–Reactions to the US, China, India, South Africa and Brazil all having reached an agreement tonight Friday (December 18) to cut greenhouse gas emissions–
YVO DE BOER, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change “The mountain goes on and on, it seems. I do think we need to see how this text is received by the broader group of countries. It’s great that [a] small group of leaders gets together and tries to advance the process but ultimately, the way things work here, it has to be acceptable to every country.”
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, US President “We’re going to have to build on the momentum that we’ve established here in Copenhagen to ensure that international action to significantly reduce emissions is sustained and sufficient over time. We’ve come a long way but we have much further to go.”
XIE ZHENHUA, Head of Chinese Delegation “The meeting has had a positive result, everyone should be happy. After negotiations both sides have managed to preserve their bottom line. For the Chinese this was our sovereignty and our national interest.”
GORDON BROWN, British Prime Minister “We have made a start. I believe that what we need to follow up on quickly is ensuring a legally binding outcome.”
NNIMMO BASSEY, Chair of Friends of the Earth International “Copenhagen has been an abject failure. Justice has not been done. By delaying action, rich countries have condemned millions of the world’s poorest people to hunger, suffering and loss of life as climate change accelerates. The blame for this disastrous outcome is squarely on the developed nations.”
JOHN SAUVEN, Executive Director, Green Peace UK “The city of Copenhagen is a crime scene tonight, with the guilty men and women fleeing to the airport. There are no targets for carbon cuts and no agreement on a legally binding treaty. It seems there are too few politicians in this world capable of looking beyond the horizon of their own narrow self-interest, let alone caring much for the millions of people who are facing down the threat of climate change.”
Negotiators in a key sub-group of the UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen worked through the early morning today which culminated in the release of a draft text that is supposed to serve as the basis of an agreement for world leaders to sign when they arrive here on Friday.
As the iteration which appeared on Saturday, the latest text makes little progress on key issues of mitigation for developed and developing countries while saying little about financing schemes for developing countries to adapt to climate change and shift to low-carbon technologies .
The consequence is that the high-level ministers will now have to get involved in the heavy lifting aspect of the negotiating process if any sort of agreement is to be signed by world leaders on Friday.
In other developments, Senator John Kerry addressed the conference in what amounted to a campaign speech for the US position. My impression has been that Kerry has a lot of respect amongst delegates for his long-standing interest in the climate change issue. However, his speech was a bit troubling for the negotiations.
He spent quite a bit of time dispelling climate skeptics–which was clearly geared towards domestic consumption. When you’ve been at a climate change conference in Europe for over a week, it is pretty easy to forget that skeptics actually exist! His impassioned plea for following the science wasn’t really needed inside the COP, so what it told me is that his Senate bill must be in at least a little trouble–although he equally forcefully said at the end of his speech that the US would pass climate legislation by the end of next year, with the Senate taking up the issue in the spring.
I would have to concur with Tan Copsey at China Dialogue, that the most troubling part of his speech were lightly veiled attacks at the Chinese position in the talks. He expressed a bit of protectionism by talking about “dumping high carbon” products into the US market. Additionally, he focused heavily on the idea that countries must have “measurable, reportable, and verifiable” emissions targets.
This is another swipe at China. The US seems quite skeptical about China’s recent pronouncements that they will reduce their emissions from business-as-usual projections and want to have some assurance that emissions mitigation can be quantified. China, of course, is hesitant to commit to reductions in the first place and wants to maintain as much flexibility as possible in the negotiations.
Thus with Kerry’s rather hard line speech and the minimal movement on the negotiating text, the only thing clear about the next couple of days is that they will be unpredictable and probably contentious.
On Thursday December 10th, 2009 I attended a side event at COP 15 regarding the growing concern between transportation and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. The event highlighted how exactly transport is affecting climate change, as well as what governments and policy makers can do to mitigate these emissions. Surprise appearances were made from ambassadors from Korea and France.
A bit of background about the transportation sector: Transportation is now the fastest growing sector in CO2 emission increases in developing nations. Asia alone was responsible for 19% of global transport emissions in 2006. In order to change the direction of transportation emissions, the panel suggested a solution in which countries should avoid, shift, and improve. Avoiding transportation calls for better land use and urban planning making biking and walking the main form of transportation within major metropolises. A shift in the transportation market would require creating more efficient and effective transport through the use of increased public transportation and biking. Finally improving transportation would be done by innovations in green energies and distancing society from the use of dirty and inefficient fuels that currently exist.
