Rich countries need to lead the way in climate fight – UN Envoy

16 March 2010 12:23  [Source: ICIS news]

AMSTERDAM (ICIS news)--UN Special Envoy on Climate Change Gro Harlem Brundtland said on Tuesday she is optimistic that climate talks set for Mexico in November will prove more fruitful than last year's stalled talks in Copenhagen.

World leaders left Copenhagen without a bind treaty to cut global greenhouse gas (GHG) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Talks stalled around how far individual countries should lower their pollutants and how much developed countries should pay for helping their poorer neighbours reach emissions targets.

Now going into Mexico, representatives will have “more than a hundred” emission reduction commitments filed with the UN, while negotiators will have had a year to prepare for financial negotiations, Brundtland told reporters on the sidelines of the World Biofuels Markets conference.

“Maybe I'm too optimistic, I think in a few months, as governments hold important meetings before heading to Mexico, I think climate change discussion will turn around,” Brundtland said. “It won't look as negative as it does at this moment.”

Financing has been a major sticking point in negotiations. Mexico recently blasted the US, EU and Japan for not quickly following through on the first third of the three-year, $30bn (€22bn) pledge to developing countries they made at Copenhagen.

Brundtland said the UN would also form a panel, possibly including UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, to tackle the financing issues.

“Long-term and short-term financing will be available in Mexico, no doubt,” she said.

Developed countries will have to offer more technological and financial assistance to poorer countries if they hope to reduce global emissions and stave off climate change, Brundtland said.

“It is essential that developed countries show that low carbon growth is possible,” she said. “If they do not switch to a low-carbon economy, they cannot be asking developing countries to do so. Only when low carbon growth is shown to be affordable can we expect to change course. Then developing countries should receive financial help to adopt latest technologies.”

Brundtland also said that the marketplace will have to play a larger role in staving off climate change, but that companies could find profit in doing so. Companies looking to “stay ahead of the curve” will look towards investing in money-saving efficiencies, she said.

In fact, the global economic downturn that started in 2008 may have actually pushed more companies to consider green technologies, Brundtland added.

“The financial crisis may have helped companies to clean up the environment. Companies looking to cut costs may invest in more efficient technologies that will save them money in the long run.”

The International Energy Agency has forecast that increased energy efficiency will account for about half of all emissions reductions by 2030.

Another key step in meeting the scientific community's goals for greenhouse gas (GHG) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would be a switch from coal to cleaner-burning fuels such as natural gas, Brundtland said.

Crude oil and coal can no longer drive our development,” she said. “Increased imports of natural gas to Europe could provide a net cut in total CO2 emission of 90m tonnes/year. This is twice Norway's output of CO2.”

Two problems arise in trying to increase natural gas usage in Europe, however.

One is that most supply comes from Russia, which does not always enjoy warm relations with western Europe – the country has been known to cut off supplies to countries it may be feuding with.

Another is the low cost of the fuel, which may hamper long-term investment and wider distribution in the region, Brundtland said.

“In going from a coal and oil fired world, nat gas is part of the solution. The prices in gas are so low that there's no investment in it. It has damped the whole outlook.”

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By: Ben Lefebvre
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