Saw points

by Sarah Barnett / 12 June, 2010
Public opinion on climate change has plummeted, making progress difficult.

Perhaps the greatest casualty of last year's Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is not a binding treaty, low-lying islands or reality, but trust. Public opinion on climate change has taken a dive, and the relationships between negotiating nations, particularly along the rich-poor divide, are far from healthy.

A poll German magazine Der Spiegel conducted found that 42% of Germans believed in man-made climate change, down from 62% in 2006. A February BBC survey found just 26% of Britons believed, down from 41% just over a year earlier.

In late April, Australia put its plans for an emissions trading scheme on hold - just a few years after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was elected on a largely environmental campaign. And now New Zealand's scheme is raising hackles here.

Developing nations were left with no option in December but to accept the low emissions reductions that most of the developed world pledged - had they continued to hold out after the walkout the G77 staged during negotiations, they would have been held responsible for killing the agreement. So they held their noses and swallowed - many are still discussing the bad taste it left in their mouths.

But nothing builds trust like opening the chequebook, and after six months of post-Copenhagen wound-licking, the next lot of climate meetings is under way, beginning with something positive at last. While Norway was celebrating winning the Eurovision hosting rights for this year, the Oslo Climate and Forest Conference made massive headway into further curbing deforestation. About a fifth of the world's emissions - more than all non-aviation transport emissions put together - are thought to be a result of deforestation, so the UN programme Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (Redd) has been a vital part of negotiations. Although Redd looked in danger of being held hostage by the outcome at Copenhagen, instead beneficiary countries have reaped a windfall.

On the eve of the Oslo conference, Norway announced a US$1 billion investment in deforestation, essentially reversing the status quo in which, as Norway's president says, "trees are worth more dead than alive". Philanthropy has also played a part: US billionaire investor George Soros committed US$50 million of his own to the fight. Total international commitments are expected to reach US$5 billion. Within a day of Norway's announcement, Indonesia agreed to a two-year mora­torium on deforestation.

A temporary end to deforestation on the Indonesian archipelago is stunning news. Despite barely charting for its emissions from fossil fuels, Indonesia is the world's third-biggest emitter, almost entirely down to its steady loss of trees. But despite this, finance is likely to be a sticking point in talks to come. Rich countries may have committed US$30 billion for the next two years to help poor nations combat climate change - an amount that will eventually rise to US$100 billion a year by 2050 - but as long as those rich countries face their own monstrous debt problems, it's doubtful that funding will be forthcoming.

So, what's next? At the end of this month, Ottawa will host the G8 and G20 summits, whose security costs alone are already topping C$1 billion. Whether this will stop climate change getting a look-in is unclear, but with Canada openly reneging on its Kyoto obligations and gearing up a massive industry around extracting oil from tar sands, it doesn't look good.

The next UNFCCC summit is in Cancún, Mexico, in December and will be the first under new executive secretary Christiana Figueres from Costa Rica. That Figueres - who has been around the traps as a negotiator - comes from a developing nation is expected to go a long way to mending some ties. But just a year after that meeting, the first Kyoto protocol commitment period will be up - and if nothing is in place by then, the last chance really will have slipped through our fingers. What happens in Cancún will be the best indicator of what shape the final negotiations will take next year.

Indonesia's forests have been granted a reprieve - time to do the same for the rest of the world's resources, trust included.

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