Copenhagen climate change negotiations at risk

24 August 2009

Equity is critical, and the world cannot solve the issue of climate change without the participation of all nations, including developing countries, argues Associate Professor Harald Winkler of the Energy Research Centre at UCT.

At an open discussion, Aiming for Copenhagen: Discussing climate change negotiations, held on 5 August, Winkler said the shared vision suggests that the developing world and the industrialised countries "are in the same boat". All need to do more, with developed countries still needing to take the lead.

The potential difficulty with reaching agreement in the next United Nations Climate Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark in December is the fact that the developing nations are least responsible for climate change, but are most vulnerable to its impacts.

"But what can the international community do?" he asked. "The underlying question of responsibility is not an easy one. If Bangladesh is flooded, who bears the costs of re-locating that population?"

Winkler said the developing countries' economies depend on both fossil fuels and forestry activities, and need technological, financial and capacity-building support from the developed world.

The Copenhagen summit will follow similar events in Bali two years ago, in Montréal in 2005 and in Kyoto and Rio De Janeiro in 1997 and 1992, respectively.

Expectations are for an agreement that will help reduce temperatures to below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, to avert the worst risks of climate change.

Plans for adaptation and mitigation - and for the implementation of these plans - will be on the agenda for the summit, said Winkler, who will be part of the South African delegation.

However, Winkler was pessimistic that a break-through would be made at the summit, but said a foundational agreement was still in reach.

"A weak agreement is the worst possible outcome," he explained. "No deal is better than a bad deal."

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