Tough Slog Ahead to Fulfill UN Climate Summit Promises

Sept. 24 (Bloomberg) — After the protests, speeches and
corporate pledges, world leaders ended the United Nations
climate summit facing as tough a slog as ever to get a deal on
cutting greenhouse-gas emissions.

U.S. President Barack Obama and more than 100 other world
leaders promised to seek a global agreement addressing climate
change. They took the stage yesterday to lay out how rising
ocean levels, intensifying cyclones, record flooding or hotter
heat waves threaten their nations.

“The alarm bells keep ringing. Our citizens keep
marching,” Obama told the delegates at the UN in New York. “We
cannot pretend we do not hear them.”

What those warnings left unaddressed is how the nations
will resolve their longstanding differences and secure an accord
to cut emissions by the end of next year, the agreed upon
deadline.

“The key, difficult negotiating issues for the new
international agreement are all still before us now,” Peter
Ogden, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in
Washington, said in an interview. The center is a research group
founded by associates of former President Bill Clinton.

At the heart of earlier disputes were demands from the U.S.
that large developing nations such as China, India and Brazil
agree to cap and reduce their emissions, just as rich nations
said they would do. Obama made it clear that he would not back
down from that demand.

No Passes

“We can only succeed in combating climate change if we are
joined in this effort by every nation — developed and
developing alike,” he said. “Nobody gets a pass.”

Following the breakdown in negotiations at a UN meeting in
Copenhagen in 2009, and the failure by the U.S. to adopt the
1997 Kyoto treaty, analysts were looking to China and the U.S.
to see what each could offer.

Combined, they account for about 45 percent of global
greenhouse-gas emissions.

Developing countries want rich nations to pay billions of
dollars to help them boost renewable energy and address the
problems of global warming. Those pledges remain largely
unfulfilled, although French President Francois Hollande pledged
$1 billion, matching a similar pledge from Germany. The U.S.
hasn’t pledged a contribution yet.

“For the negotiations, that is critical,” Ogden, a former
Obama administration official, said in an interview.

The brainchild of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, the
daylong summit was designed to create momentum for negotiations.
Negotiators are next set to meet in Lima in December. Obama
urged nations to issue their pledges for future emissions cuts
early next year.

300,000 Marchers

The discussions inside the UN followed marches by more than
300,000 people through Manhattan on Sept. 21, the largest social
protest in the last decade. Marchers included former vice
president Al Gore, actor Leonardo DiCaprio and, even, the UN
leader himself, Ban.

Protesters “asked me to bring their voices into the halls
of the United Nations, and that’s what I’ve done,” Ban said.

Companies brought their voices, too, with some saying
they’d act on their own to preserve forests, reduce methane
leaks and swap out the use of potent hydrofluorocarbons. More
than 1,000 corporate leaders signed on to support a tax or cap
on carbon, an action World Bank President Jim Kim called
remarkable.

Cargill Inc. joined with other makers of palm oil to pledge
that their production of the commodity won’t lead to
deforestation, and said its pledge on that commodity will be
matched by similar efforts on the other crops it buys.

Statoil ASA joined with five other companies in saying it
would limit the methane emissions from its oil production. And
Ikea Group, the world’s largest home furnishing retailer, and
insurer Swiss Re Ltd. led a group of companies promising that
they would phase out use of fossil-fuel energy in the coming
decades.

Action Taken

In addition, the U.S. government announced that companies
would begin phasing out hydrofluorocarbons, which are short-term
but intense warming compounds used in air conditioners and
refrigerators.

During the summit, Obama highlighted steps the U.S. is
already taking to cut carbon-dioxide pollution from power plants
and reduce funding for overseas coal projects as a demonstration
of the commitment of the world’s largest economy and second-largest emitter.

“He made it clear the U.S. is serious about fighting
climate change through major cuts to our carbon pollution,”
Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense
Council, a New York-based environmental group, said in a
statement.

Power Plants

Last year, Obama issued a climate-action plan, vowing the
first regulations limiting greenhouse gases from power plants, a
cut in U.S. government financing for overseas coal plants and
accelerated progress on efficiency standards for everything from
microwave ovens to walk-in freezers. The power-plant rules, the
centerpiece of his plan, were proposed earlier this year and are
set to be completed next June.

Taken together, the combination of Obama’s regulations,
cheap natural gas and the 18-month recession that ended in 2009
mean the U.S. is on course to hit the 17 percent reduction in
emissions that Obama had pledged to the UN in 2009.

China, which has displaced the U.S. as the top emitter, was
represented by Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, who pledged that it
would cap its emissions. At previous summits, China had promised
only to reduce its rate of emissions.

“A peak is an absolute limit,” said David Waskow of the
World Resources Institute, a Washington-based research group.
“Obama and Zhang served as bookends, showing the two largest
emitters are ready to act.”

China’s Emissions

Last week, Chinese officials vowed to cut carbon emissions
per unit of gross domestic product by 50 percent by 2020 from
2005 levels. The National Development and Reform Commission said
it will reduce consumption of the most-polluting forms of coal
and stabilize emissions from the steel and cement industries.

“China will advance a revolution in energy production and
consumption, cap total energy consumption, raise energy
efficiency and vigorously develop non-fossil fuels,” Zhang
said.

Following the breakdown in negotiations at a UN meeting in
Copenhagen in 2009, and the failure by the U.S. to adopt the
1997 Kyoto treaty, analysts were looking to China and the U.S.
to see what each could offer.

Combined, they account for about 45 percent of global
greenhouse-gas emissions.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Mark Drajem in New York at
mdrajem@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Jon Morgan at
jmorgan97@bloomberg.net
Justin Blum

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