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This second of two posts about the Tianjin climate talks gets into the dismal politics responsible for the stalled policies.

The climate talks in Tianjin last week did very little to improve the prospects for a binding international treaty, which would reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are warming the globe. In the wake of the disappointing meeting, Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), made her first official visit to China. During the trip, which began Saturday as Tianjin talks came to a close and ended yesterday, Jackson and her Chinese counterpart, Environmental Protection Minister Zhou Shengxian, renewed a bilateral environmental “memorandum of understanding” that had expired in 2008. Will this pact help defuse the superpowers’ climate standoff?

Tensions in Tianjin

The frustrating UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting again made clear the gulf of understanding between the US and China. Like painful repeat of the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, the Tianjin talks stalled when China refused to consider America’s call for all pledges made by developing countries to be independently monitored and verified. Claiming this would violate the Kyoto Protocol’s principle of differentiated responsibilities for rich and poor countries, Chinese negotiator Huang Huikang said, “I want to emphasize on our side no compromise on the two track process and no compromise on the interests of developing countries.”

The Times of India offered further insight into why developing giants like China are so opposed to independent monitoring: “The US stance of demanding equal level of scrutiny of mitigation actions of emerging economies is considered a backdoor route of converting the voluntary actions of countries like China, India, Brazil and South Africa into international commitments.”

US climate change envoy Todd Stern, who was not even at Tianjin, further entrenched Chinese resistance to the American proposal. In a speech at the University of Michigan Law School, he alleged that China was acting as if the Copenhagen Accord “never happened.” Su Wei, a senior Chinese climate change delegate at the talks, responded in a press conference by comparing the US to a vain pig. “[The US] has no measures or actions to show for itself, and instead it criticizes China, which is actively taking measures and actions,” Su huffed. “The developed countries are trying every means possible to avoid discussion of the essential issue–that is, emission reductions.”

Other nations watched helplessly as the political posturing of the world’s two largest climate polluters prevented movement on the other policies the negotiators had hoped to address in Tianjin.

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

Photo credit: chesbayprogram (via Flickr)

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This was my third, final, and favorite piece that I wrote at CGI.

Earlier this week at the Clinton Global Initiative, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres offered her assessment of what was preventing progress in the international negotiations. Yesterday, a few high-profile American business leaders shared their perspectives. They offered a first-hand view of government shortcomings, the powers and limitations of private sector action, and the role US citizens have played in stymieing the global climate talks.

Free the market?

Regulations are important, but can sometimes get in the way. Moderator Mindy Lubber, the president of the sustainable investor network Ceres and a former regulator, defended environmental rules, in particular the one that now allows the EPA to restrict carbon emissions. “Given that the congress didn’t act [to reduce greenhouse gases], it is all the more important for the EPA to have that authority.” However, in the next breath she lamented the legal delays that have held up the permitting of Cape Wind, the controversial windfarm project off the scenic coast of Cape Cod. “It should not have taken ten and a half years,” Lubber said.

Government environmental policy is plagued by a lack of accountability and direction. Jeffrey Swartz, the CEO of sustainable footwear manufacturer Timberland, seized on the Cape Wind fiasco to illustrate the difference between how the public and private sectors operate. “If it took me ten and a half weeks to deliver against a promise I made, [the board of directors] would fire me. And I’m the majority shareholder of our company,” said Swartz, whose family has run Timberland for three generations. “The absence of leadership is the crisis” in climate protection, he continued.

Big business, small changes

So who should take the lead in reducing carbon emissions and preventing catastrophic climate change? Describing business and government as dancing partners with each waiting for the other to take the first step, the the UNFCCC’s Figueres suggested on Tuesday that it was time for business to make a move. Although Swartz used the same metaphor, he also gave a great illustration of why business can’t take the lead on an issue as big and complex as climate change.

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

Photo credit: Clean Wal-Mart (via Flickr)

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