Historic UN climate change conference kicks off in Copenhagen
Copenhagen (Denmark), 7 December 2009 - The United Nations Climate Change Conference kicked off today in Copenhagen with a strong sense of confidence that countries can seal a comprehensive, ambitious and effective international climate change deal in Demark and with an unprecedented sense of urgency to act on climate change.
The highly anticipated conference marks an historic turning point on how the world confronts climate change, an issue with profound implications for the health and prosperity of all people.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen announced that 110 heads of state and government will attend the conference at its conclusion.
The Prime Minister pointed to the fact that climate change knows no borders. "It does not discriminate, it affects us all," he said. "And we are here today because we are all committed to take action. That is our common point of departure - the magnitude of the challenge before us is to translate this political will into a strong political approach," he added.
The two-week meeting, the fifteenth Conference of the 193 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the fifth meeting of the 189 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, is the culmination of a process set in motion in Bali, where Parties to the UNFCCC agreed to conclude negotiations on a new global deal in Denmark in 2009.
As the conference kicked off, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report with Lord Nicholas Stern showing that the gap between countries' strongest proposed cuts and what is needed may be only a few billion tonnes of greenhouse gases.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner arrived in Copenhagen on 5 December with the CO2-free Climate Express , a train from Brussels that brought together more than 400 activists, environmentalists and business leaders to discuss the challenges ahead to tackle climate change.
Other passengers on the train included James Leape, Director General of WWF and Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, Director General of the International Union of Railways. The Climate Express was welcomed upon arrival in Copenhagen by the new Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Lykke Friis, Søren Eriksen, CEO of the Danish Railways (DSB), and Kim Carstensen, Leader of WWF International's Global Climate Initiative.
Upon arrival in Copenhagen, Mr Steiner opened the UNEP Climate Maze, a giant labyrinth in the city centre made up of hundreds of cloth banners stamped and signed by Seal the Deal! campaign supporters. The accompanying photo exhibition, Hard Rain, is a stark exploration of the state of our planet and its people at this critical time.
The urgency to act in Copenhagen was underscored by Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who told the conference that global emissions would need to peak by 2015 for the world to stay below a two degrees Celsius temperature rise. "The costs of responding to climate change will become progressively higher as time goes on, therefore we must take action now," he said.
"We have reached the deadline and there is no going back", said newly elected COP President and Danish COP 15 Minister Connie Hedegaard. "Copenhagen will be the city of the three C's: 'Cooperation', Commitment' and 'Consensus'. Now is the time to capture the moment and conclude a truly ambitious global deal. This is our chance. If we miss this opportunity, we will not get a better one," she said.
UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer said there was unprecedented political momentum for a deal.
"World leaders are calling for an agreement that offers serious emission limitation goals and that captures the provision of significant financial and technological support to developing countries," he said. "At the same time, Copenhagen will only be a success if it delivers significant and immediate action that begins the day the conference ends."
According to the UN's top climate change official, negotiators must focus on solid and practical proposals that will unleash prompt action on mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries and capacity-building.
Yvo de Boer spoke of three layers of action that governments must agree to by the end of the conference: fast and effective implementation of immediate action on climate change; ambitious commitments to cut and limit emissions, including start-up funding and a long-term funding commitment; and a long-term shared vision on a low-emissions future for all.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an aggregate emission reduction by industrialised countries of between minus 25% and 40% over 1990 levels would be required by 2020 in order to stave off the worst effects of climate change, with global emissions falling by at least 50% by 2050. Even under this scenario, there would be an only a 50% chance of avoiding the most catastrophic consequences.
"Industrialised countries meeting under the Kyoto Protocol need to raise the level of ambition of developed countries with regard to individual targets and the need to make rapid progress on the tools and rules that developed countries can use to reach their targets, such as carbon market mechanisms, land use and land use change and new gases," said Yvo de Boer.
The UNFCCC working groups starting Monday will have six days to conclude negotiations before the Ministerial High Level Segment starts 16 December.
Ministers will then in turn have two days to take any unresolved issues forward before the more than 100 world leaders arrive the evening of 17 December. This means a total of eight negotiating days to prepare a workable package that consists of both immediate and long-term components which leaders can endorse on 18 December.
More than 15,000 participants, including government delegates from 193 Parties to the UNFCCC and representatives from business and industry, environmental organizations and research institutions, are attending the two-week gathering.