There is a first time for everything. Tomorrow the world’s attention will be on the Chinese President Hu Jintao when he becomes the first top Chinese leader to address a United Nations conference on climate change.
Whilst many will see this as a positive step, there is no indication that Hu will announce any change in policy – that this is essentially a problem borne of the West.
This said, according to the Chinese media, Hu will use the speech to assure the world of China’s “resolve” to fight climate change and turn the change into a “win-win situation based on mutual benefits”.
Hu’s speech will not be the only one carefully watched tomorrow. According to press reports, Barack Obama will “renew his commitment to green America’s economy and join international action on global warming”.
Whereas Hu’s speech will grab the headlines, Obama’s will probably be more important for what he does not say, rather than for any meaningful sign of action. “Do not expect any bold action from Obama”, wrote the Observer yesterday.
Obama’s speech will not be able to hide the fact there is a growing diplomatic row about the US’s stance and whether the Obama Administration will finally grasp the nettle. The New York Times this morning reports how European leaders are “expressing growing unease” about the US’s “lack of political will … to adequately address climate change”.
This American reluctance to accept legally binding and internationally enforceable targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions could doom the Copenhagen session, argue the Europeans.
Although this kind of posturing is part of the Diplomatic cut and thrust that we can expect before Copenhagen, such public sentiments are a growing sign of European unease with the Obama Administration and the stale-mate in the Senate. This “lack of domestic consensus” in the Senate undermines the American chief negotiator, Todd Stern, and sows doubt about the ability of the US to keep to any pledges it makes at Copenhagen.
The Europeans are criticising the Americans over the “ambition gap” between the US and EU, where the US only discusses broad outlines of climate policy, but the Europeans have pledged to cut their emissions by 20 percent by 2020.
Frustrations with the Americans are beginning to show: John Bruton, the European Commission ambassador to the United States, was less diplomatic in a statement on Thursday. “ Is the U.S. Senate really expecting all the other countries to make a serious effort on climate change at the Copenhagen conference in the absence of a clear commitment from the United States?”
Unless the US and EU can come to a common ground, China will not come on board. And without China, any deal is worthless.
Already – some three months before Copenhagen – the media pundits are beginning to write the conference off.
One commentator in the Times last week wrote: “The Copenhagen tourist board is facing a PR disaster. Its symbol is the small copper statue of the Little Mermaid, but after December the city is likely to be better known as the place where the world failed to agree a deal to prevent catastrophic climate change.”
The trouble is, to most people failure is not an option. The UN’s slogan for this conference is “Seal the Deal” and they have to make sure that a meaningful deal is signed….