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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 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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This was my write up of the first of a handful of great panel discussions I saw at CGI.

In a candid session on energy and the environment at the Clinton Global Initiative yesterday, the world’s lead climate negotiator Christiana Figueres explained why her organization, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), had made so little progress in establishing international climate protection regulations. She suggested that there were two main reasons for the climate negotiations stalemate: Tensions between developed and developing countries and-surprisingly, given that she was sharing the stage with green entrepreneur Richard Branson-businesses.

According to the Costa Rican executive director of UNFCC, business is not taking bold enough steps to reduce its carbon footprint because it’s waiting for government to move onto creating a comprehensive regulatory framework. And the governments are nervously staring at their feet because “business is not pushing us,” Figueres explained. “We have a nice little dance of you first, you first, you first…” So which partner does the head of the intergovernmental climate negotiations believe should make the next move? “Very conveniently, I think business should be taking the lead here,” she confided to the audience of corporate and nonprofit leaders. And what would private sector leadership in climate protection look like? Figures suggested the example of the mobile phone revolution, which has spread and decentralized modern communication. The first cellphone was invented in 1973 and weighed 2.5 pounds. By the end of 2010, there will be 5 billion mobile phones on the market, all of which will weigh less than 4 ounces according to her figures.

But letting business twirl governments around the dance floor has its risks.

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

Photo credit: Lorenia (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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