Next the panel underlined ten principles for development of sustainable transport in an urban arena: This segment of the presentation indicated that the global community requires a shift in the culture of motorization in which we would think of bikes and walking as legitimate and acceptable forms of mobility. Secondly
1. Start with the pedestrian. Ex: Tear down unused, inefficient highways/roads to make room for pedestrians and walking paths
2. Create high quality public transport connecting urban and suburban centers in order to cutback on emissions from personally owned vehicles.
3. Encourage cycling and link it to public transport and major activity centers. Change current mindsets about what public transportation embodies and create bike paths leading to major destinations.
4. Employ appropriate transport market incentives and pricing with intelligent transport systems. Ex: meters, gas prices, pay as you drive insurance.
5. Design “complete street safety” serving all users and modes of transport focusing on biking and walking.
6. Manage speed of motor vehicles for safety purposes.
7. Transport Services including information services, travel modes, and telecommunication to create more efficient and effective access to transportation systems.
8. Activate public space with smaller blocks, streets, and parks to stimulate a walking culture
9. Plan, regulate, and finance real estate and transport to be sustainable. This requires efficient and coordinated urban planning.
10. Improve freight movement logistics to be increasingly efficient.
Finally the surprise guests made statements on the link between carbon emissions and transport. France, being a developed nation, has a highly efficient and accessible transportation system. The French ambassador indicated that transport is key in mitigating climate change. He also appeared frustrated with the progress of the negotiations saying “there is a will to get a result but we don’t know how.”
Following this the ambassador from Korea spoke. He acknowledged that currently transportation is a large portion of the CO2 problem. He said that many policy makers in Korea understand the building of transportation as an opportunity to create private investment, but the use and therefore “payback” of the investment automatically implies that CO2 be required to pay back the investment, and this needs to change. The ambassador focused on the culture of transportation saying that although biking was popular in China ten years ago, the number of bikers has now plummeted because biking is seen as a sign of poverty. When biking is viewed as culturally trendy, as it has become in the Western world again, countries such as China return to biking.
As indicated by the panel and both ambassadors a change in transportation will only occur with effective and structured policy and an acceptance of sustainable transportation systems and technologies within society. Changes in both the government and our culture are necessary to mitigate harmful CO2 emissions in the transportation sector.
Don’t let the headlines fool you, the road to Copenhagen is as rocky as ever. In a seemingly promising statement, China has stated that it wants to see no-change results from the December meetings on climate change. Li Gao, China’s top climate change negotiator, said that as world pressure mounts on an outcome in Copenhagen, “”We will try to make the summit successful and we will not accept that it ends with an empty and so-called political declaration,” Yet in a display of realpolitik, Gao said that all parties involved would have to operate under the dozen year old Kyoto Protocol “”or else the conference would end futile,” as China “will not accept any separate legal document”.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, there are zero requirements for green house gas reductions on behalf of China and other developing nations. Since Kyoto’s inception in 1997, China has grown to become the single largest green house gas emitter.
It is easy to see China’s motivation in sticking with the past document, despite their cheer for a successful conference. Progress as China defines it would be to” create a framework that would be worked out later, in next year’s delegations”. In the meantime, China said that their role in the talks as a developing nation is to reach out to other developing nations to share each other’s concerns and look to negotiate collectively.
AFP is reporting that the next few weeks leading up to the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen could be marked by a bilateral diplomatic offensive.
President Obama is going to visit China in the next few days and upon returning to Washington, will host the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh at the end of the month.
Obviously both countries are important to coming to an agreement in Copenhagen for action on climate change.
The AFP article also indicates that US Energy Secretary Steven Chu will visit China and India as well to search for common ground.
It will be interesting to see what transpires with the Obama and Chu visits. Since China, in particular, has said that it wants to reduce its carbon intensity in the mid term, it seems that the ball is in Obama’s court to start talking specifics–something he is reluctant to do without legislation passed in Congress.
