It has been a month since the UN summit in Copenhagen ended amidst discord and uncertainty about the state of global climate policy. The dust has settled somewhat and we’ve had some time to reflect. So where do we stand at the beginning of 2010?
For the two years leading up to Copenhagen, the expectation was that the meeting would culminate with a solid framework for a new climate treaty based on the latest scientific evidence and poised to reform the shortcomings of the Kyoto Protocol.
Instead, the meeting ended with little substantive progress and a vague, last-minute, face-saving political document (the “Copenhagen Accord“) on which key countries appear to be relying for action in the coming year.
The Accord asks countries to submit their voluntary emissions reduction targets for the year 2020 by 31 January. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol which only called on developed countries to reduce their emissions, the Copenhagen commitment will include reductions from “business as usual” by key developing countries.
On the issue of insuring that countries stick to their commitments and engage in measurable and verifiable reductions, the accord asks countries to develop domestic procedures, eschewing an international standard.
The accord also discusses a financial mechanism by which the rich countries responsible for atmospheric greenhouse gas buildup can help poorer countries meet the immediate challenges they face in adapting to a changing planet.
While the accord is commendable to the extent that it gets countries–including the emerging economies of India, China, and Brazil–to offer mid-term emissions reduction targets, its voluntary, non-binding nature makes the entire enterprise quite precarious.
Thus, as we move forward in 2010, there will be some key things on which to focus to see if adequate global solutions to the climate problem can be developed.
First, it will be key to see which countries formally sign on to the Copenhagen Accord, if they sign on by the 31 January deadline, and the nature of their commitments. On Wednesday, UN climate chief, Yvo De Boer called the 31st a “soft deadline,” suggesting that some of the countries which pushed for the accord may not even be willing to meet this modest provision. Last week in a speech in Washington, US negotiator Jonathan Pershing said countries were working on their commitments, including the US; but he gave no indication as to whether the US will meet the deadline.
Much of the holdup in the US brings us to the second key process to watch out for in 2010: the climate bill in Congress. The Obama Administration has used the need to get a comprehensive climate bill through Congress as an excuse for its coyness in its failure to agree to bold emissions reductions targets. The logic on the surface made sense: Kyoto has been ineffective because of US lack of participation and the lack of participation was due to Congressional rejection of the Clinton Administration’s targets which were presented to the international community without Congressional approval.
Obama’s representatives have said that they want to be able to stand by any numbers they put on the negotiating table. However, at this point, passing ANY significant legislation through the US Senate is looking to be difficult. Although Obama’s Democratic party has majorities in both houses of Congress, they don’t appear willing to exert any political muscle on potentially controversial legislation. As I write this, the future of the year-long effort at health care reform appears in doubt solely because the Democrats lost one seat from their Senate majority.
If the Democrats aren’t willing to push through their health care bill, there is even less hope for climate legislation given the fact that there are key Democrats who are not excited about reducing emissions. I’m not sure where this leaves us on the international side of the negotiations; but where ever it is, it is not a good place.
Thirdly, over the next few months we will begin to see where the UNFCCC fits into this uncertain environment. In last week’s speech, Pershing was quite dismissive of the UN process. He seemed to push the idea that the “major economies forum” might be where the action is in getting things done. On the one hand this makes sense, given that we need key developing countries to make reductions from business-as-usual to stay within the global warming limits that the science demands. However, the major economies forum leaves many important constituencies out of the process. Small island nations, poor African nations, indigenous peoples, NGOs, and global civil society have no seat at this exclusive table–while the UNFCCC, with all its flaws, does offer a modicum of accessibility.
In his news conference yesterday, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer looked positively exhausted. While he did his best to put a positive spin on the Copenhagen Accord, it was not convincing. In the immediate weeks prior to Copenhagen, people were hoping at the very least that a specific timetable for a binding agreement would come out of the talks. What actually emerged was a political agreement with a loose time line and voluntary targets.
Many of the key players behind the Copenhagen Accord–including President Obama–have said they view the accord as a step towards an agreement. But the question that needs to be answered is what kind and size of step?
There are many other loose ends stemming from Copenhagen that need to be scrutinized–the whole financing scheme, for example. But for now, these are just a few things we’ll be keeping our eye on over the next few months.
It is 1 AM and reports are still coming out of the Bella center and around Copenhagen on the finalization of COP15. I am up because I want to sleep on the flight home tomorrow, so why not let the blog about what is happening.
What the news agencies are reporting is that 5 countries, the US, Bolivia, India, China, and South Africa have come to a “meaningful agreement,” as Obama put it.
As an environmentalist, I am disappointed that the negotiations did not come to a more fair and promising outcome, but what we have realized at this conference is that UN proceedings lack the transparency and fairness that one might expect.
