The U.N. climate chief has a message for naysayers about the Copenhagen climate conference next month: It will succeed.
Yvo De Boer, the U.N. official who is shepherding the talks, sought to assure reporters Thursday that the long-anticipated United Nations-led meeting Dec. 7-19 isn't a failure even before it's started. In large part, he said he was responding to news coverage that increasingly emphasized the long-shot odds for a deal, particularly given the lack of U.S. commitment to any specific targets.
He vowed Copenhagen "will be the turning point" when words turn to action globally to begin reducing carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases — and a fuller treaty can be worked out by six months after the meeting.
"There is no doubt in my mind that it will yield a success," de Boer said. "Almost every day now we see new commitments and pledges from both industrialized and developing countries."
But he acknowledged that prospects for a binding global climate pact among 192 nations remain elusive just 17 days before the start of the climate talks.
An authoritative U.N. panel of climate experts says developed countries must cut greenhouse gas emissions between 25 percent and 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to avoid a catastrophic rise in sea levels, harsher storms and droughts and climate disruptions.
In the U.S. Congress is considering measures that would cut emissions either 17 percent or 20 percent from 2005 levels, the equivalent of at least 3.5 percent from 1990.
The U.S. and China account for about two-fifths of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
The European Union has said it will cut emissions 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 — and would increase that to 30 percent if other regions also agree to major reductions. Russia and Japan are promising a 25 percent cut below 1990 levels over the same period.
Also Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for all countries to fix binding climate change targets next year. In a joint press conference at an EU leaders' summit in Brussels with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Merkel said the two leaders worried that ambitions for countries to agree on cuts to greenhouse gas emissions at Copenhagen "seem to have shrunk."
De Boer called for a similar U.S. commitment to specific targets and, citing widespread mistrust in the developing world of global financial structures, outlined three main goals for the global conference.
First, industrialized nations "must record in black and white" their individual targets to reduce emissions, "and that list of targets must of course include the United States," de Boer said. Second, the Copenhagen deal must clarify "the scope and extent of developing country engagement," he said.
Third, he said, it also must provide specifics on how rich nations will provide financial support on a short- and long-term basis for poorer countries to prepare for and adapt to climate change.
"To my mind, rich countries must put at least $10 billion on the table in Copenhagen to kick-start immediate action," de Boer said. "And they must list what each individual country will provide and how funds will be raised to deliver very large, stable and predictable finance into the future, without having to constantly re-negotiate the commitments every few years."
International climate negotiators have said they are now striving for a political agreement instead of a new treaty to allow the U.S. and other rich nations to make commitments that are not legally binding.
De Boer said he hoped it would take no longer than a half-year to fill in the details.
"Remember this a process which is about fundamentally changing the direction of global economic growth, and I think that world leaders would like to do that at a speed that they feel comfortable with," he said.