Monday, September 10, 2007

The Sydney Declaration that nearly wasn't

The historic Sydney Declaration on climate change adopted by APEC over the weekend nearly didn’t get over the line.

The Canberra Times understands that just hours before the declaration was unveiled by the Prime Minister on the shores of Sydney Harbour China’s President Hu Jintao was uncertain about whether to commit to it.

It took the leaders meeting itself to get the President to agree to the statement that his officials had helped draft.

The content of the draft was only agreed between officials at 6.00pm the night before with the final wording decided at 11.30pm.

Officials involved in the drafting were relieved and pleasantly surprised when the leaders meeting adopted the draft unaltered...

Malaysia and the Philippines also objected to the draft, in particular to the idea of an aspirational target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions that to which both developing and developed countries would be committed.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, ratified by developing countries and by developed countries other than Australia and the United States, only developed nations face emissions targets.

The Sydney Declaration opens the door for targets to be applied to developing nations including China and India for the first time.

The Prime Minister expressed irritation at yesterday’s post-APEC press conference when asked by a Japan’s Fuji TV whether there had been any point in agreeing to an “aspirational goal” that was neither enforceable nor applicable to specific countries.

Mr Howard said he and Australia’s negotiators had achieved the maximum that anyone could.

“What one has to do is find the maximum that individual countries can agree to at the present time, take that, bank it and then move on to something further in the future,” he said.

Anyone who higher goals was “either ignorant of what was achievable. or setting those goals for purely political reasons without any regard to the merits of what is involved”.

He said that just months before the meeting he was doubtful that he could achieve an agreement. “But we did. I don’t want to overstate it, but it is a step forward. To get China, Russia, the United States - the major polluters - agreeing on the need for an aspirational gaol is a big step forward”.

The US was reluctant until two months ago. As recently as one year ago it had argued publicly that the UN had no role in climate change negotiations and that there was no need for an international agreement to succeed Kyoto.

Like China, the US was concerned that a worldwide “aspirational target” would inevitably lead to specific country-by-country targets.

Officials taking part in the negotiations agree, saying that if the post Kyoto agreement is to embody a global aspirational goal, as the 21 APEC leaders now say it should, the next question will be what that goal will be. The question will be decided on the science, with the likely target being a cut in global greenhouse gas emissions of at least 50 per cent by 2050, perhaps as much as 80 per cent.

An aspirational cut that big will necessarily require nations such as the US and China to volunteer specific binding targets.

The Prime Minister yesterday indicated that that was his thinking saying that he saw the process as a series of steps.

“At each of these meetings you should try and take the process a step forward. You should try and get as much as you can realistically hope to get given the nature of the meeting and the circumstances of the time. If we keep building on the previous agreements and we keep moving forward, we’re going to achieve something”.

Indonesia is understood to overcome its previous oppositional to the concept of an aspirational target because it wanted an agreement in Sydney that would give it something to build on when it hosted a UN meeting on climate change in Bali later this year.

China is thought to have agreed in order to achieve consensus at APEC and because of the emphasis in the declaration on technology as a means of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. If China was able to replace much of its energy generation equipment with Japan’s technology it could cut its greenhouse gas emissions dramatically without scaling back its economic growth.