PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago, November 30, 2009 (ENS) – Climate change dominated the meeting of Commonwealth heads of government that concluded Sunday in Port of Spain with a statement of support for an international legally binding agreement in Copenhagen next month.
The Commonwealth leaders declared, “We pledge our continued support to the leaders-driven process guided by the Danish Prime Minister and his efforts to deliver a comprehensive, substantial and operationally binding agreement in Copenhagen leading towards a full legally binding outcome no later than 2010.”
The Copenhagen meeting, taking place from December 7 through 18, aims to forge an agreement on greenhouse gas emissions limits after the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period expires at the end of 2012.
Limits must be strict enough to avert the worst consequences of global warming that are already being felt in extreme weather events, droughts, floods, melting glaciers and polar ice caps and rising sea levels that threaten to swamp coastal communities and small island states.
Queen Elizabeth II arrives in Port of Spain. (Photo by Kenroy Ambris courtesy Commonwealth Secretariat)
An intergovernmental organization of 54 independent member states, all but two of them formerly part of the British Empire, the Commonwealth countries include major economies: Australia, Canada, India, Malaysia, and South Africa, as well as developing countries in Africa and Asia, and small island states in Oceana and the Caribbean.
Of the 49 countries that attended the meeting, 34 were represented by their heads of state or government. The opening ceremony featured an address by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Head of the Commonwealth.
Representing a third of the world’s population in all continents and oceans, and more than one quarter of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the parent treaty behind the Kyoto Protocol, the government leaders declared, “Science, and our own experience, tells us that we only have a few short years to address this threat.”
“The average global temperature has risen because of the increase in carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions,” they said. “We must act now.”
UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, “I think the great thing about the Commonwealth conference is that we could find nations that were rich and poor, nations that were facing directly now climate change and nations who were debating it but hadn’t felt the full impact of it, all coming together to agree something that, you know, if a third of the world can agree at the Commonwealth conference, then perhaps the whole of the world can agree at Copenhagen.”
In their declaration, the Commonwealth leaders approved “fast start funding” focused on the most vulnerable countries. Prime Minister Brown proposed the fund so that the fight against climate change could begin immediately.
Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd, left, and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown (Photo courtesy Office of PM Brown)
The Copenhagen Launch Fund would start in 2010 and build to a level of resources of $10 billion annually by 2012 with 10 percent of it dedicated to small island states. It would support climate adaptation, reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and clean technology.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told reporters, “When we talk about the need for a fast-start fund for adaptation purposes, as well as mitigation purposes, it’s to provide the immediate resources necessary for a number of those states to deal with the real challenges that their populations face in the here and now, starting in 2010, 2011, 2012, before, in fact, the post-Kyoto agreement would kick in.”
Rudd said it is “practical and necessary” to have the deployment of that fund measured in terms of its effectiveness.
The Commonwealth declaration avoided setting a numerical limit to global temperature rise, saying only, “We stress our common conviction that urgent and substantial action to reduce global emissions is needed and have a range of views as to whether average global temperature increase should be constrained to below 1.5 degrees or to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”
Holding out for a perfect deal in Copenhagen could result in no agreement at all, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned at the Port of Spain meeting on Saturday, calling on all governments to get behind a deal that is as ambitious as possible but also has broad international support.
“Many refer to a 2-degree limit, while for you, the most vulnerable countries, a safe level means staying below 1.5 degrees centigrade. That said, we face a simple reality – if we delay for perfection, we risk ending up with nothing – no agreement at all,” Ban cautioned.
Ban told delegates that momentum for a deal in Copenhagen, where at least 80 world leaders are expected to attend, was strong and continuing to grow.
“The world has never before witnessed this level of political engagement on climate,” Ban emphasized. “We will not get a better chance any time soon.”
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been under pressure at home and abroad to offer substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Originally bound by the Kyoto Protocol, Harper backed away from Canada’s commitment soon after he took office in February 2006, saying it was not doable.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Photo courtesy Office of the PM)
Canada is among the top 10 polluting nations in the world and has the worst record on reducing domestic emissions among G8 nations.
The Harper government aims to lower Canada’s greenhouse gases 20 percent from 2006 levels by 2020. The mid-term goal is to drop emissions 60 to 70 percent below 2006 levels by 2050.
Harper told reporters in Port of Spain that Canada’s goal for reducing greenhouse gases is “virtually identical” to the target proposed by the Obama administration so that Canada would not be at a disadvantage compared to its biggest trading partner.
Yet Canada has been criticized for using a later base year than other countries. The United States uses 2005 as the base year for its offer of a 17 percent emissions cut, while the Europeans use 1990 as their benchmark year, when global emissions were lower.
Harper said, “We’ve been through the exercise in the past decade or so of setting targets that were idealistic or blue sky and no one went out and actually achieved them, or set targets that look great on paper and didn’t actually require any effort.”
“So I think modest, achievable targets, particularly in the short term, will get the planet on the right track, which will allow us to make a longer-term transition,” the Canadian leader said.
Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh, left, with Prime Minister of Malaysia Dato’ Sri Najib Mohd Razak (Photo courtesy Commonwealth Secretariat)
As a developing country, India is not bound to set a greenhouse gas emissions target, but Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh said India has adopted what he called an “ambitious” National Action Plan on Climate Change with eight national missions covering both mitigation and adaptation. “We have not made their implementation conditional upon obtaining international support,” he told the meeting, and India “can certainly do more if there is a supportive global regime.”
“Each of the national missions, including those on renewable energy, enhancing energy efficiency and expanding forest cover, are platforms on which we would be happy to pursue cooperative partnership with sister Commonwealth countries,” Singh said.
He said the government of India welcomes the proposal made by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown for the mobilization of at least US$100 billion by 2020 for supporting climate change action in developing countries and the priority Brown has given to the needs of least developed countries and small island developing states. “However,” Singh warned, “much of this finance is market based and hence subject to market volatility and unpredictability. We can hardly plan long-term action on this basis.”
Prime Minister Rudd said that at this point he still wonders whether or not a meaningful agreement will emerge from the Copenhagen meeting. “I can’t predict the outcome, but can I say there are, there are available to us the resources, the political will and the policy instruments to craft an effective Copenhagen agreement. It’s there. We can do it.”
“The question between now and December 17 and 18 is one of political will,” said the Australian leader. He said Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen’s process, backed by the UN secretary-general and heads of government, including himself, is to try and craft that.
“There’s a lot of opposition around the world, there’s a lot of indifference around the world. The international legion of climate change sceptics is still at work around the world,” said Rudd. “But we intend to give it our absolute best.”