Divergence of world leaders' views laid bare FRANK McDONALD, Environment Editor, in Copenhagen- Irish Times Saturday 19th December 2009

THE WIDE divergence of views among world leaders on how to tackle global warming was laid bare at yesterday’s plenary session of the UN’s climate change summit, when several of them – including US president Barack Obama – took the podium.

Danish prime minister and conference president Lars Lokke Rasmussen said the level of political commitment “has never been higher”, with the presence of world leaders showing that it was “no longer just an issue for environment ministers”.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said the summit was “one of those rare and defining moments in history”, and he implored 115 heads of state or government to “seize this opportunity” to show leadership. “This will be your political legacy for all time.”

Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao said he was “deeply aware of this heavy responsibility”, saying the measures China had announced “will require tremendous effort on our part”. But it was “inadmissible” for other countries to “turn a blind eye to their historical responsibilities”.

Brazilian president Luiz Lula da Silva detailed what his country was already doing to reduce its own carbon emissions, including a pledge to reduce deforestation in the Amazon by 80 per cent by 2020. It was spending $16 billion a year on its programme – “not an easy task”.

Speaking without notes, Mr Lula said this was to show the rest of the world that bargaining alone would not produce a good result in Copenhagen. “All of us could offer to do a little more if we had goodwill here,” he added. “But it seems necessary for us to play a game.”

He recalled that when he was elected president in 2003, he pledged that every Brazilian would have “breakfast, lunch and dinner every day”. And now he said Brazil was willing to “tap money to help other [poorer] countries” – a pledge that won widespread applause.

In his eagerly awaited speech, Mr Obama said: “I come here today not to talk but to act.” But he made no announcement that the US offer on emissions reduction commitments would be increased – a position strongly criticised by environment groups such as Greenpeace International.

He stressed that all major economies would have to be “transparent” in reporting on progress. “I don’t know how you have an international agreement where we all are not sharing information and ensuring that we are meeting our commitments. That doesn’t make sense.”

This was directed at China, in particular. The Chinese government has vehemently opposed verification of the implementation of its commitments on sovereignty grounds. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said on Thursday that this could be a “deal breaker”.

Referring to this and other crunch issues, Mr Obama said: “We know the fault lines because we’ve been imprisoned by them for years.” No country could get everything it wanted, but if they were all prepared to embrace an accord they could take “a substantial step forward”.

If they chose delay, “falling back into the same divisions that have stood in the way of action for years,” he warned, “we will be back having the same stale arguments month after month, year after year – all while the danger of climate change grows until it is irreversible.”

Lesotho’s prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili said he had come to Copenhagen “hoping that the international community would live up to historic responsibility to take landmark decisions to save the planet from the inevitable doom of the impacts of climate change”.

To say he had been disappointed would be an understatement, particularly after two years of hard negotiations since the Bali climate conference in 2007. “We still have no agreement on a legally binding regime in the spirit of the Kyoto protocol,” Mr Mosisili complained.

India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh described the talks as “tortuous”, while Russian president Dimitry Medvedev said the issues were “complex” and Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi stressed that the two-degree target should be reviewed in 2014.

Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama said leaders would have to “leave their egoisms aside” for the sake of protecting “our beautiful planet” for their grandchildren. If they could not make a deal, it would be “a disgrace to the world indeed”.

He pledged that Japan would “spare no effort” in seeking a global deal and he would be personally involved in that effort. What he envisaged was a “comprehensive new legal document, possibly by the middle of next year”, although this would be a “hard task” to achieve.

José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said the negotiations were “perhaps the toughest we can remember”. Although the EU had fought for an “ambitious outcome”, it was “now obvious that we will not get all we had hoped for, but a critical milestone.”

Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, said money earmarked for wars “should be used to save lives” – a point made by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who described the US offer of $10 billion a year in climate aid as “laughable” in the context of its $700 billion annual defencebudget.

The Irish Times - Saturday, December 19, 2009