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Interview of Ambassador of Denmark to the European Union; His Excellency Mr. Poul Skytte Christoffersen

His Excellency Mr. Poul Skytte Christoffersen
His Excellency Mr. Poul Skytte Christoffersen
CFO-news : Your Excellency could you please explain what COP 15 means ?
His Excellency Mr. Poul Skytte Christoffersen : It does not mean Copenhagen 15 but the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP). The objective of each conference has been to discuss how to lower the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Y.E. the choice of Copenhagen has the heart of this most important forum is more than adequate. Could you please explain how Denmark became one of the friendliest environmental countries in the western world ?
Today Denmark produces more than 21 % of its energy via wind turbines; this should increase to 40 % by 2030. Denmark was heavily dependent on fossil sources of energy in the 1970’s; it became a national priority to become self sufficient in energy and even export our energy. The islands of Samso and Lolland are sheltered at 100 % with green energy and already export electricity. Denmark has installed the largest energy wind turbines at 30 km from its coast, it has 91 wind turbines. Wind turbines in the sea are very efficient because there is a constant stream of wind although the regulations are very strict due to the sea passage. In 2008 Denmark total energy production was 29.750 in millions of TEP and its consumption of energy in the same year was 21.123 in millions of TEP; therefore we are a net exporter of green energy but also of gas and oil.

Y.E. Can you explain the energy strategy of the City of Copenhagen ?
For the mayor of Copenhagen Mrs. Ritt Bjerregaard, a former Minister, the Copenhagen CO15 is the opportunity to formulate Copenhagen as the capital of Climate and the city which offers the best urban environment. In March 2009 the mayor handled to the 500.000 Copenhagers the following road map: Copenhagen must be the first capital to reach a carbon neutral stage. Practically this means that the annual emission of CO2 must fall from 2, 5 million tons of CO2 to 1, 15 millions tons by 2025. This should take place without stopping the growth of the city but compensating CO2 emissions by green investments. Copenhagen has already reduced its CO2 emissions by 20 % in the last 10 years; more than 36 % of the inhabitants bicycle to work and for their shopping. Around 30 % of the electricity is produced by wind turbines secluded in the Oresund .The quasi – majority of central heating for the city housing is provided by a global city heating and environmental friendly system. For the mayor the objective is not only to suppress CO2 emissions but to “rebuild “a city where it is better to live. Among the immediate objectives of the City is the purchase of 600 electrical vehicles to collect for example garbage; moreover a new metro is planned for 2018.

Y.E. When did the Danish government decided to substantially decrease its consumption of fossil energy while maintaining a high level of growth and a low unemployment rate ?
This fundamental shift of dependency on fossil fuels dates from the mid 1970’s. Since 30 years the consumption of energy is stable while our GDP has doubled. As a comparison during the same period the energy consumption in the USA has increased by 40 % and it’s GDP by four (Figures from the Agence Internationale de l’Energie - AIE). On average a Dane consume each year 6.600 kilowatt-hour against 13.330 for a US citizen. Danish consumers pay however a high price for this energy policy; the imatriculation taxes for a car are very high as well as the gasoline tax. Companies pay 43 % more the megawatt-hour than in the USA, 24 % more than in France and 19 % more than in the UK according to the Danish Confederation of Industry . After the 1973 oil shock the Danish Government put in place a series of ambitious energy measures like the development of Wind Turbines and the launching of oil and gas exploration in the North Sea. On an individual basis the authorities pushed for the construction of low energy consumption houses and buildings. For the owner of houses which could not meet the new standards ,as far as energy saving, they were able to purchase credits from companies which were meeting the new standards .Today Denmark is independent on the energy level; it even exports oil, gas and electricity. The progressive increase of taxes on the consumption of oil, gas and electricity was one of the key measures taken by the Government at that time. Taxes represent today more than half of the energy bill of Danish households and the price of oil at the pump has doubled since the instauration of these measures. The increase of taxation has initially hindered the competitiveness of Danish companies; in 2005 14 % of the population works in industry as compared to 28 % in 1966. Many companies did not survive but very effective R & D private and governmental programs has allowed companies to change strategies and develop new products ; many of them have now a substantial advance compared to their European rivals .

