February 20, 2009 / 9:40 AM / in 10 years

U.N. climate panel chief sees "strong deal" ahead

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A deal placing a strict emissions regime on rich nations is likely in Copenhagen despite pressures to dilute the climate fight in times of a global financial slowdown, the U.N. climate panel chief said.

U.N. climate panel chief R.K. Pachauri speaks at Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS) in New Delhi February 5, 2009. REUTERS/B Mathur

R.K. Pachauri said his optimism that rich nations would agree to an emissions cut was rooted in what he was hearing from global leaders and a genuine willingness to do something fast.

But his bullishness is in sharp contrast to a gloomy outlook forecast by some experts who say the financial crisis affects the ability of countries to pay for climate measures or agree to emission cuts when jobs were being lost.

Pachauri said he saw growing political will to consider the global financial downturn an opportunity to build low carbon economies.

About 190 countries are trying to craft a broader climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol that only binds wealthy nations to emissions targets between 2008 and 2012.

The new deal is due to be wrapped in Copenhagen by December.

Many industrialized nations are shelving ambitions for deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, while industries worldwide are pushing for dilution of climate policies, saying that slowing economies are already causing emission levels to fall.

Pachauri told Reuters late on Thursday there was global realization that the financial problems were “temporary” while the climate challenge was an existential issue.

“I mean nobody is going to miss the woods for the trees,” he said. “It is only a temporary reprieve so to speak. This is only temporary. But one has to bring about some major structural changes, otherwise it will be back to business as usual.”

He said the United States was setting an example of how to turn the economic adversity into an advantage for climate change.

“They are really thinking of reviving the economy through the generation of so-called green jobs,” he said.

President Barack Obama has spoken of a “planet in peril” and says he will cut U.S. emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020, followed by deeper cuts to 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050.

Pachauri has said that Obama might even be able to do more.

Worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases have risen roughly 50 percent since 1970, and if current trends continue, emissions are expected to rise nearly half again by 2030.

However, a U.N. climate panel said emissions levels need to peak by 2015 in order to avoid the worst of global warming.

It says rich nations need to cut by 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to keep temperatures below what some nations see as a “dangerous” 2 Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) rise.

“There is no choice,” Pachauri said, referring to a deal by the year-end. “They will have to agree.”

Editing by Alistair Scrutton

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