JOURNALIST: The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, as we said, ended without a legally binding document, and pledges on emissions reductions have fallen short of hopes prior to the summit.
Now, Greece backed the adoption of a legally binding agreement and the Prime Minister, Giorgos Papandreou, called for tangible measures from the Copenhagen podium. World leaders, however, failed to clench a deal that guarantees that global warming will be kept below danger levels.
So after a final 24-hour negotiating marathon at the very highest levels, countries signed up to an accord brokered principally by China, South Africa, India, Brazil and the US.
But the agreement could not hide the failure to narrow their differences on the level of ambitions for a new global treaty on climate change to replace the Kyoto Protocol after it expires in 2012.
Now on the line to discuss the implications of the Copenhagen failure is Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister and known environmentalist Spyros Kouvelis, who travelled to the Danish capital with the Greek delegation last week.
Good morning, Minister. Thank you for joining us.
MR. S. KOUVELIS: Good morning.
JOURNALIST: Sir, observers globally and world leaders themselves, for example Gordon Brown, have called the Copenhagen deal a fiasco. Do you share that opinion, that the agreement was weak? I am sure you do, but why?
MR. S. KOUVELIS: You know, I try not to use a heavy word, but at the least and the least I can say it’s a failure. I think it’s a failure because we didn’t come up with any kind of an agreement that would guarantee, that would secure that we have something that will come up after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol is finished, so that we can have a successor scheme in which the countries will be bound by an agreement that will be legally binding for them, so that they will have specific targets to curb their emissions, to stop emitting in the atmosphere more than what the atmosphere should be taking, if we want to reduce climate change effects and keep the temperature increase to less than 2 degrees.
You see, what we have after this meeting is an agreement of intentions, I would say. It’s intentions that were expressed by some of the superpowers of the world, by some of the strongest economies or biggest economies, if you want. But it’s like you and me saying that some day we should meet and have a glass of wine. That doesn’t mean that we will necessarily do that, you know, within the foreseeable future.
JOURNALIST: Now, can we count on the good will of the countries involved, that signed the agreement in other words, even though they are not still legally obliged to do so? I think we have already seen today that South Africa and Brazil are kind of denouncing the very agreement they signed.
MR. S. KOUVELIS: Well, the problem is that there might be a lot of good will in the countries that do it, and I never doubted this. I believe that both China and the United States and India and all the countries that signed this agreement do have the good will.
The problem is that when you don’t have a legally binding agreement any event might change the course of action by any country. For example, a change of government or a change in the economic outlook of things and, you know, a need for the country to keep up its development path might mean that it opts for an increased use of fossil fuels, of dirty energy. And that means that those targets cannot be controlled.
Plus the fact of course that none of the countries accepted to have a reporting scheme to the global community. You know that that was an issue that was mostly raised by China; they were raising the issue of sovereignty, and saying that what we decide to do is reportable only to us and we will do it in our way. And the other countries unfortunately backed this.
So it is not a commitment to the whole community, but it’s a commitment of each country for the country itself.
And that’s important because that means that any country can decide for a change of tack and not have to give any explanation to anybody.
JOURNALIST: Now, I know you have been dealing with ecology and saving the planet for many, many years. What’s the way forward after Copenhagen? And well, climate change will remain a threat regardless, but is there hope that the 2010 summit in Mexico will be more rewarding, more significant?
MR. S. KOUVELIS: I believe that the countries are refusing to change. It’s just that they are refusing to see that things are changing anyway. My persuasion – I am totally sure that, as time goes by, more and more citizens, first of all, and more and more governments will realise that if we are back on a new way of approaching development in the world, that will create also very important development opportunities, so investment in new technologies, green technologies, green energy and all that will be an opportunity for development.
What I think will happen is from here until 2010 – that is the meeting in Mexico – probably the countries will not change their minds very much, unless there is a pressure from the public, unless there is a pressure from the people and they of course try to push them for a new and revamped, if you want, commitment for what will be happening in Mexico.
But I think that we might be seeing some regional initiatives springing up. Definitely one of those things will come from our side. We were committing ourselves already in Copenhagen that Greece will take initiatives in its immediate vicinity, which is the Balkans and the Black Sea countries and the East Mediterranean, to try to create some momentum in this vicinity, to prepare for the meeting in Mexico, so that we come up with agreed targets and some agreed action as well, for what we can do.
JOURNALIST: So in fact, because you mentioned this, what was Greece’s role at the conference, and you said what Greece’s role will be here in the regional environment. But what was it at the conference, and what would you say? The failure of the EU, does it reflect on Greece as well?
MR. S. KOUVELIS: Well, just to start from the first point, I think that Greece this year went there with a significant, although not over-encumbered, as was said by some delegation. It was an important delegation because for the first time Greece managed to be present and take part in all of the coordination meetings, all of the discussions for different working groups. And that was important, because not only we managed to express our views but also to bring back a lot of know-how and a lot of information about how these things are being done and what we can expect for the next day.
Also Greece had a very important moment, because the Prime Minister himself was the one who spoke on behalf of the country. And he spoke about, as you said before, the need for a legally binding agreement, which is important. He stated that Greece is one of those countries that want to go ahead with strong measures, and we are ready to do that also within our country.
The point now being that the European Union actually did agree with this agreement that was not of course approved by the contracting parties but was only noted means that in some way the European Union accepted the existence of this agreement.
However, the European Union is bound by what it has unilaterally set as a target for 2020, which is to cut emissions by 20% by the year 2020. And I think that this doesn’t change, no matter what happened in Copenhagen.
Ideally, what would have to happen is to have this target increased on the way to 2010, maybe to try to drag the other countries along, but at least that would allow the European Union and Greece within it to be one of the countries in the forefront of new technologies, which is the future.
JOURNALIST: Well, thank you very much, Minister. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. It’s been very enlightening.
MR. S. KOUVELIS: Thank you very much. Bye-bye.
JOURNALIST: Bye-bye. Have a nice day, sir. And that was Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr. Spyros Kouvelis.