Press Conference on UN Climate Change Negotiations, Prospects for Reaching Global Agreement

6 May 2009

Press Conference on UN Climate Change Negotiations, Prospects for Reaching Global Agreement

6 May 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




Seven months ahead of the deadline on a new international climate change agreement, Connie Hedegaard, Minister for Climate and Energy of Denmark, was in New York to press Governments to prepare for complex negotiations on an “ambitious and truly global deal”, scheduled for December in the Danish capital.

She said her goal in New York was to engage in dialogue with heads of Mission at the United Nations, and with the Secretary-General, on the importance of tackling the “crunch issues” of climate change -- financing for adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Ms. Hedegaard made those comments at a Headquarters press conference this morning on prospects for reaching a new global climate change agreement in December, where the fifteenth Conference of Parties to the United Nations Climate Change Convention (COP 15) is slated to meet from 7 to 18 December 2009, in Copenhagen.

Ms. Hedegaard, who will also chair the Copenhagen meeting, described the Secretary-General’s high-level climate change summit, planned for 22 September, as the “last chance” for political leaders to push for unity in Copenhagen, thus, setting the cue for negotiators in December.

“Prior to Copenhagen, the 192 Governments must make up their minds and their positions.  For them to do so, they must know all the potential elements for an agreement”, she said, explaining that those negotiations touched on difficult, technical issues in which even the ministries of development, energy, environment and finance in a single nation may hold overlapping interests.

She explained that a series of meetings taking place in parallel -- the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate Change, the Group of 8 summit in July, and the Secretary-General’s high-level meeting in September -- was ideal ground for building consensus among developed countries on climate change financing, so that the developing world would be more easily persuaded to mainstream climate resilience into their growth strategies.

“My reading is only if the developed countries, in good time prior to Copenhagen, manage to be clear on the message that, yes, they are going to deliver truly additional financing, and financing that does not have to be pledged on an annual or biennial basis ... only then can we expect developing countries to engage even more in this”, she said.

In her discussions with the Secretary-General, she said she had advised him to ensure that the meeting in September was a time for political leaders “to be forced into the crunch issues” and “to come up with very clear and strong signal to the negotiators prior to Copenhagen”.

She said she had sensed an improvement in political will to tackle difficult issues since the tense days of Poznań, Poland, where the most recent Conference of States Parties of December 2008 had taken place.

In particular, she remarked positively on the high priority given to climate change by the new United States Administration, which was creating new momentum for the global talks.  Addressing one reporter’s comment on that Administration’s “lack of specifics”, she conceded that it was “fair that a new administration will have to have some time to find its very detailed positions”, but added:  “I can already tell you at the meetings I’ve been in ... that it is so totally different the way this administration engages in the discussions.”

Ms. Hedegaard told correspondents that the first version of the negotiating text would reflect the outcome of deliberations already taking place, such as in Bonn this April where discussions were held on the possibility of creating a climate change mitigation registry, among other things.  Negotiators were expected to build on those agreements when they reconvene again in Bonn, in June.

Following those talks, she said the Government of Denmark planned to arrange a meeting in Greenland -- purposely chosen for its remote location -- where ministers from “crucial” countries would be asked to work through politically difficult issues.  That meeting would straddle the end of June and early July, just before the Group of 8 summit.

A minister from Saudi Arabia would be among those invited, she said, adding that she was impressed by the views of political leaders in the Middle East who were looking towards solar energy as a major element of their economy beyond oil.  Already, energy-efficient cities were being built in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.

Ms. Hedegaard then fielded questions on various countries’ positions on climate change-related issues, including on Australia’s decision to delay the start of carbon trading because of the economic crisis.

Defending the “cap-and-trade” emissions trading system -- popular in Europe -- she said she had yet to come across a better alternative for controlling carbon pollution.  And with the United States and Japan seemingly poised to follow suit, a series of cap-and-trade schemes across the world would make it possible to set a global price for carbon.  What remained was for the system to be refined, by making it less bureaucratic.

She explained that a global price for carbon would help address the argument brought up by producers in the developing world, such as China, which was selling products for consumption in developed countries and did not believe it should be fully responsible for the greenhouse gases being emitted.  “In the end, you have a ‘polluters pay’ principle”, she said.

Ms. Hedegaard said efforts were being made to provide poorer nations with financial assistance to boost their capacity to participate in the complex negotiations this December, to counter the clout of wealthier countries that could afford to send delegations that were 100-strong.

She recalled that, at one time, some developing countries believed that climate change was “a luxury issue” that could be attended to once other problems were resolved.  But now, those countries were becoming increasingly active in

integrating climate issues into their development plans, such as South Africa, which had developed a peak emissions plan and a strategy for tapering off its emissions without compromising economic growth.  India, meanwhile, was introducing building codes.

While most developing countries continued to maintain that developed nations must provide financing, she said she sensed a growing understanding within the developing world of their own part in dealing with climate change.

Ms. Hedegaard said countries should be made to feel that there was a political price to be paid for not delivering a successful agreement.  Referring to the intense negotiations in Bali two years ago over the climate change “roadmap”, which established 2009 as the deadline for a global deal, she said:  “Some countries argued they would not support this roadmap.  But, in the end, in the very last second, they changed their mind.  Why?  Because the political pressure was so immense that, in the end, no country dared to be blamed for not delivering.  And I think there’s a lesson to be learned from Bali in ’07 for Copenhagen in ’09.”

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.