Global climate negotiators hunkered down in Bonn’s Hotel Maritim today in one of the last negotiating sessions before the major meeting this December in Cancun.
Last year’s negotiations in Copenhagen ended with a political agreement brokered by the United States that said the world should limit warming to 2 degrees centigrade from pre-industrial levels. All governments that agreed with the sentiment were invited to submit their own domestic commitments by the end of last January. Those numbers would then be used as the basis for negotiating a more permanent agreement.
Leaving aside the fact that when you do the math, the global commitments come up short in providing a strong chance at the 2 degree stabilization, with the Senate’s recent decision to stop work on climate legislation the US is in a difficult position to defend its own actions at Bonn and help move along the negotiation process.
Today, the European Union envoy said that they are unlikely to sign on to a continuation of the reductions mandated under the Kyoto agreement without the United States involved in some sort of framework.
Head US negotiator, Todd Stern, today said that the international community shouldn’t worry: the US commitment stands. The assumption of the Obama Administration is that they can accomplish significant reductions using regulatory mechanisms via the EPA and other federal agencies.
This may be the case, but independent analysis indicates that even if the federal government and all of the states who have plans on the books for greenhouse gas reductions pursue the most aggressive actions, the US 2020 commitment will be unattainable in the absence of Congressional action.
It will be interesting to see global reaction to the US over the next week as the meetings progress in Bonn. With Stern not backing down from an untenable position, it will give other countries an excuse to avoid their own action creating further stalemate in the effort to come to a global deal.
Today marks the beginning of the first major international climate talks since last December’s meeting in Copenhagen. That meeting, of course, ended in a storm of controversy and uncertainty with the United States hailing its non-binding political declaration as a “breakthrough” and much of the rest of the world expressing disappointment that there was not a legally binding agreement to deal with the climate crisis.
The United States has always maintained that the Copenhagen Accord is a first step on the way (perhaps) to a legal agreement, but as the weeks proceed to the next major meeting scheduled for December in Cancun, there seems to be little movement.
In Bonn, the parties will be taking up an actual negotiating text that is supposed to serve as the basis for an agreement. However, the text does not come very close to resolving the key issues around the acceptable global temperature rise, greenhouse gas emissions reduction levels, which parties should reduce emissions, and the time line for reductions.
Additionally, the negotiations are still proceeding on two separate tracks–one involving the parties to the Kyoto Protocol (which excludes the US) that is trying to figure out how that agreement will function after the first phase of its implementation finishes in 2012 and another on “long term cooperative action” which includes the major emitters.
Fundamentally, the negotiations are at much the same stage as they were last year at this point. Given the fact that all of the major issues are still outstanding, it is unclear what sort of progress will be made in the next two weeks in Bonn.
Due to having quite an unexpected experience this morning on my way to the Bella Center in Copenhagen I thought it would be a good idea to make sure our readers are aware of who is who amongst the top Copenhagen officials. As I was walking off the Metro this morning I happened to be walking next to one of the UN’s top aids to top climate change official Yvo de Boar. Little did I know of him much less be able to pick his face out of a crowd of a bunch of Norwegians, Danes, Swedes and others. Unfortunately, I did not realize who he was until he was literally swarmed by “politi” and security once he entered the conference center. In light of this experience here is a little rundown of some of the top officials you/we may see while spending time around the Bella Center (mid to later part of next week most likely).
Yvo de Boar – Yvo is being discussed as the most important head official attending the conferences this week in Copenhagen. He is known for much of his good humor and extreme devotion to duty and diplomatic skills. His title of Executive Secretary of the UFCCC speaks to his knowledge not only with the European systems but amongst the many international policy systems as well. De Boer has been criticised for lacking sufficient ambition for a global climate change deal and for praising the commitments of the United States despite what some see as its spoiler role in international climate negotiations.
Marthinus van Schalkwyk – Van Schalkwyk was appointed as the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in the South African cabinet as a reward for aligning his party with the ruling African National Congress (ANC). Initially judged with scepticism by many environmental activists groups, his career has been marked by a number of decisions and initiatives that have been increasingly welcomed by environmentalists alike. He has been the main driving force for many of the South African nations that are experiencing some of the worst of what climate change has presented.
Todd Stern – Stern was the assistant to the President and Staff Secretary in the White House from 1993 to 1998. His main focus lies in climate change and environmental issues. He also acted as the senior White House negotiator at the Kyoto Protocol and Buenos Aires negotiations. On January 26, 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Clinton appointed Stern to be a special envoy for climate change in light of the high profile negotiations this week in Copenhagen. He is known heavily for the extreme criticism of the Bush Administration years and was a big player in the climate debate in Bonn, Germany last April.
Connie Hedegaard – Hedegaard is the Danish Minister for Climate and Energy and also is the chair of the Copenhagen negotiations. She has been behind Denmark’s energy successes for yeas now and has no intention of stopping her drive against climate change and time soon. In April, she signed an action plan with India on renewable energies and has also achieved her goal in introducing Denmark’s Energy Policy from the years 2008 to 2011. The policy made her country the first in the world to commit to an overall energy reduction, not just a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
The first of three informal negotiating sessions leading up to the UN talks in Copenhagen to develop a successor to the Kyoto Protocol wound up Friday with little progress.
UN climate head, Yvo de Boer concluded that the “action is not ambitious enough” on mitigation and that the ways to deal with adaptation in the developing world is not moving as quickly as needed. In order to get an agreement by December, de Boer said that “governments need to buckle down.”
US envoy, Jonathan Pershing said that “modest, but real progress” had been made, but also indicated that it will be a long road to meet the December deadline.
One disappointment was an inability to reduce the length of the current negotiating document. At 200 pages it is unwieldy, redundant, contradictory, and rather confusing in parts. Rather than paring the document down, the document will be enhanced by a new “toolbox” document. The toolbox will be prepared before the next negotiating session in Bangkok and will apparently give the delegates a better understanding of areas of convergence in the draft negotiating text.
It appears that some of the initial toolbox documents are already posted on the UN’s website.
Photo of Yvo de Boer: World Economic Forum
Tomorrow US State Department climate change negotiator Todd Stern will head to Bonn to join the UN-sponsored climate change talks. The Bonn meeting is seen as a key step towards the goal of coming to an international agreement at Copenhagen in December.
On Wednesday Stern gave an address at the Center for American Politics that focused on China and the US-China relationship on the issue of climate change. During the Bush administration, the US essentially maintained that no global climate change agreement would be possible without China agreeing to significant emissions cuts. This position has basically been a non-starter with China given the fact that industrialized countries are responsible for the highest percentage of cumulative emissions and their current per capita levels of emissions outweigh those of developing countries such as China.
How the Obama administration is going to address the China issue, therefore, has been a matter of interest.
From Stern’s talk it is clear that the US is not going to demand absolute cuts from China. However, he pretty forcefully said that China can’t hide behind its old arguments, arguing that it is not in China’s interest to pursue a high-carbon form of development.
UN-sponsored climate change talks began on Monday in Bonn. The negotiations will last two weeks and represent a step on the path towards a final successor to the Kyoto agreement scheduled to be completed by December.
While the negotiations are underway many NGOs are highlighting the domestic positions of various countries. Yesterday, the Climate Action Network held a press conference to discuss the impending decision on levels of greenhouse gas emission reductions in Japan.