Perhaps these meetings will help grease the wheels for something significant to transpire in Copenhagen with Obama providing closed-door promises. It is difficult to say, but with these high-profile meetings happening in the days prior to the Copenhagen meeting and the recent feelers that Obama put forth about attending the meeting if it looks like progress can be made, climate change certainly will be on the agenda.
In a New York Times Article, posted on November 4, 2009, titled “Groups Press U.S. and China on Carbon”, three major American organizations discuss the possible effects of the U.S. and China working together to combat climate change.
The three research organizations; the Asia Society, the Center for American Progress, and the National Resources Defense Council will be releasing reports whose goal is aimed at the U.S and China working together in better developing C.C.S. C.C.S is short for carbon capture and sequestration, which involves using technology to store carbon dioxide emissions from polluters before these emissions have the chance to be released into the atmosphere.
In the report recently released by the Asia Society regarding this collaboration between the U.S and China, reasons for this alliance, benefits, problems that may occur, solutions, and the C.C.S processes are all clearly explained in order to convince the countries that this could be a successful development.
The Asia Society describes many benefits to this U.S. and China relationship. The first of these benefits includes an accelerated speed of technology because the two countries will be working together to develop the exact process, materials needed, etc., and this will be much speedier than one country’s ideas alone.
Also, money can be saved because many of the various materials needed to develop this technology are cheaper in China, and would therefore save the U.S. money. With the materials purchased sooner, money can also be saved because the project will be completed faster than if just one country did this on its own.
Lastly, and most importantly, the sooner this project is completed, the faster carbon dioxide emissions can be eliminated from the atmosphere. According to this report, almost 10 million tons of carbon dioxide could be prevented from entering the atmosphere shortly after the C.C.S technology is in place.
President Obama will be visiting China later this month and has realized the importance of international cooperation. Many people are still doubtful of whether or not anything will be accomplished at Copenhagen in December; however, if the U.S. and China cooperate and agree to begin conquering climate change together, then perhaps there is still hope for an even greater international agreement at the negotiations, nearly a month away.
Yesterday, Yu Qingtai–China’s top climate treaty negotiator–expressed confidence that a global treaty to deal with climate change will be finalized in Copenhagen this year.
The New York Times reports that Yu maintained China’s insistance that the country should not be required to reduce its emissions from current levels. However, Yu did describe China’s plan to reduce its energy intensity by 20% by 2020 as “a binding target.” This essentially means that the country would increase its emissions–but that the increase would be a 20% reduction from “business-as-usual” projections.
The Financial Times reports that Yu’s cooperative stance was contingent on transfer of financing and technology from the developed world.
If China is starting to use the language of “binding” when talking about its own emissions, this is a positive sign. The Obama Administration has been pursuing rather strongly the position that China must “do something” about its own emissions–without delving into specifics.
Could a trade-off likely include China (and maybe India) agreeing to cuts off of business-as-usual in exchange for a stronger US commitment to 2020 cuts?
At this juncture, it will be interesting to see how US officials respond to this latest Chinese overature.
Photo of Yu Qingtai from the Chinese Embassy in India
US Energy Secretary Stephen Chu was in China yesterday to discuss climate change with governmental officials. The New York Times reports that he raised the rhetoric somewhat in the persistent disagreement between the two countries on how the world should respond to climate change.
According to the Times, Chu emphasized that China and other developing nations could make the problem of climate change “much worse” with their emissions while acknowledging the West’s historical role. He also presented a set of powerpoint slides [.pdf] emphasizing all the problems that can befall China in the absence of any action on climate change
Chu was accompanied by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke who took a similar theme. In a speech to business leaders, Locke said: “Fifty years from now, we do not want the world to lay the blame for environmental catastrophe at the feet of China.”
China’s position is that their per-capita emissions are quite small, they have not emitted nearly as much historically as the West and that the persistence of “old” greenhouse gases is part of the current problem, and that the West is better equipped financially to make large reductions.
Thus, having Chu and Locke lecture the Chinese on their own emissions is unlikely going to be received well.
The two countries did agree on some partnership programs to increase efficiency and develop clean energy technology.
It’s difficult to speculate on the effect that these types of speeches will have on international negotiations, but more positive dialogue coming from US and China officials would make for a more optimistic outcome in Copenhagen later this year.
It should be noted that Chu told a group of reporters after meeting with Chinese officials that he feels optimistic about Copenhagen.