Copenhagen 2009

, by Stefano Rossi, Translated by Manuela La Gamma

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Copenhagen 2009

The future of the planet is to be discussed from the 7th to the 18th of December in Copenhagen. The problem being, the actors and the stage are totally wrong.

The environmental issue, especially the climate one, has gradually become over the last thirty years a topic strictly intertwined with the right to development and the global economy. The international dimension of this phenomenon is known to everybody; it is not by chance that almost each and every great challenge of globalisation is dealt with on the basis of the principle of a sustainable economic growth.

However, the climate issue is marked not only by regional interdependency, so that every possible solution to the problem should be carried out on a global scale. What is more, the approach to this problem should be diachronic, other than global. The consequences of the choices made by every States are not limited only to the “here and now”, but have a strong impact on all the inhabitants of the world, both the current ones and the future ones.

Let’s just consider the emblematic speech given by the twelve-years-old Severn Suzuki during the 1992 Conference on Climate Change, addressed to all the leaders of the world, where Suzuki stresses her willingness to live, once grown up, in a healthy environment: the very same environment where past generations had lived.

To this many-sidedness of points of view on the right approach to the issue, we should add the difficulty to find efficient solutions also in relation to strictly intertwined problems, from global warming to deforestation, from industrial pollution to protection of the variety of living species. All of these are sides of the same multifaceted and sometime unintelligible conundrum.

Considering the deep complexity of the above mentioned problem, the world is struggling to find possible solutions. Governments are burdened with a high responsibility: every failure goes to detriment of future generations. So far, we cannot state that nothing has been done, starting from the fact that international organisations have become deeply aware of the problem – at least officially.

In 1992, the United Nations have drawn up the UN Convention on Climate Change, which pinpoints that global warming, due to an excess of greenhouse gas emissions, is the key problem of the whole environmental issue.

The Convention has the merit to admit that not all the States are on a level-playing field; in particular, it states that some of them have exploited natural resources and caused high levels of air pollution, often damaging the proper development of some regions.

By saying so, the industrialised Countries are deemed highly responsible in solving the problem by means of clauses of pressing emission cutting, while there are not binding restrictions on Developing Countries (DC). One of the mechanisms used in order to combine the right to development of Developing Countries with the right of every man to live in a healthy environment, adopted by the Kyoto Protocol (Art. 12), is the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

Developed Countries can play a strong influence on Developing Countries, thus obtaining a cleaner environment to be polluted with a clear conscience.

This means allow enterprises of industrialised countries to carry out projects aiming at reducing the greenhouse emissions in developing countries without binding restraints. By doing so, the right to development is safeguarded; therefore, it becomes sustainable within developing countries. At the same time, those firms burdened by emission caps can save up “emissions credits” consistently with the environmental capital gained through the implementation of the above mentioned project. Although the 14th of April, 2008 the CDM celebrated its 1000 programme, on the one side the experts maintain that the above mentioned tool all in all has had a weak impact on the emission cutting.

On the other hand, another sensitive topic is the principle of additionality, which, by binding the certification of the project to a “real” emissions cutting, i.e. additional in comparison to a scenario where the project is not implemented, makes its authorisation quite harsh.

On the one side, many of the industrialised countries (first and foremost USA) are not happy with the diversification of emission caps among the Developed Countries of Annex 1 and Developing Countries, because, in their opinion, its side effects are the frustration of international competition rules and the fact that the provided tools are not very alluring for the enterprises.

On the other side, it is undeniable that some of the Developing Countries nowadays show a level of economic development that has been constantly increasing over the last ten years (e.g., Brazil or China).

How can be utterly sure that unburdening these giants of binding emission caps is the right answer? On the contrary, the inclusion of Developing Countries in the Annex 1 would expose them to the market of emissions credits, therefore allowing industrialised countries to buy their “right to pollute”, other than damaging the sustainability of their development.

The difficulty to plan global efficient solutions is somehow relieved by regional actions: European Union, through the 87/2003 Directive, has enforced a sort of internal emissions trading system, confident in the choices made by firms. In particular, this system provides a sanction directly proportional to those emissions that have not been offset by an emissions credits acquisition at the end of the year.

The 15th COP (Conference of the Parties) that will be held in Copenhagen on December 2009, subsequently to the 1992 Convention, is of the utmost relevance, because it could lead to a change, or even the abrogation of the Kyoto Protocol, that to date represents the most relevant international tool for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The previous negotiations have failed to reach a definitive draft and have highlighted a strong resistance of the Developing Countries to the abrogation of the Protocol, which protects them from the risk of emission cutting.

It could be risky to roll over terms and responsibilities of the implementation of the goals of the Convention; however, nowadays it seems necessary. In any case, doubts and difficulties surrounding the Conference are unavoidable.

Firstly, there will be represented 192 States, each and every of them sticking to their claims and problems, sketchily divided by the traditional watershed of Developed Countries and Developing Countries. This situation cannot but make negotiations even more complex and give birth to diplomatic dynamics quite far from the protection of the environment. We should hope that States could put together their interests firstly at the level of macro-regions, and EU should give a strong impetus to this process.

Furthermore, it is necessary to create a permanent structure, bestowed with its own powers and financial resources, in order to monitor and foster bolder and stronger projects for emission cutting. Such a body could award credibility and authority to the environmental issue in the world of big multinational companies and international financial institutions.

Against the diplomatic and the intergovernmental backdrop, the Developed Countries can play a strong influence on Developing Countries, thus obtaining a cleaner environment to be polluted with a clear conscience. Let’s just take the USA as an example: they took part in Kyoto’s negotiations, and then they refused to ratify the Protocol: they shared the benefits and burdened other counties with the costs. The new American Presidency shall take a serious and responsible stance, as well as EU shall play its role, speaking with one voice.

The risk is that Developing Countries will pay for this situation: when the Titanic sank, lifeboats were reserved only to first-class passengers.

 Environmental challenges, source: google images

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