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Posts Tagged ‘Copenhagen Accord’

This, my first post on COP16, is also probably the first hopeful piece I’ve written about the climate negotiations. The next two weeks will tell if that optimism is well founded.

US Envoy Jonathan Pershing is looking to work with the Chinese

Yesterday some 15,000 delegates, business leaders, activists and journalists gathered in Cancun to kick off the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 16). And already the UNFCCC has some good news to report: 400 major companies including Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Unilever and Walmart have promised to not use hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas used as a refrigerant, in new equipment after 2015. Although this is only a small first step, it is significant. Phasing out HFCs would provide 8 percent of the GHG reductions needed by midcentury to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

This is a promising opening to COP 16, especially in light of recent history. International negotiators have struggled to make progress in protecting the climate since the disappointing conclusion of the Copenhagen conference. Yet, as the progress on HFC reductions indicate, there are a few good reasons to hope that this year’s summit may produce a more tangible, positive outcome than the last.

Mexican leadership

COP 16 will benefit from the strong leadership of a developing country that is committed and engaged in the battle against climate change. In the run up to the conference, Mexican diplomats have been shuttling around the globe in search of issues where detailed progress can be made in Cancun. These efforts helped the UNFCCC craft a plan for the conference focused on securing agreement in financing for adaptation, sharing information on agriculture and technology, and setting rules for the reduced deforestation program, commonly referred to as REDD+.

Only weeks ago, it seemed likely that little more than an agreement on REDD+ was possible in Cancun. Now President Felipe Calderon of Mexico, who Washington Post’s William Booth refers to as “a climate wonk,” has announced that he will advocate for a “third way” in the climate negotiations. His developing country will make, as Booth describes it, “commitments to serious, verifiable reductions in greenhouse gases in exchange for billions in aid and technology transfers from big polluters such as the United States and European Union.” This could effectively defuse the superpower standoff between the US, which has demanded better monitoring of developing country commitments, and China, which wants more money, technology and emission reductions from rich nations.

“We would like to prove that a developing country can mitigate and adapt to climate change without hurting the economy,” Fernando Tudela, Calderon’s deputy secretary of planning and environmental policy explained. “We want to prove that in Mexico.”

The China challenge

Another encouraging trend is the reported increase in China’s climate cooperation. Meetings of the countries’ negotiators over the past months seem to have reduced the tensions between China, the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter, and the US, which is the world’s richest nation and second biggest carbon polluter. “My sense is we have made progress,” said Jonathan Pershing, the leader of the US delegation in Cancun.

Statements by his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua about the country’s new-found support for international emissions monitoring suggest Pershing may be right.

Click here to read the rest of this UN Dispatch piece or to make a comment at the Huffington Post.

Photo credit: US Department of State (via Flickr)

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This post was linked to in a Washington Post column on the Cancun climate summit.

With only days remaining until diplomats are due to arrive in Tianjin for the final round of climate negotiations before the Cancun summit, scientists have provided a grim reminder of how little progress governments have made in addressing the threat of climate change and the consequences of continued inaction. Yet the statements being made by some world leaders suggest that governments are still unwilling to acknowledge the scope of the problem.

Stern Warning

Research now suggests that the fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP 15) in Copenhagen was an even bigger failure than originally thought. A study published yesterday in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that the national emissions reduction commitments countries made under the non-binding Copenhagen Accord will still result in a dangerous increase in the global average temperature. The cuts would only limit warming over the next century to 4.2º C (7.6º F), according to the analysis of scientists from seven European research centers. The increase baked into the Copenhagen Accord is only slightly off the “catastrophic” 5 – 7º C rise the UK’s Met Office warned would result if the world continued to burn fossil fuels at the present rate.

Global warming in excess of 2º C could produce disastrous changes to the earth’s ecosystems. The study’s authors warn that the present cuts will not be enough to save heat-sensitive coral reefs, the “rainforests of the sea.” Already, scientist are predicting a widespread coral die off in the Caribbean, which will decimate the wide range of marine life that thrives in this fragile habitat. As ScienceDaily notes, “coral reefs provide services estimated to be worth as much as $375 billion globally each year,” the loss of which would benefit no one at the negotiating table.

