On 2 December, the EU presented a chart officially resizing US pledges to cut CO2 emissions. Obama’s efforts, Brussels gives to understand, are massive compared to 2005 levels (-17%), but minute (-3%) by EU standards based on 1990 pollution. It is clear to the EU, which is calling for an at least 20% reduction, that Washington should do a lot more.

Judging from the latest reports from around the world, other countries feel the same way too. Also on 2 December, India announced that by 2020 it might be able to downsize its carbon intensity – i.e. the ratio of greenhouse gas emissions to GDP – by 24% on 2005 levels. Brussels has already said the Chinese pledge to double Delhi’s carbon intensity reduction is still “peanuts”. In a word, Brussels can’t get no satisfaction. And as if this news weren’t bad enough, another chart making the rounds of the European Commission shows that, if policies remain unchanged, developing countries’ CO2 emissions in 2020 will be more than twice their current levels and actually outstrip emissions in advanced economies.

The Brussels targets are precise. The Copenhagen Conference should insist that greenhouse gases peak within ten years and adamantly reaffirm the will to halve emissions by 2020 compared to 1990. Easier said than done, however. EU sources say China, India, Brazil and South Africa have submitted a joint document to the EU opposing both of those targets. Moreover, they refuse to limit global warming to a maximum of 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures. In other words, we are far, if not worlds away, from an accord that would satisfy hardcore environmentalists.

No Kyoto 2

The Commission admits “there is little likelihood in Copenhagen of achieving a fully-fledged agreement on a binding treaty”. So we need to start working on four elements of a climate package: finding a consensus on the two-degree threshold; signposting emissions reduction commitments that are both ambitious and compatible; putting together a budget with agreed measures to jump-start implementation; and reaffirming the need for a binding legal treaty to be finalised in mid-2010 at the already scheduled Bonn Conference. All that, it adds, considering that “a rehashing of the Kyoto Protocol is not the answer”, if only because “America won’t sign it”. A different signal has come from Australia, whose senate has rejected the Labour government’s emissions trading scheme for the second time in a row. So prime minister Kevin Rudd will be showing up at Copenhagen empty-handed – and may face early elections.

Italy is not in as much of a hurry. The environment ministry says it would rather spend the next 12 months working on an agreement to be clinched at the December 2010 conference in Mexico City. But the World Wildlife Fund sorely wishes Italy and the rest of the world were more motivated. The environmental organisation says the planet has already exceeded by 40% its carbon dioxide limits compared to 1990, the reference year for the Kyoto Protocol. There is no time to lose, warns the WWF: “We are in the most delicate phase of negotiations and the only thing that can change the situation is public opinion.”