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Energy experts test climate of opinion at Copenhagen

Dr Jim Watson

The drive towards a sustainable energy economy is one of the main challenges facing the planet in the 21st Century.

Over a decade ago the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) began looking at how to reduce global warming and global temperature rises. In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, agreed by a number of nations.


Now, the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (CoP15) has convened in Copenhagen in Denmark to try to reach a long-term global agreement on how to handle climate change.


As the world’s leaders begin their work, University of Sussex academics will be putting the case for an energy policy based on analysis of the technologies involved and which includes the needs of the developing world.


Members of the Sussex Energy Group – part of the University’s science policy research unit SPRU – have spent years researching economically efficient ways of achieving the transition to a new energy economy.  

Attending the Copenhagen summit between 13 and 19 December are Sussex Energy Group members Thomas Reilly and Rob Byrne, Dr Jim Watson and Dr David Ockwell.


Dr Jim Watson is the Director of the Sussex Energy Group. Here, he answers some fundamental questions about the importance of the Copenhagen summit.


What is the Copenhagen summit?


This is the 15th conference of Parties (192 countries) that agreed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. The key aim of the summit is to reach a new global agreement under the Convention with effect from 2012. This is when the current period of the 'Kyoto Protocol' to the Convention –  which includes targets and funding mechanisms – ends. This agreement is needed to both mitigate the greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change and to adapt to climate change that is already happening and expected.


What are the key issues for the Copenhagen summit?

Two issues stand out for me: First, agreement of medium term targets for 2020 for emissions reduction by developed countries, but also getting some indications from larger developing countries about how they could reduce the rate of growth of their emissions. Second, agreeing a deal for assistance and finance for developing countries to help them adapt to climate change, deal with deforestation and to mitigate their emissions with cleaner technologies.


Does the summit stand any real chance of achieving anything?


A legal agreement for post-2012 is unlikely, but there are increasing signs that an important political deal which would act as a first step for a legal agreement is possible. The outcome is subject to lots of uncertainty so it is very hard to call, but the fact that many countries have now started to put numbers on the table for emissions reductions (or intensity targets) for 2020 is significant. The EU, Japan and the US have all tabled emissions reductions for 2020 (in the US case, they don't go far enough); China, India, Brazil have all put figures on reductions in their carbon intensity.


Getting an agreement on financing and assistance to developing countries will be very hard, but again there are signs that some industrialised countries (notably the UK) recognise the importance of this part of the deal, and have started to suggest how much they would contribute from public funds – and how much could come from private sources to match this.


What would you like to see coming out of the summit?


My personal view is that the deal on financing and assistance to developing countries is the Number One outcome I'd like to see. This includes an agreement on how much money, where it will come from and how it will be distributed.

Is it too late for governments to do anything practical, if they even manage to accept global warming/climate change as being exacerbated by human activity?

No, not at all. The more we do now to mitigate emissions and strengthen the global capacity to adapt, the better. If we give up, there is much greater risk that climate change will accelerate and the costs will be far higher (and perhaps too high) than if we act now.

What will Sussex Energy Group researchers be doing in Copenhagen?

We will have a stand with the Institute of Development Studies (which is based on the University of Sussex campus) showcasing our work and that of other researchers at Sussex. We also have a side event in the EU Pavillion on 17th December on our proposals for a technology deal. We have been working on this with the UK Government for the past few years and our proposal has been supported by Lord Stern [the economist and Government advisor Nicholas Stern, responsible for the UK Government-commissioned Stern Report on the Economics Climate Change, 2006].

Notes for Editors


Dr Jim Watson, University of Sussex

Dr Jim Watson is the Director of the Sussex Energy Group and the Deputy Leader of the University of East Anglia-based Tyndall Centre's Climate Change and Energy Programme. He is a Lead Expert with the UK Government Foresight project on Sustainable Energy Management and the Built Environment, a Council Member of the British Institute for Energy Economics (BIEE) and a Trustee of the Koru Foundation, a renewable energy charity.

Tel: (01273) 873539; email:

Sussex Energy Group

Sussex Energy Group (SEG) is one of the world’s largest independent research groups on energy policy. It has core funding from the Government’s Economic and Social Research Council. Based at SPRU at the University of Sussex, the group has more than 25 researchers and doctoral students who are looking at all aspects of energy policy and the transition to a sustainable and economically efficient energy system. The group is part of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

Dr Jim Watson and Dr David Ockwell will be hosting a presentation of study on behalf of the UK and Indian governments – Barriers to technology transfer in India in the EU Pavilion and the Copenhagen summit on Thursday 17 December from 10.30am to 12.30pm


SEG will be holding an international conference to discuss and debate emerging research agendas in energy social science, from  25-26 February 2010, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK. The conference coincides with the end of SEG’s current core funding from the ESRC, which expires in March 2010. See website

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Tel: 01273 678 888 or email

Last updated: Thursday, 10 December 2009