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Copenhagen Climate Summit 2009

The UN climate change conference in Copenhagen has one critical goal: a global treaty to help cut carbon emissions to levels that will prevent dangerous rises in global temperatures and catastrophic climate change.

That deal must set goals for cutting global CO2 emissions: some say a 50 percent reduction by 2050 is enough to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, others argue 80 percent is necessary.

Politicians must also decide from when emissions cuts will be measured: will it be 1990 as under the Kyoto Protocol, or later? The “baseline year” will impact massively on the cuts individual countries have to make.

For instance, using 1990 as the baseline year Russia is a model for CO2 reduction because its heavy industries collapsed after the fall of communism. A later baseline year would force Russia to make deeper cuts because Russia's emissions have risen in recent years as the economy recovered.

The deal will also have to determine who will do the cutting. The Kyoto Protocol required only 37 developed nations to cut their carbon emissions. That is why the U.S. and Australia rejected Kyoto arguing that economic competitors like China and India got a “free ride”.

Developing countries responded that rich countries got a free ride for 150 years of industrialization; so they must cut first and cut the most.
To break the resulting deadlock, several things must happen in Copenhagen:

1. There must be agreement between the U.S. and China. Together they account for over 40 percent of emissions. Without them, no meaningful deal can be done

2. Rich countries must agree to significant, legally binding, and verifiable cuts in emissions, both in the medium- and long-term.

3. Emerging nations must take the first steps towards curbing their emissions in the medium term as a precursor to joining a long-term regime.

4. The rich world needs to transfer money and clean technology to developing countries to help them reduce their emissions

5. Rich countries must provide money and technology to assist the developing world to adapt to unavoidable climate change

So what are the chances of a deal?

Barack Obama’s election makes agreement more likely, but the new U.S. administration and Congress may not decide its climate policy in time. China now acknowledges it must cut its emissions, but Beijing (and the rest of the developing world) expects rich countries to jump first.

The EU has responded with a plan to reduce emissions by 20 percent by 2020, with a provision for 30 percent cuts if the rest of the world joins in. Yet the global economic crisis forced the EU to provide loopholes for heavy industries, carmakers, and coal-dependent countries.

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