Doing the Deal

Key Elements for a Copenhagen Climate Agreement
Reading time: 21 minutes
13 December 2009

Negotiating a new global deal on climate change has proved to be one of the most complex international processes in recent history. There are uncertainties over what countries are willing and able to do, the ability of cost-efficient technologies to deliver the needed emissions cut and the timing and cost of the effort required. And yet the political will to secure a strong agreement in Copenhagen is clearly in place.

At the heart of the deal is the question of how collectively we put global greenhouse gas emissions on a path that minimises the risk of dangerous and irreversible climate change. We know the technologies and policies needed to achieve this and we know the reductions that are required by 2020, the first milestone along the way. Delay is not an option, as this would require much sharper cuts in emissions in the future that would be more difficult to achieve, both politically and economically. 

All major countries have now made ambitious pledges to reduce their emissions over the next decade. Although these are not yet quite good enough to secure a safe climate path, they constitute a major step in the right direction. Agreement in Copenhagen should at least ensure that the most ambitious of these pledges are translated into action, while negotiations should continue to find ways to bridge the gap between these pledges and what is ultimately needed. We cannot allow the desire for a perfect deal to delay the vital opportunity we now have to move forward. 

Once a start has been made in making the necessary cuts, it is likely that they will be neither as hard nor as expensive as feared. Scaling up the low-carbon technologies we already have will bring costs down, drive further innovation and improve public acceptance of the changes needed. Therefore, to enable targets to be strengthened in the coming years, governments should put in place mechanisms that will allow ambition levels to be raised. These include: 

  • Setting themselves longer term targets, such as for 2025 or 2030, that will create political certainty and point out the long-term path; 
  • Establishing a review mechanism that will be able to recommend deeper cuts, based on the latest scientific, technological and economic knowledge, with a first review in 2015; 
  • Agreeing to develop Low Carbon Growth Plans that help as yet unidentified emission reduction opportunities to be uncovered; 
  • Providing financial support for a fast start that enables immediate emissions reduction and builds the capacity for them to be scaled up. 

Financing will also have to be made available, in particular to support mitigation efforts in developing countries. Here it is important that public money is used to maximise private sector investment. Deep and broad international carbon markets will play a crucial role in directing this investment towards the best opportunities. While short-term funding cannot be a substitute for more substantial flows later on, a real commitment to a fast start, backed by new public money, will be the catalyst needed to put the agreement into action. 

A deal is there to be had: now is the time to grasp it. 

Facebook icon
Twitter icon
LinkedIn icon
e-mail icon
Google icon