With less than two months to go for a big climate change summit here in the Danish capital, the planet's future hangs in the balance as countries continue to bicker about who should cut carbon emissions and by how much.
A preparatory meeting in Bangkok last week widened differences between rich and poor countries instead of bridging them, as emerging economies like China and India accused the West of forcing them to agree to binding targets.
"The climate change negotiations are dangerously close to deadlock," warned European Union (EU) President Jose Manuel Barroso at a global editors' forum here this week.
The EU has committed to reduce its carbon emissions to 20 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020. Japan has said it will reduce its carbon emissions by 25 per cent, Norway by 40 per cent and Australia by 24 per cent. The US, which did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, is now willing to go up to 15 per cent but wants countries like China and India to agree to similar targets.
China has overtaken the US with 24 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions. The US is responsible for 22 per cent, the EU 12 per cent and India 8 per cent of global carbon emissions. Scientists say the world must halve its emissions by 2050 to cap global warming at only 2 degrees Celsius.
The annual per capita emission of carbon by Indians is only 1.6 tons, whereas an average European emits 18 tons and an American 25 tons. But 90 per cent of the increase in emissions is coming from countries like China, India, Brazil and Indonesia. Cuts only by rich countries, therefore, will not be enough to keep global temperature increase to within 2 degrees by 2050.
Indian state minister for the environment, Jairam Ramesh, accuses the West of trying to scrap the Kyoto Protocol, which requires rich countries to meet targeted cuts and emerging economies to undertake domestic cuts. "The trust has broken down and the EU is now trying to accommodate the US," Ramesh told the Copenhagen editors' forum. "There will be no deal in Copenhagen in December if they dump Kyoto and try to make a new deal."
Ramesh says India is preparing domestic legislation for mandatory fuel efficiency standards, an increase in solar and wind energy to meet five per cent of its energy needs and the conversion of half of all coal-fired plants to 'clean coal' technology. But it will not accept internationally imposed cuts. For its part, China is unilaterally planning to move away from coal and source 15 per cent of its energy supply from renewables like wind and solar by 2020. However, China imports half its daily oil needs and this demand is growing. Chinese negotiators have also rejected internationally agreed targets, preferring national mitigation action. But unlike India, China is poised to cash in on green technology and hopes to become the world's biggest producer of photovoltaic cells, electric transport and batteries.
Economist Joseph Stiglitz says it is clear that China and India can't try to imitate US consumption patterns. "If they do," he said this week in Copenhagen, "the planet is doomed."
Despite disagreements over the details, there is an emerging consensus among negotiators about the steps ahead:
* Rich countries must commit to deep cuts to compensate for their historical carbon emissions.
* Emerging economies must announce unilateral cuts, with international financing for the conversion to clean energy.
* Most vulnerable countries need help to adapt to the effects of sea-level rise and melting ice.
* We need to set up a system for measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) to make sure nations stick to their commitments.
Denmark's environment minister, Connie Hedegaard, says she is encouraged by a growing political consensus and the voluntary carbon cuts announced by countries. "We are waiting for the US to take the lead, and I think it is now do-able politically," she said.
Everyone is an island
Smack in the centre of Denmark and at the geographic centre of Europe, the little island of Samso has turned itself into a zero carbon destination in the last decade.
Not only has this bucolic farming settlement of 5,000 people switched over completely to wind and solar energy, it is exporting electricity to the Danish mainland. If Samso were a microcosm of the Earth, the planet would already be out of its climate crisis.
An island that in 1997 relied entirely on fossil fuel imports now has 11 wind turbines that meet all its electricity needs, heating is provided by a combination of solar thermal and burning biomass, and offshore wind farms export power, compensating for the fossil fuel that is still used for cars and ferries.
Says Samso resident Jesper Kjems: "It worked because the community got involved, and the people got involved because they saw the benefit to themselves, not because they'd be saving polar bears in Greenland."
Greenhouse gas emissions from industrialised countries increased in 2007
According to the UN Climate Change Secretariat in Bonn, greenhouse gas emissions from industrialised countries increased in 2007, continuing the upward trend of the previous six years.
Data submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) show that greenhouse gas emissions of the 40 industrialised countries that have reporting obligations under the Convention rose by one per cent from 2006 to 2007. The 2007 emissions of this group of countries are about four per cent below 1990 levels. But there was overall a three per cent growth in emissions in the period from 2000 to 2007.
For the smaller group of 37 industrialised countries that have targets under the Kyoto Protocol, emissions in 2007 were almost the same as in 2006 (+0.1 per cent). This figure is around 16% below the 1990 Kyoto baseline for industrialised countries with targets. However, much of this reduction comes from the economic decline of economies in transition (countries in eastern and central Europe) in the 1990s and since 2000, the emissions have also been growing for this group (+3 per cent).
"The continuing growth of emissions from industrialised countries remains worrying, despite the expectation of a momentary dip brought about by the global recession," said Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC.
"So the numbers for 2007 underscore, once again, the urgent need to seal a comprehensive, fair and effective climate change deal in Copenhagen in December," he added.
The UNFCCC secretariat has also released a report with summary data on transactions conducted in 2008 by industrialized countries in the course of implementing the market mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol. According to this data, industrialized countries have 55 billion tonnes of Kyoto Protocol units in their accounts. Some of these units were already traded among countries in 2008, and trading is expected to increase significantly in the coming years.
"It is exciting to see how the carbon market evolved in 2008. I am sure that such data will become more conclusive as we move closer to 2012, the final year of the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, and will show how policies and measures of the countries that have ratified the Protocol bear fruit," said Mr. de Boer. "However, the ultimate size of the carbon market and its effectiveness to reduce global emissions will depend critically on the level of ambition shown by industrialised countries in Copenhagen," he added.