Game on (finally) in climate change talks

September 10, 2009

     By Duncan Green     

After months of futile and wearying paralysis, marked by interminable meetings full of little more than posturing and the endless repetitionclimate change cartoon IDS of fixed positions, the climate change talks seem to be entering full negotiating mode, and not before time, with the Copenhagen climate summit only 3 months away.

For the ‘glass half full’ optimistic version, check out Leo Horn’s summary on Global Dashboard where he points to three areas of significant progress:

‘1) Africa emerges as a unified and purposeful participant in the upcoming negotiations: Last week, ten African Heads of State and assorted ministers met in Addis Ababa to agree a common stand for Africa ahead of the Copenhagen conference. This meeting also decided that Africa would be represented by one delegation, to be headed by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. I have already delved into the outcomes and significance of this meeting in my previous post.

2) The US and China to sign a bilateral deal on climate change? A recent visit to Beijing by US Senator Maria Cantwell reportedly set the ground for a wide-ranging bilateral agreement between China and the US on climate change. This deal is to be sealed on the occasion of President Obama’s scheduled trip to China in November, a month ahead of the Copenhagen climate conference. Reuters reports that ‘The United States and China are likely to sign a new bilateral agreement to combat climate change during President Barack Obama’s visit to Beijing in November, Washington senator Maria Cantwell said on Friday. Cantwell, who is in Beijing to discuss clean energy and intellectual property issues with Chinese officials, said a deal between the world’s two biggest CO2 polluters would also help build global confidence in the efforts to curb global warming.’

This is extremely significant when you consider that the combined emissions of the US and China account for 40% of the global total. Such a deal could send a strong signal and boost confidence ahead of the Copenhagen Climate conference.

3) Japan announces ambitious plans to curb emissions: Japan’s PM-elect, Yukio Hatoyama, reaffirmed his party’s pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by a quarter by 2020 from 1990 levels, amidst strong opposition from industry. This is a highly ambitious commitment: it would require Japan – which is already leading the world in terms of its efficiency in energy use – to reduce emissions by a third from current levels in just 11 years. Mr. Taro Aso had previously only committed to reducing emissions by 8% from 1990 levels.

As the world’s second largest economy and fifth largest emitter, Japan’s move would increase pressure on other main players ahead of the upcoming Copenhagen Climate Conference.’

But here’s the glass half empty version, c/o my Oxfam colleague and lead Copenhagen wonk, Antonio Hill:

‘This is a good development, as things have been going too long without any real movement and if real negotiations wait until Copenhagen itself we’re guaranteed a crap outcome.  Sadly, though, there’s still plenty of cause for concern:

A common African position could help that bloc exert more pressure, but it also could (as Meles threatened last week) result in a walkout and collapse — one of the worst possible outcomes.

Japan’s target is an excellent development (especially as it’s against a 1990 baseline), and much needed, but it’s still only half of what we’ve calculated Japan needs to do and, worse, we know that, like the US, they’re highly likely to load-up on dodgy offsets to achieve the target rather than make the cuts at home.

It’s clear that the whole game hinges on the US, and the domestic debate in the US certainly doesn’t give much cause for optimism.  If the result of the bi-lateral talks with China is to make China an offer it can’t refuse and so stitch-up a papered-over farce of an agreement, it could result in an agreement, but one that condemns the developing world.’

And to add to the miserabilist version of events, on Tuesday the Financial Times reported that the EU is only planning to offer a ‘modest’ $15bn a year to developing countries by 2020, an order of magnitude short of what’s needed, and that even that will be partly drawn from existing aid budgets, sacrificing schools and hospitals to pay for the damage inflicted by rich countries’ pollution. Understandably, tempers are getting frayed among developing country negotiators.

September 10, 2009
Duncan Green