At this point, it is not even clear that the best efforts of negotiators could prevent dangerous warming from occurring. According to the Environmental Research Letters study, with an emissions reduction of 50% by 2050, there is still a less than 50% chance of keeping the global temperature rise under 2º C. “It is clear from this analysis that higher ambitions for 2020 are necessary” to limit increases to below 2º C “without relying on potentially infeasible reduction rates after 2020,” the scientists concluded.

Ignoring the Problem

Meanwhile, world leaders are heading to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change talks in Tianjin with ambitions too small to address the looming crisis.

Click here to read the rest of this UN Dispatch piece or to make a comment on the Huffington Post.

Photo credit: London Permaculture (via Flickr)

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While the embattled Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may have been the leading climate-related news the past couple weeks, of more importance to the international negotiations were two meetings at opposite ends of the globe. A week ago Saturday, China and Japan held a one-day ministerial level meeting in Beijing to discuss economic matters, among them their approaches to climate change. Then at the end of last week, experts and environmental ministers from some 45 nations concluded a two-day meeting in Geneva on climate finance, a contentious issue that developing nations consider instrumental for crafting a binding international climate agreement.

Even though the climate summit in Cancun is unlikely to produce a treaty, internationalists hope these side meetings–and the final formal talks in Tianjin, China scheduled for November–will produce the understanding needed to move closer to an international agreement in Mexico at the end of the year. Will the recent gatherings in China and Switzerland foster the teamwork necessary to construct a consensus approach to combating climate change? It is too soon to judge the outcome of the financial talks (more on those later), but the news from China suggests that it is sticking to its unilateral game plan.

The Japanese connection

Although China and Japan are deeply connected trading partners, the Asian giants sit on opposite sides of the climate debate. While China is the world’s undisputed king of carbon emissions and an emerging superpower, it is also a poor, developing nation eager to protect the right to continue its fossil-fueled growth. Rich Japan’s smaller economy may now produce fewer greenhouse gases than China’s, but the Japanese–like the Americans and Europeans and the rest of the rich world–bear a greater historic responsibility for the current level of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere.

In spite of their differences, the two countries have a history of climate cooperation. During a state visit to Tokyo in May 2008, Chinese President Hu Jintao and his Japanese counterpart Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda signed a Joint Statement on Climate Change. The document, which the recent Beijing meetings reaffirmed, essentially endorses the Chinese negotiation position at last year’s Copenhagen summit with a few Japanese caveats and clarifications.

In its most sweeping and controversial section, the agreement says that “the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC] and its Kyoto Protocol are the appropriate and effective framework for international cooperation to address climate change.” It then goes on to enshrine “the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.” These innocuous sounding sentences have emerged as two of the biggest points of contention between rich and poor countries since the disappointing outcome in Copenhagen.

Another venue

First, some countries have begun to question whether the UN is even the right venue for addressing climate change…

Click here to read the rest of this UN Dispatch blog post on the Huffington Post.

Photo credit: Edú (via Flickr)

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The World Resources Institute recently released updated estimates of the “fast-start” climate mitigation and adaption commitments rich nations made to poor countries after the Copenhagen summit. The headline figures are pretty impressive: Developed nations have set aside an estimated $27.9 billion, a combined total that is only $2 billion shy of the amount they promised between now and 2012. Environmental think tank WRI was quick to note that “while this represents a significant step in the right direction, developed countries still have much to do in meeting their Copenhagen fast-start pledge.” With unprecedented costs of combating climate-related disasters in Pakistan and Russia, one must ask, is this pledge a big enough step?

Fast-start money matters

First a bit of background: The fast-start pledge was only intended to help fund poorer, more vulnerable countries’ climate efforts from now through 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol is due to expire. The negotiators who cobbled together the non-binding Copenhagen Accord at the eleventh hour of the last big climate summit hoped to have a successor treaty with larger, binding climate finance figures in place before then. The Accord established a goal of ramping up mitigation and adaption funding to $100 billion by 2020.

Unfortunately, the diverging negotiating positions of rich and poor countries that have emerged since the Copenhagen summit make it less likely that a binding treaty will be agreed upon and ratified by 2012. This dreaded “Kyoto gap”–as the expected space between the end of the current greenhouse gas regulatory regime and whatever comes next is now being referred to–has developing countries clamoring for assurances that rich nations are still committed to cooperatively addressing the threat of climate change.