Y.E.The Copenhagen COP conference will take place from the 7 th of December until the 18 th of that month. Prior to this event many formal and informal meetings have taken place. For a non specialist it is rather puzzling to see the change of mood after each of these gatherings. Could you please explain what happened since the middle of 2009 ?
Indeed it could be very difficult for a none initiated to follow the path of these meetings. But first of all what is the objective? The Kyoto Protocol started in 2005 and it imposes on all industrialized countries – besides the USA which has not ratified the Protocol in the Senate - to reduce their emission of CO2 by 5 % compared to 1990. The goal of the present negotiations in Copenhagen COP 15 is the key date to reach an agreement for the after- Kyoto which ends in 2012.It would have no sense if the USA and China (presently the biggest issuer of CO2) are not a party to these negotiations.

Unfortunately during the last couple of years there has been a growing volume of skeptical voices challenging the need for global action against climate change. Some of the skeptics may have scientific backgrounds but they are not in the mainstream of contemporary climate research. When science and politics mix, scientists have to simplify their arguments to enable politicians to grapple with the issues. The sheer complexity of climate change, from atmospheric physics to polar glaciology, makes it harder to convey than some other science based issues like space policy, stem cells or HIV/AIDs. And there are inevitably been oversimplification- sometimes amplified by environmental groups keen to present the threat of global warming in the starkest terms.

The following two examples will explain how difficult it is for a politician to grasp the complexity of Climate Change:

From William Gray, hurricane expert and head of the tropical meteorology project at Colorado State University:

< I am not disputing that there has been global warming. There was a lot of global warming in the 1930s and 1940s and then there was a slight global cooling from the middle 40’s to the early ‘70s. And there has been warming since the middle ‘70s especially in the last 10 years. But this is natural, due to ocean circulation changes and other factors. It is not human induced. Nearly all of my colleagues who have been around 40 or 50 years are skeptical as hell about the whole global warming thing. But no one ask us if you don’t know anything about how the atmosphere function, you will of course say “ Look , greenhouse gases are going up, the globe is warming , they must be related . Well, just because there are two associations, changing with the same sign, doesn’t mean that one is causing the other >

From Richard Lindzen, Professor of Meteorology at MIT in an editorial to the WSJ:

< To understand the misconceptions perpetuated about climate science and the climate of intimidation, one needs to grasp some of the complex underlying scientific issues. First let’s start where there is an agreement. The public press and policy makers have been repeatedly told that three claims have widespread scientific support. Global temperature has risen about a degree since the late 19th Century, levels of CO2( carbon dioxide ) in the atmosphere have increased by about 30 % over the same period and CO2 should contribute to future warming .These claims are true . However, what the public fails to grasp is that these claims neither constitute support for alarm nor establish man’s responsibility for the small amount of warming that has occurred. In fact those who make the most outlandish claims of alarm are actually demonstrating skepticism of the very science they say supports them. It isn’t’ just that the alarmists are trumpeting model results that we know must be wrong. It is that they are trumpeting catastrophes that couldn’t happen even if the models were right as justifying costly policies to try to prevent global warming >

These anti- global climate warming supporters make it hard for a simple politician or a senator to grasp the real facts. They should refer to the word < Anthroponece> mentioned 10 years ago by the Nobel Prize winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen. He gave birth to a powerful idea: that human activity is now affecting the Earth so profoundly that we are entering a new geological epoch. The < Anthroponece > has yet to be accepted as a geological time period, but if it is, it may turn out to be the shortest – and the last. It is not hard to imagine the epoch ending just a few hundred years after it started, in an orgy of global warming and overconsumption. If this happens Humanity ever-expanding footprint on the natural world leads, in two or three hundred years to ecological collapse and a mass extinction. Without fossil fuels to support agriculture humanity would be in trouble. “A lot of things have to die, and a lot of those things are going to be people “says Tony Barnovsky, a paleontologist at the University of California- Berkeley. In the most pessimistic of scenarios, society would collapse, leaving just a few hundred thousand eking out a meager existence in a new stone age.

