Editor's blog: Wonderful Copenhagen?

Posted: 21 November 2009

Where are we on the road to Copenhagen - with the final round of global climate talks, in December, now only a few weeks away? Not very far, according to reports from the latest preparatory meeting, in Bangkok. The words 'stalemate' and 'recrimination' sum up the mood of observers at the meeting.

The key stumbling block seems to be a complete breakdown in trust between the United States and the EU on one side and the developing countries on the other. It looks as if the US will only come on board if a brand-new agreement replaces the Kyoto framework - an agreement which puts no serious money on the table to help the poor countries adapt to climate change and allows countries to set their own targets for emission cuts. That, say developing country delegates, and most NGO observers, is irresponsible and unfair. See Bangkok climate talks end in recrimination.

The hope is that President Obama, newly elevated by his Nobel Peace Prize, will lead the way in personally attending the Copenhagen talks, bringing others in behind him - and that some unforeseen act of statesmanship will bridge the divide between rich and poor. As George Soros said on announcing a $1 billion gift for his Climate Policy Initiative "Global warming is a political problem. The science is clear; what is less clear is whether world leaders have the political will necessary to solve the problem." See George Soros pledges $1 billion to search for clean energy.

Some take hope too from what is happening outside the conference chambers. Lester Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute and never known as an optimist, believes the US is on the edge of a massive reduction in carbon dioxide emissions as clean energy moves ahead in that country. With carbon emissions down 9 per cent in the last two years (partly as a result of the recession) he says they have now permanently peaked. The car fleet is shrinking by around 2 per cent (or 4 million vehicles); 22 coal plants are set to close while over 200 wind farms came on stream or are under construction this year and last. There are big gains in auto efficiency as hybrid and all-electric plug-in vehicles take to the streets. See US carbon emissions drop by 9 per cent.

Canada's largest solar farm
Canada's largest solar farm
Canada's largest solar farm is now producing power in the township of Stone Mills, near Napanee, Ontario. With more than 126,000 solar panels deployed across 90 acres, this farm is expected to generate more than 10 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of renewable electricity in its first year - enough to power 10,000 households.
In Canada, Ontario has taken a green lead by phasing out all coal-powered electricity generation by 2014 and investing heavily in renewables, alongside hydro and nuclear energy. See Ontario on course for greener future. China, the world's biggest greenhouse polluter (in total but not per capita terms) also leads in renewable energy. With about 12,000 megawatts of wind energy already installed observers predict it will exceed 100 gigawatts in wind energy capacity by 2020, and dominate the wind turbine market. See China steps up drive for green energy. The United Kingdom has seen the proposed Kingsnorth coal powered station and the third Heathrow runway put on hold following massive protests, while the government has set itself a legally binding target to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. See UK coal power station shelved.

But, as the first annual report by the UK Commission on Climate Change found, targets are no good without action, and with emissions reductions of 3 per cent a year needed to meet the UK long-term goals, the recent annual falls of half a per cent look feeble indeed, not to mention the carbon displacement effect of all those Chinese imports. See Call for 'step change' in UK emissions reduction. Nor can one witness the continuing boom in coal use worldwide, or the energy-guzzling and polluting oil sands exploitation in Alberta, with much sense of hope: Canada's oil sands outpace carbon emissions of European countries. Something much more far reaching in the scale and pace of change is needed - not only in Copenhagen but around the world - if the future is, indeed, to be sustainable.

John Rowley