reduction below "business as usual" and South Korea announced a 25 percent reduction target. Russia, for its part, has also said it would cut emissions growth by 22 to 25 percent.

To reach an agreement in Copenhagen, Mr de Boer listed a series of specific shifts in the negotiating positions of the different parties.

Above all, rich countries need to declare clear emission reduction targets, he said.

They must also commit "very large" sums to the global south for mitigation and adaptation efforts. These sums must be "stable and predictable" so that the third world can move ahead "without having to constantly re-negotiate the burden sharing every year."

He reckoned this amounted initially to at least $10 billion a year in immediate financing for the 2010-2012 period, but that the global south ultimately would need around $200 billion to mitigate carbon emissions and another $100 billion for adapting to the effects of climate change.

The north must also list what each country will provide and how funds will be raised.

This is in line with what developing countries are demanding. Bridging the gap with richer countries that have balked at promises of such huge amounts, he suggested that the larger figures are for "longer term" action. How the $10 billion was used over the next three years would indicate to both north and south what sort of sums for mitigation and adaption were actually needed.

Finance governance

Mr de Boer added that there remained a lot of mistrust about how such climate finance monies would be distributed.

"The developing world does not trust the existing multilateral financial structure, which was put in place a long time ago after World War Two, since it does not reflect current economic and political realities," he said.

Developing countries are afraid that cash channelled through existing financial institutions such as the World Bank will require them having to go cap in hand with privatisation plans or economic austerity measures in order to access the monies they say they are owed - a "climate debt" as it is called. They would prefer that the funds be distributed under the aegis of Mr de Boer's own UNFCCC, which they trust more.

"Maybe [climate finance] should be through both the World Bank and the UNFCCC. The key is that developing countries have a clear say how money is dispersed. If they are in control of setting financial parameters, it is less important who holds the money."

He also emphasised the importance of technology transfer - a key demand of China - necessary to "start to put developing countries "on a clean growth path."

Developing countries for their part are allowed to increase their emissions but are expected to try to limit this in some way. In return for the climate cash, they need to list the actions they are going to implement to try to put a break on their emissions growth.

The 'lungs of the world'

Finally the UN climate chief said that immediate action on how to preserve and sustain forests is needed. "If the lungs of the world collapse, the rest will die."

As for a timeframe, he felt that a strong agreement was still achievable in Copenhagen, even if not a legally-binding one. He felt this was acceptable so long as the world's nations only took another two months to "turn that into treaty language."

The EU has said this could take up to another year.

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