Alexander Stathakis, Project Manager of the Sustainable Business Unit, on the UNFCCC Conference in Copenhagen.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting to be held in Copenhagen next week will be a critical step in developing a global response to the threat of climate change as a result of human activities. The Copenhagen meeting is the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, also known as COP15. The UNFCCC currently has 192 parties.
The overall goal of the conference is to establish a new global climate agreement for the period from 2012 onwards when the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol expires. The Kyoto Protocol, which sets binding emission reduction targets, was adopted in late 1997 and entered into force in 2005. Since then, 187 countries have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol.
The aim to reach agreement in Copenhagen is the result of the 13th Conference of the Parties in Bali in Indonesia in 2007. It took place shortly after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Fourth Assessment Report. The IPCC report found that the signs of anthropogenic climate change are unambiguous: rises in temperature, sea level rise, more heatwaves, droughts, and flooding, the destruction of ecosystems, and a lack of drinking water. More recent climate science shows that these trends are now even happening stronger-than-expected and sooner-than-expected.
In light of well-recognised climate science, countries negotiated and agreed to the Bali Action plan. The plan acknowledges the dangerous anthropogenic interference with Earth's climate systems. It outlines that further delays in international efforts to limit the emissions of greenhouse gases will increase the risk of consequences being even worse. It was further agreed that any future agreement needs to be based on a long-term shared vision of increased mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation to climate change, technology transfers and development, and financing these efforts.
In 2008, the 14th Conference of Parties in Poznan, Poland, already agreed on principles of financing for a fund to help developing nations cope with the effects of climate change.
With the Bali Action Plan there was also recognition that 2009 represents more or less the last chance to achieve a global agreement, if this agreement is to be approved and ratified in time for it to come into force after 2012.
Tackling climate change effectively can seem overwhelmingly difficult. There is no single treaty or technological "silver bullet" that will quickly and painlessly transform contemporary business and society. As a starting point, long-term targets for emission reductions are essential if a runaway effect of dangerous climate change is to be avoided. The most important task is to start the journey towards a low carbon economy now. Obviously, the technicalities of the negotiation process will be extremely complex, but that should not and cannot be an excuse for not striking a global, binding deal. It is not going to get any easier - or cheaper - by postponing decisions.
Will Copenhagen deliver a solution? Hopefully, it will close with agreements on political essentials, such as a commitment to emission reductions by industrialised countries, a commitment to reduce the growth of emissions in India and China, and how to help and finance climate change mitigation efforts in developing countries.
Business and society need to shift towards a low carbon economy. Offsetting can no longer be the only way of getting out of obligations. Postponing determined action will only increase the risks to future generations. While no single meeting can transform the world, the Copenhagen Conference offers a unique and timely opportunity to start such a transformative journey.