Y.E. Without taking note of this most dark scenario could you indicate what the present situation according to the latest researches is ?
What is sure is the following:
  • Developing countries now greatly outrank rich countries as the world‘s biggest sources of carbon emissions, a switchover that occurred in 2005.
  • But a quarter of their growth in emissions can be accounted for by increased trade with the West; In China alone , 50 % of the growth in emissions from 2002 to 2005 came from the country export industries .
  • Coal surpassed oil as an emission source for the first time in recent decades. It accounted for 40 % of CO2 from fossil fuels in 2008, compared with 36 % for oil.
  • The share of deforestation and intense farming in overall carbon gases has fallen. From 1990-2000 they accounted for 20 %. It was only 12 % in 2008.The reasons: emissions from this sector fell from around 1.5 billion tons a year to 1.1 billion tons in 2008, thanks to less forest fire in Southeast Asia and lower –than –average deforestation in Amazonia. At the same time, emissions from oil, gas and coal rose.
  • Worldwide CO2 emissions in 2009 are predicted to fall by 2.8 % in response to the financial crises, signaling a return to 2007 levels.
  • But emissions could rise anew , depending on a pickup in economic activity, efforts to improve energy efficiency and the outcome of talks to tackle climate change .

Y.E. Your Excellency given what you indicated to the readers of Diplomatic world in point 5 and 6 it is understandable that an unlimited number of parties are involved because it will not only change our way of living but and perhaps, more importantly, the amount of money involved and the vested interest are formidable obstacles. Your Excellency could you briefly summarize the various meetings and conference which are leading to Copenhagen COP15 ?
  • Before moving your readers from London to Barcelona, Singapore ( APEC) back to Brussels let me emphasize that the mistake most people commit is to try to draw a clear distinction between “ man-made “ and “ natural “ change. The real climate changes results from an incredible complex interplay between natural variation and the increasingly important human influence. The geological record shows that natural change can happen extremely fast – on several occasion within the past 20.000 years global temperature have risen or fallen by several degrees over a century. Skeptics sometimes seem to draw comfort from this natural variability, but to a climatologist with a sense of history, the wild swings in the past are anything but comforting. They suggest a real , though probably small risk, that by pumping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to levels not seen for millions of years, we could trigger catastrophic, runaway global warming.

  • Remember that the figures are not firm predictions. If climate is less sensitive to increasing carbon dioxide than the models suggest- or if unexpected natural events, such as a slight dimming of the sun or exceptional volcanic activity intervene- then we may get away with little warming . The most likely rise in global temperature is somewhere between a just manageable 2 ° C and potentially catastrophic 4 ° C, depending on how quickly the world gets a grip on emissions. It could even be worse than that. Given the above it is normal that everybody wants to avoid the “End of the World” but the required political, financial and ways of consuming adjustments changes are enormous and the true divide between some countries way of living and the aspiration of developing countries to live like the “ dreamed “ western world make it extremely difficult to reach a consensus.

Y.E. the fist important meeting prior to Copenhagen COP15 took place in London at the end of September; what happened ?
On the 2nd of November PM Gordon Brown told representatives from the 17 polluters at the Major Economic Forum ( MEF- They account for 90 % of global emissions ) that the costs of failing to address global warming would be greater than the impact of the two World Wars; He said a deal at December ‘s conference in Copenhagen was possible , amid recent warnings from the USA that the meeting could fail in its goal to draw up a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Brown called on world leaders to work together directly to achieve a deal which sets out binding targets for rich countries to cut their emissions , and finance to help the poorest countries cope with the impact of climate change . He warned that the people the least responsible for climate change – the inhabitants of the world‘s poorest countries – were being hit hardest and first. The London talks were focusing on emissions cuts, the protection of forests and climate finance. Brown has said that 100 billion $ a year is needed to help developing countries tackle climate change.

“We need to find a solution on financing, the internal burden-sharing” Sweden European Affair Minister Cecilia Malmstroem said in London. “We need to do that very soon. I think our children cannot wait for us to get figures right “. How much will Polish prime Minister Donald Tusk accept after his finance Minister ruled that < it’s totally unacceptable that the poor countries of Europe should help the rich countries of Europe to help the poor countries in the rest of the World >. Poland, along with eight other central European countries is also refusing to contribute funds based on the amount of carbon-dioxide emissions it produces, contrary to what the EU is asking of other polluters. The E.C. estimates that poorer countries would need around 100 billion € annually from 2020 to fight global warming. < This is the most complicated issue, because it’s all about trying to find money in a very tight budgetary period said Mrs. Malmstroem >.

