Kate Mackenzie Copenhagen curtainraiser: Optimism abounds, but what about the sceptics?

Hopes for a substantial agreement at Copenhagen grew as the world digested news that US president Barack Obama would appear at the end of the Copenhagen meeting, writes Fiona Harvey in today’s FT. When the announcement was made, she writes “the gasp of relief from delegates heading to the Danish capital was almost audible”.

UN climate chief Yves de Boer told Harvey that ‘a lot had happened’ in pre-Copenhagen negotiations during the past two weeks. “We are almost there [on the key issues].” Those key issues are commitments for deep emissions cuts from developed countries; commitments to curbs from developing countries; financial aid from the latter to the former to help meet the cost of reducing emissions; and finally, a governance structure to oversee the agreement.

Energy Source’s expert panel members have different views on just what Obama’s presence will mean, but it is his attendance, combined with that of heads of state from China, India – whose prime minister Manmohan Singh confirmed his attendance over the weekend – the UK, Germany, Japan and almost 100 other world leaders that is giving a significant boost to those hoping for a firm commitment. Signs of progress will be welcome by energy industry leaders, who told the FT they want clear direction from the meeting in order to make big investment decisions.

Indeed new and relatively optimistic analysis led by UK economist Lord Stern concluded yesterday that the world is ‘within closing distance‘ of the emissions reductions needed to avoid the >2 degree climate increase recommended by scientists – and the remaining gap of “a few billion tonnes” of CO2 equivalent could be met, he said. Campaigning group WWF however pointed out that the target figure used by Lord Stern – a total of 44bn tonnes of CO2 by 2020 – only gives a 50 per cent chance of the earth keeping within the 2 degree range.

China Daily noted that UN leader Ban Ki-Moon was also optimistic but XInhua, China’s semi-official newswire, predicts tough negotiations at the meeting and notes that many of the developed countries’ commitments have used advantageous baseline dates.

The Clean Development Mechanism will be a hot topic, spurred on by last week’s FT report that Chinese windfarms have been deemed ineligible for the scheme, and another report that the body plans to carry out checks on another two auditors just after one of their largest peers, SGS UK, had its three-month suspension revoked (Reuters).

The New York Times noted that the meeting comes after a surge in confidence for climate sceptics - and two new surveys on attitudes to climate change offered somewhat contrasting perspectives. A poll of UK voters carried out for The Sunday Telegraph found that only 52 per cent believed global warming was mostly man-made. An international poll carried out for the BBC World Service however painted a more optimistic picture, showing that only 6% of 24,000 people surveyed in 23 countries opposed a deal being done at Copenhagen. But levels of concern, it found, had fallen in China and the US – the two biggest polluters.

At least 56 newspapers around the world are doing their best to encourage more popular support climate change efforts: they all ran the same editorial urging world leaders at Copenhagen that they have just days to seal history’s judgment of this generation.

And what of the Danish capital that is hosting this historic event? The police, reports the NY Times, are taking tough on security and have even constructed metal cages to hold up to 350 protesters. FT Nordic bureau chief Andrew Ward looks at how the city’s finances – and its place in history - will be affected by its hosting the meeting.

Related links:

More from FT Energy Source on Copenhagen
FT.com In Depth: Copenhagen climate conference