World leaders are to meet in copenhagen - what are the big issues?

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The April 2009 meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – the body overseeing global climate negotiations – ran over eleven days, with thousands of pages of proposals reviewed. Many are not exactly bed time reading. With 192 countries involved in the discussion, achieving consensus on a new climate deal in Copenhagen is not going to be easy.

So there’s no doubt that the Copenhagen discussions are going to be huge. Significant concessions will be needed and a final agreement will see significant new financial and institutional structures established. Joint Implementation and Clean Development Mechanism projects are likely to look small by comparison.

All of this provides significant opportunity for business. Opportunities to build competitive advantage. Opportunities to respond to changing carbon finances quicker than others.

This paper sets out WSP’s view of the six big areas that Copenhagen delegates will need to agree in December. We’ll revise this document after each of the five summits leading up to the main conference. This edition includes the progress made during the April 2009 Bonn summit.

Issue 1 – what does success look like?
The UNFCCC is clear that ‘deep cuts’ have to be made in global greenhouse gas (CO2e) emissions and it appears clear that the commitments will need to be made by 2050. But how deep is deep? The ambitions of countries today range from ‘aspirational’ to ‘achievable’ and from ‘comprehensive’ to ‘not undermining global economic development.’ This will be the first question to answer.

Long term stabilisation targets still range from between 450 and 350 parts per million of CO2 equivalent (ppm CO2e). This compares with current levels of 430ppm CO2e today.

Alternative approaches that could be agreed by way of long term goals include specific targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from current levels (likely) or agreeing a limit to the global average temperature increase to between 1.5 and 2oC above preindustrial levels (less likely).

Issue 2 – how much will industrialised countries agree to reduce their emissions by?
The UNFCCC has suggested that the 40 developed countries (Europe, USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand) commit to reducing CO2 emissions to between 25 and 40% below 1990 levels by 2020. This could be further matched by a longer term 2050 commitment to reduce emissions by 85% from 1990 levels.

Most developed countries have made national commitments already to reduce their CO2 emissions, but these are in nearly every case significantly less ambitious than the UNFCCC’s headline request. Typical commitments are around 15-16% reduction from current levels, although some countries, such as Ukraine, have made no carbon commitment. There will also be variations in the base year used to calculate emission changes and the extent and calculation used to measure emissions. All of these will need to be agreed. We also expect significant negotiations in agreeing how a headline ‘developed country’ target will be allocated between the 40 developed nations. Each country will have different circumstances and different ambitions.

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