One simple way for the developed world to reaffirm its resolve is by meeting the existing fast-start pledge made in Copenhagen. The importance of this point was made explicit before the Bonn climate talks by the environmental ministers of Brazil, South Africa, India, and China–an influential collection of emerging economies that have coalesced into the “BASIC” negotiating block. In a joint press release, the BASIC ministers warned that “fast-start finance will be the key for an effective result in the climate change negotiations in Cancun.”

Tallying the pledges

Although the Bonn talks failed to establish firmer climate finance figures, WRI’s estimates suggest that the developed world has still made progress in fulfilling the commitment it made in Copenhagen.

Click here to read and comment on the rest of this UN Dispatch post republished on the Huffington Post.

Photo credit: United Nations Photo (via Flickr)

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Add another line to the resume: I’ve been accepted as a Huffington Post blogger. This green piece, originally written for UN Dispatch, is my first to be republished there. I have now joined hundreds of unpaid journalists, PR flacks, politicians, and celebrities who are all pushing our particular message on Arianna’s tremendously popular web platform. I’m not sure how often I’ll blog for HuffPo, but it’s a nice to now know that I can.

Clouds gather over Cancun

While everyone else is downplaying expectations for the year-end Cancun climate summit, Mexican negotiators still believe there can be a “spectacular breakthrough.” After the failure of the recent Bonn climate talks to achieve any substantial progress, one has to wonder how Mexico is defining success in Cancun? And more importantly, how does it aim to facilitate that outcome?

Mexico has stopped short of pushing for comprehensive treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol. Reluctantly acknowledging political reality after Bonn, Mexico’s chief delegate Fernando Tudela told Reuters earlier this week that “we will not be able to negotiate a new treaty in Cancun, that much is clear.” What they hope to come of their high profile summit is less clear.

Mexico’s conflicting messages

Before the Bonn talks devolved into what one EU delegate referred to as “tit-for-tat” diplomacy, Mexico’s Special Representative for Climate Change Luis Alfonso de Alba had suggested the Cancun summit could result in three new treaties: “We are not just talking about one single legally binding instrument but a set of them.” As De Alba explained it to Nina Chestney of Reuters, one treaty could cover Annex I, developed country signatories to the Kyoto Protocol; another, developing countries; and a third treaty could be drafted in an attempt to codify the promised reductions made in Copenhagen by the US–the world’s richest unrepentant emitter of greenhouse gas.

Mexico’s Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa is suggesting something entirely different: simply extend the Kyoto Protocol. Espinosa told The Hindu newspaper that “the existing legal framework is a good basis” for addressing climate change. “There is no need for a new treaty,” she said.

Under the Kyoto regime, developing countries–even large ones like China and India–are exempted from committing to carbon emissions reductions. As developing countries have come to produce an increasing share of greenhouse gases since 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was initially adopted, that provision has become one of the biggest obstacles preventing American support for international climate agreements.

Espinosa’s proposal also faces logistical hurdles. The first commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012, but it most experts predict it would take years to authorize a second period leaving a regulatory gap between when Kyoto expires and comes back into force. Some worry that focusing on reauthorizing a contentious treaty will simply distract diplomats from the hard negotiating necessary to draft a more agreeable updated treaty (or treaties, as De Alba would have it).

Betting on developing nations

Mexico is acutely aware that climate negotiators are running short on time to shape a post-Kyoto legal structure. “We have a window of opportunity that is closing,” said Mexico’s chief Bonn delegate Tudela. “What we want to do is rescue these negotiations.”

Since the conclusion of the Bonn talks, Mexican diplomats have been racing around the globe trying to do just that. Last week De Alba traveled to Stockholm and announced Mexico’s intentions to reach out to developing nations “that felt their views were not significantly taken into account” in Copenhagen. This week Foreign Minister Espinosa was in India, one of those emerging countries hurt by the last minute diplomatic push that produced the Copenhagen Accord. In New Delhi, she met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh to deliver the message that, “an ambitious outcome [in Cancun] requires India’s sustained political guidance and support.”

Mexico’s efforts to keep developing nations happy may end up pleasing no one.

Click here to continue reading, like, or comment on this UN Dispatch piece republished by the Huffington Post.

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