What it seems like to me is that this ending was planned by the countries that have the money, power, and wealth without properly consulting the other parties involved. There were around 119 heads of state at this conference yet this new deal was brokered by just 5. How is that equitable when those who were not consulted are going to be the countries that are entirely destroyed from the impacts of climate change in less than 100 years?
Adding to my frustration is that on the final day of the talks there were several draft texts floating around between the parties, and I don’t feel as though the small island, African, and other less prominent countries around the world have the man power or resources to keep up with all the changes. Reading and understanding those texts fully (I heard they can be around 40 pages long) is key in policy, because every way a word is used, or a sentence is phrased, is crucial in the meaning of the statement.
It doesn’t help my frustration that all the non-government organizations were restricted access (basically kicked out) when all this is going down. The activists and youth would have been there if they could have been. These delegates were crucial in assisting and supporting the marginalized parties, yet UN proceedings prevented that.
While the conference has not completely ended, it is clear that the text that the US has agreed upon will not curb the devastating effects of climate change. The AP is reporting that an Obama administrator said that the agreement requires each country to list the actions they will take to cut global pollution by specific amounts. It also includes a mechanism to help poor countries prepare for climate change by giving them billions of dollars. (which will probably end up going through the World Bank anyways, which presents a whole new level of problems)
The developing world needs more money to combat what the developed world has done to them, and this agreement simply won’t go far in remedying the problem, but at least it is a start and Obama being here did bring US news agencies attention to climate change, which educates the public, and makes polices to curb US energy use politically feasible in the US. Once this happens, we can help, along with the rest of the global community provide more money, technology, and sustainable growth to the people who need it most.
Most of our class has expressed interest in traveling to COP16, next year in Mexico City, which will be cheaper, warmer, and closer than Copenhagen and we will keep on trying to get climate change on the political agenda back home.
Barack Obama gave a pretty stern speech to other leaders at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen a few minutes ago.
Unfortunately, he yielded no ground that would make a fair, ambitious, and binding deal forthcoming from the deliberations over the last two weeks.
The main sticking point for Obama is Chinese resistance to agree to any specific cuts that will be verifiable to an international body.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao preceded Obama and basically said that China will make cuts from business as usual, and that they should be taken at their word.
President Lula de Silva of Brazil was sandwiched in between Obama and Wen and was quite impassioned in expressing frustration about the little progress seen thus far. As a way to show constructive action, Lula even indicated that Brazil would provide financial assistance to low income countries to develop in a low-carbon manner–a move unprecedented given Brazil’s position as a developing country itself.
These early speeches continue to dim the hope that anything substantive will come out of the negotiations
Reuters is reporting that US President Barack Obama will attend the COP15 climate change talks in Copenhagen prior to his trip to Oslo on 10 December to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. According to Fox, Obama will be at the talks on December 9.
Many people have been calling for leaders to attend the talks. The argument is that heads of state and government will bring greater urgency to the negotiations and help push through a more robust deal. Earlier this month Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen invited leaders of 192 countries to attend the talks, but the timing for this larger gathering of leaders is scheduled for the end of the second week, during the traditional “high level” segment.
Rasmussen’s invitation apparently includes a gala dinner hosted by the Danish queen on Thursday, 17 Dec. followed by negotiations on Friday the 18th–the last day of the conference.
So although Obama will attend COP15, it is unclear with whom he will negotiate. I am not sure what will be accomplished if he shows up on 9 December, gives a speech, and then doesn’t engage with the other 65 leaders who have already announced their attendance at the high level segment.
In fact, the whole exercise could backfire on the US and contribute to the perception of many critics that they have been dragging their feet during the last year of negotiations.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited US President Barack Obama. In addition to being the guest of honor at the first state dinner at the Obama White House, Singh and Obama talked climate change.
Their joint statement and press conference had strong words on wanting a “successful,” “substantive, “comprehensive” outcome in Copenhagen.
They didn’t utter “legally binding,” for sure; but their statements were pretty strong given the pessimism that has marked the last few weeks of commentary on Copenhagen’s prospects.
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.
The White House just announced that US President Barack Obama will be going to Copenhagen…to support Chicago’s Olympic bid.
If the President is willing to travel across the world to try and lobby the International Olympic Committee to award the games to Chicago, there should be no excuse for him to travel back to Copenhagen in December to help hash out a climate deal.
Many heads of government have announced their intention to attend the COP15 talks–including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. In Brown’s estimation, having the highest level of representation in Copenhagen shows the urgency needed to hash out a global deal.
If Obama goes to Copenhagen to support a two-week sporting event and fails to attend a historic meeting in the same city to transform the world’s economy towards a low-carbon path, the symbolism will be noted by delegations from other countries.
It won’t bode well for generating a global response for dealing with one of the most pressing issues of our time.
It is climate week in New York! Before tomorrow’s opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon held a summit on climate change.
