Yvo de Boer
Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Yvo de Boer: Exclusive Interview

By interview by Lanre Akinola | Published:  31 March, 2010

“If you know, as I know, that 85 percent of the investments in the energy sector, which is responsible for 80 percent of emissions, are going to have to come from the private sector, it really is critical that we bring more of that private sector perspective into building a climate change regime”

Last December’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, more commonly known as the Copenhagen Summit, may have failed to produce a comprehensive, legally binding treaty on climate change mitigation. However, Yvo de Boer, the outgoing executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, argues that the political significance of the summit should not be underestimated, and suggests that it lays important foundations to be built on at the next meeting in Cancun, Mexico, in November 2010.

The summit produced the Copenhagen Accord, a document drafted in the dying hours of the conference by the United States, China, India, Brazil and South Africa, which calls on each of the 193 nations present at the negotiations to submit voluntary pledges and national targets on emission reductions. The document was noted by the conference, but not formally adopted, and has been widely criticised as doing little to move the negotiating process forward. Critics have focused on the fact that it is not legally binding, and that it was drafted by no more than a handful of countries.

“I had not expected an agreement on a legally binding treaty in Copenhagen,” says Mr de Boer, although he acknowledges that he “would certainly share the sentiment that more needs to be done, that more has to be done.”

However, he is quick to add that “the package of decisions which I hoped would be agreed in Copenhagen – on rich country targets, developing country engagement, on finance and on reformed governance – was brought to near finalisation.” While disappointed by the failure to formally adopt the accord, he considers it to be “a very strong base for Mexico to build on and move forward.”

Mr de Boer points to the fact that since the Accord was drafted in December, close to 60 countries – accounting for almost 80 percent of global energy related CO2 emissions – have submitted voluntary national targets for emission reductions. “That I think is a very clear indication that the world, including Europe, the United States and major developing countries like China, India and Brazil are firmly committed to moving on this topic through national targets and plans.”

The fact that China, India, Brazil and South Africa were involved in the drafting of the Accord is an equally significant development. A major sticking point for international climate change negotiations has been disagreement between industrialised nations and major emerging economies on emission reductions. The former have insisted on strict targets, which the latter have rejected on the basis that these would seriously curb the growth potential of their economies.

Prior to the conference, China, India, Brazil and South Africa formed the so called bloc of “Basic Countries”, committing to act jointly at the climate summit – and potentially staging a united walk-out if their common minimum position was not met by industrialised states. This raised the prospect of a breakdown in the style of the Doha Round of trade talks. In the end, this was avoided, and Mr de Boer insists that “we’ve broadened the scope of action from only developed countries to include developing countries as well.”

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