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.
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.
Politics versus Policy
In the past few months since I have been following news revolving around the Copenhagen climate change conference, the rhetoric used by the media and important actors has fluctuated significantly. There are those saying that the Copenhagen conference will be successful in determining explicit agreements and resulting actions for combating climate change and those arguing the exact opposite, saying there will not be a binding agreement.
On October 21st, the AP reported that China and India came to an agreement on taking a stand together in their negotiating positions and this happened as the two countries were disagreeing due to a diplomatic dispute. Currently, American politics are severely interfering with the ability for countries to come to an agreement about action that needs to take place in less than one month from today. With continued dispute between the developed, and developing world the UNFCC executive secretary, Yvo de Boer, midweek through the Barcelona talks, expressed that a successful outcome in Copenhagen requires a level of cooperation between, countries, levels of government, and the private sector that is unprecedented in any prior international policy. While the agreement between China and India may well have other political reasoning at the base, similar action will be helpful between all countries in order for an international treaty to be successful as possible.
As a public policy major, the reason I choose to care about environmental issues is because I want to create change that will help those that are less fortunate and keep the ecology of the planet sustained for future generations. Unfortunately, it is painfully obvious that human nature does not share this view and/or does not have the access to information that education provides myself and other interested parties. At this point in the process before meeting in Copenhagen, it seems no one knows if or when an agreement will be created, but the only direction we can take is toward progress. With one month left before we leave for Denmark the suspense is growing, the US is in the process of climate change legislation, and I hope that human morality will trump economic greed. However unlikely this is in the global economy, I am still going to be optimistic that the politics can come to an agreement to support changes in global policy that will result in the world avoiding chaos from environmental destruction.
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.
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.