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CLIMATE CHANGE: Divide Before You Add

Analysis by Sanjay Suri

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland, Nov 6 2009 (IPS) - You could almost begin to divide the figures before you add them up. The numbers being advertised by way of aid to the developing world to contain carbon emissions do not quite add up. What is more certain is the division to follow.

The divisions are coming in many kinds, and at many levels, the last of which surfaced with the African delegate’s walkout at the pre-Copenhagen talks in Barcelona this week. The hope of overcoming such divisions, now redirected at the northern end of Europe at the G20 finance ministers meeting, is at best a weak one.

Few expect the G20 finance ministers meeting Friday and Saturday in St. Andrews, a pretty if desolate little town on the east coast of Scotland, to agree a financial package ahead of the climate change conference due in Copenhagen next month, which has been called to attempt a new agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol that ends in 2012.

The meeting at St. Andrews is an early test for the G20, hailed at the Pittsburgh summit in September as a permanent fixture – even a permanent fixer – for global problems. That worked to an extent over the financial crisis – everyone was agreed the markets should begin to move again as before, and the major developing countries needed that movement in developed markets to push their own exports and economies.

But the gathering in St. Andrews brings together the developed and the major developing countries as the opposites of old. Which then becomes the first big test for the resolve declared at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh: “We welcome the work of the finance ministers, and direct them to report back at their next meeting with a range of possible options for climate change financing to be provided as a resource to be considered in the UNFCCC (U.N. Framework Convention for Climate Change) negotiations at Copenhagen.”

The talks in Barcelona, the last official round before the Copenhagen summit in December, produced no agreement on targets for cutting carbon emissions – or any commitments on climate finance. Not many expect the same nations to find agreement a day later only because they meet under the umbrella of the brave new G20.

“But there are some signs that this meeting is more serious in terms of finance,” Dr Richard Dixon from conservation group WWF tells IPS in St. Andrews. “Even if they say they have discussed the new EU financing proposals, and if they can say they agree on a right kind of number, that will be good progress.”

That could then be built upon, says Dixon. It could also be significant if the finance ministers can discuss the role of the international finance institutions in handling the distribution of money. In the absence of any major breakthrough, campaigners say an advance on some specific aspects could be meaningful.

One of the best possible outcomes, says Dixon, would be for the ministers to bring together actions on the economic meltdown and the climate crisis. “Public money could go into new green projects,” he says.

Officials also expect the finance ministers to take forward progress made on some specific issues at the Barcelona talks, particularly consideration of some form of taxation on aviation and shipping to help some of the poorest countries.

The Barcelona talks also pledged new steps to curb deforestation. It does appear that governments are prepared to do something – so long as they do not have to foot a bill for it.

And this, when no one is looking at a particularly heavy bill. The take-off point for much of the talking is a new EU policy paper, and its nice round target of 100 billion euros (150 billion dollars) a year by 2020 for limiting emissions. A fund for which all, it says, but the poorest must pay. Which opens up the question no one has a clear answer to yet: would China and India be donors, or recipients? The first is hardly conceivable; yet “all but the poorest” must bring in those two as payers.

Keep those two out as donors, and count them in as beneficiaries, and the imagined sum total begins to get divided, in fact to disintegrate. For a start, the EU proposal suggests that governments would produce only about half that sum – and only if other nations make similar commitments. The rest would come from private sources, mainly the carbon trading scheme.

The promise that the carbon trading scheme holds to cut emissions is in severe doubt, and appears more uncertain than even the money it could hope to raise. The Friends of the Earth (FoE) international network argues that the scheme only shifts emissions from one location to another for a fee, and does little to reduce them.

“Relying on a dodgy market system like carbon trading to reduce emissions is irresponsible and dangerous,” the group says. “The EU must commit to cutting its emissions by at least 40 percent by 2020 at home by investing in renewable energy generation and slashing energy waste.”

And, it says, governments must pay, as those principally responsible for the setting up of polluting systems. Dividing up who may pay what, Britain, for instance, would have a national bill of less than a couple of billion euros a year. And only eventually, if at all. The U.S. would be expected to shell out ten times as much under the European proposal. In the U.S., that is considered inconceivable.

The EU has proposed no more than seven to 10 billion dollars towards that fund over the next three years. And several European countries, in Eastern Europe particularly, are declining to do even that. The share of each country in the 27-member EU would be very small. If a readiness for that too is not forthcoming, it becomes difficult to see what finance ministers could agree in St. Andrews by way of government pledges.

As seen from much of Europe, the U.S. on one side, and India and China on the other, are holding back a binding agreement. And the focus here is on those three, holding out steadfastly against binding international commitments to cut emissions.

Officials from these countries are certainly clear about the strength of their position, particularly after they agree to work together at these negotiations. “With India and China working together, we have a very strong bloc here that will be able to stand up to any pressure,” a senior official here told IPS.

“The two countries are not spoilers as some of the Western media are making out. We are only asking the developed world to meet their share of the responsibility.”

With a financing agreement looking more and more uncertain in St. Andrews, to seal the failure in Barcelona, everything points for the moment to a future along the lines indicated by the U.S, and by India and China – that national commitments, at least for the foreseeable future, may be the way forward rather than an international agreement.

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