The United Nations climate change negotiations are underway in Cancún and the rhetoric from the major developed country parties is that they are searching for “a balanced package of decisions.” The top US negotiator, Todd Stern, used that term last week in a pre-conference press conference in Washington and Stern’s deputy on the ground in Cancún, Jonathan Pershing, deployed the similar language in a press conference on Monday.
So what does this mean? A somewhat ominous article in the Guardian suggests that the US is adopting an “all or nothing” approach to the talks. Essentially, the US is pushing large developing country polluters like China and India to submit to emissions cuts from business-as-usual that are internationally monitored and verifiable. In the absence of this, the US will be less likely to support key developing country concerns, such as financing for climate adaptation and technology assistance.
One reflection of this tension can be seen in the proceedings of the AWG-LCA–the negotiating stream that is looking for an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol. A negotiating text was prepared in August for this track, but at 70 pages, it is unwieldy and doesn’t resolve key issues on safe levels of global warming, who should mitigate emissions and by how much, and how emissions should be monitored and verified.
A shorter (33 page) text listing “possible elements of the outcome,” was prepared in the interim by the AWG-LCA chair. It largely papers over the differences in the negotiating text by accepting many of the elements of last year’s Copenhagen Accord to the extent that it presents a 2 degree warming threshold and a financing ambition for developing countries of $100 billion (USD) by 2020.
Like the Copenhagen Accord, the “possible outcome” text is sketchy on how to monitor emissions, actual emissions mitigation numbers, and how the financing mechanism will operate.
What is significant here is that the Copenhagen Accord is essentially being used as a basis for determining what exactly is in the so-called “balanced packages.” Because the US has pushed so hard for some type of international monitoring regime, it will be important to see how these discussions bear out over the next few days.
India has emerged as a broker of compromise, setting forth a proposal for international monitoring. This would meet US concerns, but at this point India is offering its proposal in exchange for keeping the Kyoto Protocol track alive–something that the US (and now Japan) are not interested in seeing.
China has been the most vocal about resisting US demands for an international monitoring regime, so their response to India’s gesture will be another key development to watch for over the coming days.
I’ll be blogging “live” from Cancún beginning tomorrow, so stay tuned at this site or over on twitter.
After I wrote my earlier post on countries that submitted their emissions targets under the Copenhagen Accord, I visited the tally sheet maintained by the US Climate Action Network and noticed that they had a copy of the official US letter.
Dated today, the letter commits the US to a 17% reduction in greenhouse gases from 2005 levels by 2020 “in conformity with anticipated US energy and climate legislation, recognizing that the final target will be reported to the Secretariat in light of enacted legislation.”
There was also no mention of the Copenhagen Accord fitting into a legal process or treaty-building exercise.
The letter does say that the US expects other countries to meet the 31 January deadline for reporting their emissions under the Accord, contradicting Yvo de Boer’s description of Sunday as a “soft ” deadline.
The US response is not a surprise. The Obama Administration gives itself an “out” if Congress fails to pass legislation or passes a climate bill with a weaker target.
Failure to mention steps beyond the Accord suggests to me that the US is not enthusiastic about the viability of the UN process. But the reiteration of the 31 January deadline means that the US doesn’t want other countries to delay and that they want to be able to point to positive steps towards addressing global climate change.
Like I said, none of this is surprising; but it shows us how the battle lines are beginning to solidify and what to expect in the way of points of contention as international negotiations continue over the next few months.
On the domestic front, assuming that major emitters (especially India and China) meet the deadline for reporting their targets under the Accord, the Obama Administration will surely use this progress to pressure the Senate into passing an energy bill.
Although Obama didn’t utter the words “cap and trade” during his state of the union speech last night, he did hit the “clean energy/jobs” angle pretty heavy. Large emitter endorsement of the Accord will likely help the Administration in moving climate and energy legislation.
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
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.
Yesterday the US Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, gave a speech at the UN Climate Change conference in Copenhagen. He is part of a cavalcade of high-level administration officials coming to Copenhagen in advance of President Obama’s participation in the high-level segment of negotiations next week.
Salazar laid out the administration’s standard line on climate change, asserting that “the United States understands the danger of climate change poses for the world” and laid out the vision of his department has for facing this challenge.
The Interior Department is a key government agency in addressing the climate problem due to the large amount of land that falls under its purview. Much of that land is in the Southwestern US in areas that could be ripe for renewable energy projects using wind and solar.
The most curious part of his talk was when he discussed “carbon capture.” He rightly mentioned the large swaths of forest land that need to be preserved to act as a carbon sink for sequestration and announced the release of a study by the US Geologic Survey that contends “the U.S. hypothetically have the potential to store an additional 3-7 billion metric tons of carbon in forests, if agricultural lands were to be used for planting forests. This potential is equivalent to 2 to 4 years of America’s current CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels.”