Y.E. What is at the beginning of November the position of China and India ?
The worry of the Chinese government is that in Copenhagen China would become the lightning rod for global anxiety because China is now the largest emitter of CO2. But the position of China has improved with the pose of India which has been striking a more belligerent tone to climate talks. Both governments feel strongly that the onus of dealing with global warming lies with the rich world. The two countries have even signed an agreement to co-ordinate climate-change efforts; this will help them to take a united stance in Copenhagen. Beijing has also done an excellent job at convincing the rest of the world it is serious about climate change. China is one of the biggest manufacturers of solar panels and every week there are announcements in China that another wind farm is created and connected to the national grid. China has set itself a target of improving energy efficiency by 20 % in the 2006-2010 periods and with a little help from the economic downturn at the end of 2008, the country is on track to get near to this goal. China policies have been so successful lately that US advocate of green technology has given warning that China will become the dominant player. China is spending about 9 billions $ a month on clean energy, Steven Chu, the US Energy secretary told a senate committee. But China is still dreading the Copenhagen summit because it has not yet given a date for when its emissions will peak. China plan to reduce carbon intensity – the amount of carbon produced by each unit of output – is s till an aspiration rather than a concrete number .Beijing is currently putting in place the next five year plan for 2011-2015 and the word is that local governments have been resisting another 20 % improvement in energy efficiency. Observers speculate that the government will instead announce a target to reduce carbon intensity by 20 % - with about 13-16 % coming from better energy efficiency and the rest from other renewable energy and reforestation projects. Copenhagen could however bring a lot of embarrassment to China because other countries could say that under the guise of a new carbon-intensity target Beijing was actually reducing pressure on its coal addicted steel mills and power plants to use energy more efficiently.

Y.E. What is the present position of the USA ?
On November 2 Democrat efforts to push a sweeping climate change bill through the senate this year suffered a severe set-back when a Republican boycott delayed a key committee‘s vote on sending the bill to the full Chamber .The delay nixes any few remaining hopes that the US Congress can pass a bill limiting gas emissions before the global climate change meeting in Copenhagen. Observers are now saying they do not expect the final legislation to even be debated on the Senate floor this year.

Democrat Representative Mrs. Barbara Bover who chairs the Senate environmental and public work committee answered to republican Senator James Inhofe , the ranking republican who called for the boycott that there is no need to carry out further analysis . Her bill co-sponsored with John Kerry seeks to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 % from 2005 levels to 2020. The analysis has been in progress with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since more than 3 years and the EPA has produced an analysis based on 340.000 pages of documentation.

The delaying tactics of the Republicans are based on the fact that the bill will have an unprecedented impact on US national security, economy, environmental and energy needs For that reasons Republicans say that their States and constituents should have a full understanding of the cost and change of policy involved . The delaying tactics are mostly coming from States with a heavy concentration of agriculture and industry.

Y.E. What happened at the Barcelona conference which was supposed to sort out the major remaining obstacles prior to Copenhagen COP15 ?
Forty four countries were represented on the 17th of November. The conclusions were rather grim. There seemed to be a consensus that there will not be a legal agreement signed in Copenhagen. The Danish Minister of the Environment, Mrs. Connie Hedegaard, who is also the organizer of the conference, said that a consistent political agreement will be reached. Among many of the countries present there seemed to be a consensus that the legal treaty will be negotiated during 2010 and could be signed at the next COP conference in Mexico. The Danish Minister said “it took two years before the legal details of the Protocol of Kyoto were in place “.Besides the framework of the negotiation it appeared that no agreement has been reached concerning figure undertakings concerning the reduction of CO2 emissions.

