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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.

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This the first piece I wrote at the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative in New York City. Having missed the opening day of what was a busy week full of high-level climate talks, I had to rely on the reporting of other journalists. However, even with that handicap, I picked up on one of the (problematic) themes for the coming week: The supposed power of business to fix the climate problem.

Yesterday marked the official beginning of UN Week in New York City. This flurry of high-level diplomatic meetings will culminate in the two-day UN General Assembly, which gets under way Thursday. International leaders are using the gathering to try and kick-start the stalled climate negotiations. At the same time, innovative businesses and nonprofits are meeting around town to consider other approaches to the climate challenge. On Monday, the moods of the the dueling gatherings could not have been more different.

The first day of the Major Economies Forum on Climate and Energy was a sobering attempt by governments to lower the expectations for coordinated climate action. The two-day meeting is bringing together climate negotiators from 17 nations that are responsible for 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. “Clearly now the focus is on post-Cancun,” the Indian environmental minister Jairam Ramesh said, referring to the year-end climate summit in Mexico. “We recognize that there is no breakthrough possible in Cancun but let’s now try to cut our losses and see what we can do after Cancun,” Ramesh said.

Business leaders were much more upbeat about the role the private sector can play in reducing climate change.

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

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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.

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In the nice introductory note my editor made on my first post, he concluded by saying that I “will be covering the international climate talks for Dispatch.” While I’m not sure how I will do that between now and the Tianjin talks in October, I had enough material to draw on from the conclusion of the Bonn conference for another post.

At the beginning of the climate conference in Bonn, Germany, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres called on delegates to do what was “politically possible” and make “incremental” progress. By most accounts, the Bonn talks fell short of even these modest goals. Rifts between poor countries and rich nations that were papered over in Copenhagen reopened leaving delegates with more to debate at the final climate conference in Tianjin, China before the year-end Cancun summit and less common ground from which to begin discussions.

Contentious topics grew more heated and previously settled issues were reconsidered. China continued to claim that international monitoring of its emissions would interfere with its sovereignty. Developing countries sought to make the emissions targets they’d agreed to in Copenhagen voluntary, while insisting that rich countries’ reductions remain mandatory. Some poor nations also sought to increase the amounts of money pledged for climate change mitigation from the long-term goal of $100 billion a year by 2020 and short-term goal of $10 billion a year by 2012. (Although US deputy special climate envoy Jonathan Pershing said they were seeking “staggering sums out of line with reality,” the pledged figures now seem less substantial when compared with China’s plan to spend some $70 billion a year for a decade on renewable energy investments and the costs of rebuilding after climate-related disasters in Pakistan and Russia.)

Each dispute added contentious pages to the climate text under discussion, which must now be whittled back down in the Tianjin talks in October. This “tit for tat” diplomacy, as the European Union’s co-lead negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger described it, caused the working draft to double in size from 17 to 34 pages.

The only thing all negotiators seemed to agree upon was that their efforts in Bonn had been unsuccessful.

Click here to continue reading the UN Dispatch post or to make a comment.

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This is my first blog post for the climate channel of UN Dispatch, an internationalist site funded by the UN Foundation. I hope to write a post per week for them to keep up with the climate beat.

Reports suggest that international climate negotiators meeting this week in Bonn, Germany are not focused on setting the stage for a binding climate treaty to be signed at the year-end conference in Cancun, Mexico. Instead delegates are trying to achieving what UN chief negotiator Christiana Figueres is calling the “politically possible.” What does that mean for the future of climate protection measure around the globe?

Internationalists holding out hope that the Cancun climate summit will produce a successor to the Kyoto Protocol are likely to be disappointed. After the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change failed to produce an international climate treaty in Copenhagen, its executive director Yvo de Boer stepped down, leaving leadership of the organization to Figueres. She appears to have scaled back the UNFCCC’s ambitions. Alex Morales of Bloomberg reports that she told delegates in Bonn it may be unnecessary to complete a full agreement in Cancun. “Decisions need to be taken, perhaps in an incremental manner,” Figueres said.

In spite of the recent failures of Australia and America to move forward with cap-and-trade emissions schemes, a handful of regions and countries have quietly taken the sort of incremental steps the new UN climate chief is advocating.

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