Given the slow progress thus far to meet the December deadline of putting together a global climate deal, it was hoped that today’s meeting of leaders might breathe some life into the negotiations.
The entire proceedings are available via webcast from the UN. I haven’t had a chance to watch them, but I did skim the prepared remarks from some of the global leaders.
For a nice pithy assessment of what is at stake, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri’s remarks are useful. He reminded leaders that the science tells us that doing nothing will result in a planetary temperature increase of somewhere between 1.1 & 6 degrees C, with a likely range between 1.8 & 4. The G8 leaders agreed that warming should be limited to 2° C. Because of the lagging nature of warming and emissions, this would require a peak level of emissions by 2015.
After Pachauri’s comments, various leaders took the podium, beginning with US President Barack Obama. His speech was vague and not revelatory in terms of stating what sort of action the US was going to take to limit greenhouse gas emissions and how (and how much) rich countries will finance adaptation aid to poor countries bearing the brunt of the climate crisis. It was pretty disappointing. Being the largest per-capita emitter, the US needs to show some leadership in agreeing to binding emissions cuts and in financing its fair share of any adaptation fund. Obama danced around the issues, offering no specifics about reductions targets.
Maldivian President Mohammed Nasheed followed and didn’t mince his words. He called for developed countries to reduce their emissions enough to quell warming at 1.5°C by accepting legally binding targets. He also said that if developed countries accepted these ambitious targets, then developing countries would also be prepared to accept their own more modest targets if rich countries helped out with the financing.
Nasheed’s deal is sound–requiring appropriate binding emissions on the part of all countries. Rich countries, however, have to show leadership and help poorer nations reach their own goals.
Rawandan President Paul Kagame had an interesting proposal: develop a global carbon emissions trading scheme based on per capita emissions. Pick a safe cap–he suggested 2 metric tones of CO2E per year–and allow global trading. Countries with low per-capita levels would receive flows of financing from high per capita countries that would allow the former to sustain forests and invest in renewable energy. Kagame’s plan also seems more equitable since it uses per-capita numbers to evaluate which countries should reduce their emissions.
The new Japanese Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, reflected the seriousness with which his government is embarking on negotiations by getting precise about emissions targets–a reduction by 25% from 1990 levels. Hatoyama also gave some detail on how he would like to see aid distributed–a major issue for developing countries skeptical of the demands of multilateral institutions. He specifically called for financing to go through the “UN climate change regime”–as opposed to the World Bank, which may not have the same environmental goals.
Rounding out the session were speeches by Nicholas Sarkozy, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, and Hu Jintao of China.
In sum, it is not clear how this event will impact the negotiations. There obviously will be back-door maneuvering this week in New York which may move things along.
Obama’s speech was a bit of a disappointment given the expectations that the US would change radically under the new administration. Although these expectations have always been a bit overblown, it is surprising that US has maintained such a noncommittal position. Obviously this may not bode well for real action in Copenhagen.
With the first meeting of global heads of state to discuss climate change being convened this week at the United Nations headquarters in New York, it is becoming imperative that aggressive high level leadership will be needed to get a global deal negotiated by the end of the year.
One way of moving forward in this regard is for world leaders to get personally involved in the negotiating process instead of deferring the job to underlings. Thus, it is promising to note that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced that he will personally attend the UN Climate Change negotiations in Copenhagen.
It was also reported today that US President Barack Obama may go to Copenhagen as well. His potential visit, however, will be in October to meet with the International Olympic Committee to support Chicago’s Olympic bid.
If Obama is more willing to engage personally for a sporting event instead of one of the most important global policy discussions of the twentieth century, it is not likely to be perceived as a positive step by climate delegates in Copenhagen.
Photo: Downing Street
A group of ten Democratic senators led by Ohio’s Sherrod Brown wrote US president Barack Obama yesterday indicating that they would like to see measures included in the Senate climate change bill which could penalize other “major carbon emitting countries” if they don’t reduce their own emissions.
Without a “border adjustment” these Senators contend that high-emission industries will move to countries that have not implemented emission caps. The clear worry is that developing countries like China will benefit directly from US climate legislation if they are not forced to reduce emissions. Furthermore, the Senators imply that the global goal of reducing emissions world-wide may not be served well under a system tht allows for carbon leakage.
The Senators have a point–a more effective scheme would tax carbon fuels at their original source of production or processing, regardless of where in the world the fuel is being consumed.
This approach, however, is unlikely to be successful diplomatically as developing countries argue that the problem with climate change is one created largely by developed countries who should bear the burden of fixing the problem.
Domestically, however, the Senators’ letter [.pdf] shows how hard it will be for Obama to get ratification for a treaty that doesn’t have Chinese or Indian concessions. Under this scenario we could be looking at a rerun of the Kyoto experience where the US agreeed to the protocol but could never get Senate approval.
Photo of Sherrod Brown from Ohio Progressive