Climate Talks May Go to Last Minute

The world may have to wait until the dying seconds of a U.N. climate summit in December for a global deal to channel business dollars into low-carbon energy, industry and analysts said on Wednesday.

Senior executives warned progress so far in U.N.-led climate talks was inadequate to guarantee the future of low-carbon markets which could transform how the world gets its energy.

Political posturing may delay a deal until midnight on the last day of the Dec. 7-18 talks, said the head of the U.N. climate panel Rajendra Pachauri — who was nevertheless hopeful of a deal to put the world “on the right path”.

“The wiggle room is there even at the stroke of midnight when the conference is ending,” said Pachauri, chairman of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

International Energy Agency head Nobuo Tanaka was unsure of the outcome of the U.N. talks, which re-convene in Barcelona on Nov. 2, but said recession had given the world a head start by causing the biggest drop in carbon emissions in 40 years.

“Usually, the real outcome in negotiations comes out at the last minute, so we don’t know. We feel this economic crisis provides a window of opportunity,” he told an IEA meeting in Paris.

Business leaders said measures taken so far were inadequate to mobilize the billions of dollars needed to convert the global economy to leaner, low-carbon energy like wind and solar power.

“We can’t … expect companies to invest billions and billions of dollars when we’re not convinced there’s going to be a market,” said General Electric Co energy chief John Krenicki, adding that U.S. renewable energy tax breaks, for example, would expire in two years.
He said governments must agree in Copenhagen on carbon-cutting targets: “We don’t have much right now.”

Fulvio Conti, chief executive of Italian utility Enel SpA, said talks were “taking a dangerous direction” against business-friendly carbon markets allowing industry to offset emissions by funding carbon cuts in the developing world.

The European Union is a hub of such markets and its executive Commission has said it wants developing countries to reach certain targets before qualifying for offsets.

“We now face the risk of increasingly restrictive criteria,” Conti told Reuters on the sidelines of the Paris conference.

GE’s Krenicki said businesses would fight to hold on to their patents on clean energy technologies. A major stumbling block in the U.N. talks has been a demand by poorer nations for access to advanced solar power and bigger wind turbines.

“We’re totally opposed to compulsory licensing, it’ll crush innovation in the green sector,” said Krenicki, who added new discoveries of vast gas reserves would enable quick wins in cutting carbon compared with high-carbon coal.

Protecting marine life, from plankton to sea grasses and mangrove forests, could help offset up to 7 percent of current fossil fuel emissions, a U.N. report said on Wednesday — by nurturing organisms which absorb carbon dioxide as they grow.

(Writing by Gerard Wynn; editing by Andrew Roche)