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The Copenhagen climate change conference: An illusion of action

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin) - The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, did not go as expected. It became clear a week before it ended on December 18 that a new global agreement to combat climate change beyond 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires, will not be signed.

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin) - The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, did not go as expected. It became clear a week before it ended on December 18 that a new global agreement to combat climate change beyond 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires, will not be signed.

Failure to make a definitive diagnosis and prescribe measures to rectify global climate change, although not a problem for the present generation, may spell tragedy for those who will live in the 22nd century.

The Copenhagen conference was nothing more than a lively seminar on the subject, which is also good, because the international community has admitted that the air is a common heritage and must be clean everywhere, and that when the air is sweet in Switzerland but not in Romania, this is not entirely Romania's problem.

Other such meetings should follow the Copenhagen conference (COP15), which is expected to adopt a political declaration or a joint statement on Friday. Another conference may be held in six to twelve months to adopt specific commitments to cut CO2 emissions formulated in accordance with international law.

This is the most the world could expect from COP15. However, expectations were fanned to an incredible height during the two years before the conference in Copenhagen. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon even warned that failure in Copenhagen would have a "potentially catastrophic consequence."

Against this backdrop, the events that happened in the Danish capital between December 7 and 18 were a complete disappointment. No agreement was signed, the CO2 country ceilings were not approved, allocations approved for the emerging nations are only 25% of what they need, China and India refused to make any practical commitments, and the pledge made by the United States should make this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner feel ashamed.

The South has again quarreled with the North, and China and India are furious because they are said to bear equal responsibility for the world's miner's lung disease with the United States and the European Union.

In fact, the conference participants have only agreed that the planet's temperature must not be allowed to rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2050, and decided to set up an international fund to decrease deforestation, to which Britain, Norway, the U.S., Japan, France and Australia pledged to allocate $3.5 billion in 2010.

In the past 50 years, the area of the planet's arable land and tropical and rain forests has decreased 30%. Scientists say that deforestation is the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, generating 15%-20% of overall carbon emissions. If left intact, these forests could absorb such emissions.

The conference in Copenhagen could have been a big success if it were presided by Hans Christian Andersen, a 19th century Danish novelist, fairytale writer and poet. Indeed, it is going to take nothing short of magic to find a quick and safe way from fossil fuels to environmentally safe sources of energy.

The international community has never before aspired for a change on such a biblical scale, and it is not clear if it is ready for it. To attain this goal, the world should overhaul its economic traditions and convince billions of energy users, who are also taxpayers, to stop wasting energy. Any politician who dares to do this may face political suicide, which makes the choice especially difficult.

This is why all presidents and prime ministers from industrialized countries made only such promises in Copenhagen as would not damage their careers or health. Strangely, many people expected a miracle from U.S. President Barack Obama. Indeed, he is a hero compared to his predecessor, George W. Bush, who never attended international climate change meetings.

However, Obama's promise to cut his country's CO2 emissions by 17% by 2020 is unrealistic, because the United States takes the 2005 level of emissions as the point of departure. However, its cuts will be only 4% compared to 1990, the starting point accepted in the EU, which has promised to cut its CO2 emissions by 20% and possibly even 30% if the emerging nations, the U.S., China and India make commensurate pledges. Japan and Russia have also promised to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 25%.

The problem is that from 1990 to 2005 the United States increased its CO2 emissions by 18%.

The United States has not become a different country with the election of Obama. Americans have always been rather skeptical about the Old World's proposals. Only 45% of them think that the problem of global warming needs emergency measures, which is 23% less than the average in Europe. And another 43% of Americans think the problem is grossly exaggerated. Obama will have to take this into account if he has re-election plans.

Russia has benefited the most from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and also stands to benefit the most from a Copenhagen deal. Russia and Ukraine could not use all the emission quotas set for them in the Kyoto Protocol because their industries were at the disintegration point. Russia was even allowed to sell unused quotas to the countries that have exceeded their quotas, and would like this provision to be sealed in a new deal that may replace the Kyoto Protocol.

Russia may increase its CO2 emissions by 30%, and Ukraine by 50%, by 2020, or sell the unused quotas. If it sells all of them, the global emissions will rise 15%.

At a pre-Copenhagen meeting between members of the Russian Academy of Sciences and President Dmitry Medvedev, one of the scientists said that an offensive was being launched against the rights of hydrocarbons-producing nations. "The offensive is spearheaded at the countries that have oil and gas," he said.

As usual, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez caused an uproar in Copenhagen by telling assembly: "If the climate were a bank, a capitalist bank, they [the rich countries] would have bailed it out." And he is absolutely right about that.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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