But more troubling was his stance on the controversial practice of carbon capture and storage. This involves taking carbon emissions from a point source and injecting it into the ground to keep out of the atmosphere. This is largely an untested technology that hasn’t been implemented to any significant degree on a commercial scale. Issues like transporting the gassified CO2, and the permanence of its storage have not been adequately resolved. Coal companies, however, are counting on carbon capture and storage’s (CCS) viability to continue burning “clean coal” in a carbon-regulated environment.
Salazar was pushed by a questioner on the problems inherent in maintaining a coal-based energy policy given the problems with CCS. Salazar expressed confidence in the development of CCS technology and suggested that storage could occur on public lands. But this stance fails to look at the problems of coal extraction, which can disrupt landscapes and water quality when “mountaintop removal” techniques are used. Obama has been a consistent advocate of “clean coal” without, so Salazar’s position isn’t surprising. However, one would hope that the administration would take a more systematic analysis of CCS’ drawbacks.
One of the worlds leading climate change experts says that the Copenhagen summit talks are so flawed that a deal would be a disaster. James Hansen, a reknown scienctist involved in the looming scientific arguments surrouding the climate change debate believes that “we don’t have a leader who is able to grasp the issue and say what is really needed. Instead we are trying to continue business as usual concepts”. Hansen represents one of the many who are in opposition to the negotiations and who believe that the approach to the summit is being viewed in the completely wrong light. He explians that “the whole approach is so fundamentally wrong that it is better to reassess the situation. If it is going to be the Kyoto-type thing then people will spend years trying to determine exactly what that means.” Due to the availability of offsets introduced by such propoals as “Cap and Trade” along with the idea that certain “goals” are to be reached within alloted time frames (as there are within the Kyoto Protocol), Hansen believes that these attempts to achieve levels of commitment and “outs” (aka offsets) are politicians attempt to treat these negotiations with a ”business as usual” mentality. While many including Hansen believe that this process is extremely flawed due to its reliance on “Cap and Trade” policies, others believe positive points can come out of the “Cap and Trade” system. As Hansen tries to set himself apart from everyone else in the environmental community he does point out what he thinks can be a start toward tackling the global carbon emissions dilemma. By putting a tax on the price of carbon directly at the mine or the port Hansen believes that a sufficient start to a global reduction in carbon emissions could be established.
Hansen also addressed the recent emails leaked regarding falsified scientific data and results produced by the climate research center of the University of Anglica. While he believes that these emails have no significant impact on the understanding of climate change research he does mention that it represents a bad public relations matter more than anything else. While the leaked emails have caused a stir amongst many United States officials, the majority of scientists and reseach and development coordinators believe that the science is sound and highly credible.
Another issue addressed by Hansen was in regard to nuclear research and development. He points out that the U.S. Democratic party should rise above the minority of the anti nuke community and continue its development for the future use of nuclear energy. He believes that the R and D should have never been limited by President Clinton during the 1970’s and that even if the US government believes that nuclear power is very uncertain they should definitely keep up the research to ensure other world powers do not capitalize on such a resource. Hansen goes on to explain that the United States has had and still has the best expertise in this field and it would be a shame if they caved into the small but vocal anti nuclear segments of the US community.
What needs to be understood is that the situation regarding nuclear power is completely different now than it ever has been before. While many say that the US has growing interest in the development nuke technnolgy many uncertainties do still exist. What has to be realized is that other alternative energies must be developed in order for nulear power to even be put into the same equation.
With the recent release of his newest book about climate change, Al Gore needs positive media focus to better his book sales, not negative focus. However, he has brought the negativity upon himself with an abrupt cancellation of his planned lecture at the conference in Copenhagen. His cancellation has come as a disappointment to the more than 3,000 people scheduled to attend his lecture. According to The Washington Times, VIP tickets were sold at DKK 5,999 which converts to $1,209. With a VIP ticket, one was promised a chance to shake hands with Gore, along with a photo with him and a copy of his latest book, Our Choice. This lecture was going to be a chance for Gore to not only speak to an eager crowd about his plans and hopes for climate action, but also a great way for him to promote his book. As far as I can read, it is yet unclear as to what his reasons are for cancelling.
Thankfully, that is not the end to U.S. involvement in Copenhagen. President Obama still plans on attending the conference on December 9th. As The Washington Post stated in an article, “Meet Al Gore at Copenhagen, for $1,209”, Obama will bring with him a group of respectable delegates including Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, and Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Carol Browner. This delegation core should bring some positive focus to the U.S. representation in Copenhagen despite Gore’s cancellation.
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.
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.