The global warming community have suggested for a while now that, given the almost-certain change in US administration policy on global warming (remember John McCain’s position), the conference of the Kyoto Treaty parties in 2009 at Copenhagen would result in a sea change in global action on greenhouse gas emissions. Copenhagen would produce a new treaty, son-of-Kyoto, that would have full US participation, set stringent and enforceable emission limits aimed at getting the world to the sort of emissions levels some scientists demand, and start to involve the developing world in emissions reductions.
This is not going to happen.
For a start, it looks like US policy is going to concentrate on getting a domestic settlement in place before agreeing to any international action other than the traditional “agreeing to agree.” Secondly, with the world in financial chaos, governments are going to look askance at any possibility of deep emissions cuts in the short term because they know how costly that will be (the recent EU agreement – in actuality an agreement for just 4% cuts by 2020 – is a great example). This will make the drastic emissions cuts supposedly necessary in the medium-term well-nigh impossible to achieve. Finally, developing countries have consistently stated that they will not take on any emissions reductions, demanding the developed world move first. Yet even if the developed world reduces its emissions to zero by 2050, the developing world will have to keep its emissions at around today’s levels to meet just a 50% global reduction by 2050. That represents a reduction from expected developing world emissions of 57%. To meet the 80% reduction demanded by most scientists will require a severe reduction in emissions from today’s levels that represent widespread energy poverty.
So despite the optimism, a genuine international agreement looks some way off. Copenhagen will doubtless be sold as a triumph, but in reality the world will be no closer to a genuine, binding international agreement than it was in 2001.