Y.E. . What are the latest development as of the third week of November 2009 ?
President Nicolas Sarkozy and President Luiz Inacio da Silva have proposed in a joint declaration in Paris on the 14th of November that all the countries in the world reduce their CO2 emissions by at least 50 % by 2050 compared to 1990. As far as the rich countries are concerned this would mean a reduction of 80 %. At the same moment at the Singapore APEC summit the three biggest polluters: China, USA, and Indonesia have not agreed to put the same undertaking in the final announcement of the conference.Brazil President challenged other world leaders to attend the climate talks in Copenhagen to break the deadlock in negotiations to cut greenhouse gas emissions. President da Silva said that he would speak to President Barrak Obama, President Hu Jintao of China and Prime Minister Mammohan Singh of India in order to induce them to attend the conference and be key participants in order to break the stalemate.President da Silva went even further and sais < The world has no right to leave President Obama and President Hu Jintao agreeing on a arrangement taking for basis their exclusive economic realities and attempts to create a G2 without taking into account the responsibilities that the major present and future polluters have towards the entire humanity >

Y.E. . A study produced by Consultancy Cap Gemini, on November 16th cast doubt on the EU’s commitment to its target at a time when European politicians are seeking tough carbon cutting pledges from other leading economies.
According to the study the E.U. will fail to hit its target for deriving 20 % of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 unless the rate of investment in the industry increases sharply. In order for 20 % of all the EU’s energy to come from renewable sources about 33 % of its electricity will have to be generated by wind, solar and hydroelectric- up from today’s 16 % share .

According to Colette Lewiner of Capgemini < Investment in renewable has been hit very hard in the economic crisis; more than other forms of generation. Overall global investment in clean energy is likely to be about $ 110 bn in 2009, down from$ 155 bn in 2008 according to New Energy Finance, a research group. Future investment plans offer a more positive view- with 24 % of planned investments going into renewable capacity- but even that rate of construction would not be enough to reach the E.U. objectives> .

Y.E. What can we expect realistically expect from Copenhagen COP15 ?
  • President Obama has said on the 15th of November that Copenhagen COP15 would not produce a legally binding agreement to tackle global warming. President Obama says that instead of a binding treaty he and other world leaders are aiming for a “political agreement “on the substantive issues.

  • The UN and other nations had already conceded that there was not enough time to draw up a fully articulated legal treaty at Copenhagen. They, too, are aiming for a political agreement to be followed by a full treaty in 2010.

  • The political agreement would not be legally binding under international law. It would however be a document that leaders or their representatives would have to sign, and it would be difficult and politically embarrassing for them to break it subsequently.

  • In fact even if Copenhagen COP15 had produced a legally binding agreement that document would only have legal force until it was ratified by national parliaments.

  • Having to wait until next year for a treaty to be drawn up that can be presented to national parliaments will mean a delay to the process implementing any agreement , which must be done by the end of 2012 for a new global framework to be in place when the current provisions of the Kyoto protocol expire. Any delay increases the possibility of disagreement.

  • For countries to sign political agreement it would have to set out four main commitments. These are targets for developed countries are

- To make big cuts in their emissions of CO2 by 2020.
- Agreements on the measures that developing countries would take to curb the future growth of their emissions
- Financing from rich to poor countries to help them curb their emissions and cope with climate change
- An outline of the governance structures to monitor and deliver the above.

  • It should be noted that not all countries agree on the above four points. Almost all the big developed countries have now set out their emissions targets for 2020. The main developing countries have outlined the measures they will take to curb their emissions growth. Agreements on governance issues should not be too difficult to achieve.

  • The US has not yet agreed on its 2020 emissions cutting targets, and until that happens many developing countries will not agree to ‘ internationalize “ their domestic commitments on emissions , in other words , to codify them ready to be legally binding at an international level.

  • Finance is also tricky; the EU is the only developed set of countries to have set out commitments on financing and even those are vague ( 50 bn € a year ? )

  • The main country posing problems is the USA. President Obama has not yet mananged to pass domestic cap-and –trade legislation which would set out the US’s emissions cutting targets and some financial help for poor countries. The bill is now before the Senate, but there is almost no chance it will pass before the Copenhagen summit and its prospects of passing next year are still in doubt. Without the backing of congress Mr. Obama will find it difficult to make commitments.

  • If President Obama cannot make these commitments there might be no agreement at Copenhagen or only a partial political agreement. This would be a serious delay before a legally binding agreement could be worked out .

Michel-François Clerin
524 Av. Louise
B-1050 Brussels - Belgium

Jeudi 10 Décembre 2009

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