Building for Success on International Global Warming Cooperation in Copenhagen

Working for international agreement on climate change

The last round of global warming negotiations before the Copenhagen meeting begins wrapped up last Friday in Barcelona.  Much of the actual negotiations were focused on getting the negotiating text and the underlying details contained in the text into better shape.  But there were also important discussions for what can be achieved in Copenhagen and ultimately out of this international negotiations.  After all, after we leave Barcelona there are only 4 weeks before negotiations begin in Copenhagen.

So there was a lot of buzz in the corridors when Africa showed that it was frustrated and when key political leaders were discussing the form of the outcome in Copenhagen (as you can see here and here).  And these key players were introducing a lot of phrases that were hard to decipher what would exactly underlie their meaning (e.g., “legally binding”, “politically binding“, “an outcome that can start moving us down the path”).

So what can we expect out of Copenhagen?

The meeting in Copenhagen is about building on the growing momentum for action that has emerged over the past year and laying a solid foundation for achieving the final legally binding agreement in months, not years.  Most key countries have signaled a serious willingness to action, but without strong domestic action from the United States, other countries are not going to finalize their commitments.  Progress in the U.S. is shaping what we can realistically achieve in Copenhagen.

Over this past year we’ve had all the major developed countries (except the US, Canada, and Russia) propose serious and firm commitments to curb their emissions.  And major emerging economies have all either signaled clear steps that they’ll take to reduce their emissions or provided clear signals that they will soon, as I’ve previously discussed.  So we actually have made very serious progress on one of the most important elements of an international agreement – signs of actions by key countries to address their global warming pollution.

What exact shape this agreement will take in Copenhagen this December and in the ensuing period isn’t exactly clear at this point.  But it will need to contain clear signals from key countries that they are really going to take action (in some cases reaffirming commitments that they have already put forward).  And it will need to ensure a structured effort to finalize the details of the legally binding agreement in a clear timeframe.

It isn’t clear at this stage, if countries will agree in December to some of the technical details that will frame out that final legally binding agreement, but the negotiating text that feeds into that agreement is in a bit better shape after this week.

The negotiating text coming out of Barcelona is both shorter and clearer on the options that Governments will have to choose between.  But there will be a lot of late nights and coffee injection in Copenhagen before these text look anything like an agreed outcome.

Most of principles that will guide implementation of the key elements of the agreement are contained in the draft negotiating text emerging from Barcelona.  Granted they have brackets and a number of options.  But each country will now have in front of them clear choices for each of the 6 core elements of the Copenhagen agreement :

  1. Strong leadership from developed countries with firm and aggressive emissions reduction targets in the near-term (e.g., 2020 and 2030) and strong signals that they will significantly reduce emissions in the medium-term (e.g., 2050).
  2. Willingness of developing countries to undertake significant emissions reductions on their own that tangibly reduce the growth of their emissions in the near-term (e.g., to 2020) and lay the foundation for even deeper cuts in the medium-term.
  3. Turning the corner on efforts to combat global deforestation.
  4. Properly designed and performance-based incentives from developed countries to encourage even greater developing country emissions reductions.
  5. Support for adaptation to the impacts of climate change in the least vulnerable countries.
  6. Strong provisions to ensure that countries “open up their books and defend them”.  We need to know that countries are actually achieving what they say they are doing to reduce their emissions and in providing support for countries to go further in reducing their emissions and adapting to global warming.

Copenhagen will be a critical moment for the world to decide does it want to progress international efforts to address global warming in order to wrap up the final agreement sometime next year.  It won’t be the final international meeting on global warming as we won’t be done with this challenge in one meeting over a two week period.

And now it seems like there is some growing consensus that there will still be work to be done after Copenhagen before a final agreement is reached.  But it can be reached.  And it can be done in a matter of months not years.  But the world will need a clear signal from the US about what it will do to address US global warming pollution.  We can’t wait much longer!
Jake Schmidt is the International Climate Policy Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, read his blog at NRDC’s Switchboard

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