Environmental minister fears dealmaking between US and China

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Erik Solheim, Norway’s government minister for both environmental issues and foreign aid, has traveled to the UN climate talks in Copenhagen with high hopes tempered by realism. Solheim says he most fears that both China and the US will lower their ambitions, watering down any real results from the conference.

Solheim, from Norway’s Socialist Left party (SV), told newspaper Aftenposten on Monday that it can’t be ruled out “that China and the US will agree to set their goals at a much lower level than the rest of the world wants.” The two countries account for 40 percent of the world’s emissions that are hurting the climate, he noted, and are hard-pressed to reduce them.

“We have to avoid that,” Solheim said. “But on the other side, there won’t be much more we can do than protest. They are the world’s two most powerful nations.”

Solheim was in Copenhagen Monday for the opening of the UN Climate Conference (“Cop15”) that has attracted officials from all over the world to negotiate once again how the world can hinder climate change. It’s already been made clear that no concrete agreement will emerge from the conference, rather only a declaration that may evolve into a deal later.

Solheim says the conference will fail “if we don’t agree on measures to limit global warming to 2 degrees.” He believes, though, that the UN climate talks can be “a major step in the right direction” if the world can agree on 2 degrees as a goal.”Remember that this is the most complicated and comprehensive agreement the world has ever negotiated,” Solheim told Aftenposten. “It affects everyone, from rice growers in China to major American industry.

“I think we’ll get an important breakthrough, for preservation of the rain forests and financing of climate measures in developing countries. Maybe also promises on emissions cuts.”

That’s why he sees his role as important, as a government minister in charge of both environmental issues and foreign aid. “It’s helped a lot, to get a dialogue going with leaders in developing countries,” Solheim said. “I can talk about the environment and I have access to money for them.”

Solheim also thinks “a little country like Norway” can contribute a lot by having a clear focus. “Our ability to show the world that we can make a major commitment to preservation of rain forests is one example,” he said, referring to Norway’s promise of funding for such. “We’re also trying to do the same in the areas of shipping and financial schemes.”

Asked whether huge international meetings like that underway in Copenhagen, with lots of words and little concrete action, are the way to go, Solheim replied: “We don’t have any choice. These types of meetings, where everyone takes part, reflects that we live in a democratic, multi-polar world where everyone should have a say.”