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November 09 2009


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

November 06 2009


Barcelona ClimateTalks End With Little Progress and Cautious Optimism for Copenhagen

The final week of international climate negotiations before the major COP15 summit in Copenhagen next month ended in Barcelona today with little progress made on the two principal issues fueling the continuing statement between rich and poor nations, specifically mid-term mitigation targets and financing. Delegations from 50 African nations brought the talks to a halt on Tuesday, saying any further negotiations required a firmer commitment from industrialized nations on mid-term emission reductions targets. Leaders from the delegations said that countries should commit to a 40% reduction over 1990 levels by 2020, far higher number than any developed nation has put on the table.

On the domestic front, the Senate Energy and Public Works Committee passed the Kerry-Boxer climate bill out of committee, but not without days of theatrics provoked by a three-day Republican boycott of the bill's markup session. The majority Democrats, led by Senator Barbara Boxer, invoked a never-before-used committee rule granting authority to the chairperson to move forward without the minority party present. Success in Copenhagen is tied to progress in the U.S. Congress to committing to some form of emissions target.

But succes is still achievable, according to UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer, saying "Copenhagen can and must be the turning point in the international fight
against climate change – nothing has changed my confidence in that. A powerful combination of commitment and compromise can and must make this happen,”

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U.S. Climate Envoy Slams Inhofe's Attempts To Influence Copenhagen

At the U.S. delegation press conference this afternoon on the final day of the Barcelona climate talks, I asked U.S. deputy climate change envoy Jonathan Pershing what effect, if any, Senator James Inhofe (R-Denial) might have on the process in Copenhagen, and whether GOP intransigence is hurting Obama’s ability to come up with a firm number on U.S. emissions reductions.

Pershing responded that the U.S. delegation traveling to Denmark will include “a wide variety of members of Congress as well as their staff,” from both parties, as is the tradition in international negotiations.  

“They are engaged with us in discussions about what they think will be effective, but U.S. policymaking on the international arena and negotiations is in the purview of the executive branch, and will remain that way,” Pershing told me.

It is promising to hear Pershing confirm that the Obama administration isn’t going to let GOP shenanigans control the U.S. position on international climate policy. But there is no doubt in the minds of the delegates wrapping up the Barcelona talks today that the continued momentum of the Kerry-Boxer Senate bill over the coming weeks could mean the difference between failure and success in Copenhagen.

Watch the U.S. delegation press conference here. My exchange with Pershing is at the very end.


What Would Frank Luntz Do with the Copenhagen Climate Treaty?

When I'm trying to unravel public relations spin, I frequently find myself asking WWFLD (What Would Frank Luntz Do)?

As you'll recall Frank Luntz is a chief Republican spin-doctor famous for his memo on climate change.

We have seen a lot of spindoctoring at the Barcelona climate talks underway this week in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate treaty summit to be held in mid-December.

As I've pointed out in previous posts, the most aggregious spin has been the attempts by politicians to re-frame a successful outcome in Copenhagen as being a "politically binding" deal as opposed to a "legally binding" one.

"Politically binding" is great Luntz-speak. The term looks impressive, but is completely meaningless.

So WWFLD?My guess is that his communications memo would look something like this:

MEMO: Copenhagen Agreement “legally binding” language recommendation

Situational Analysis:

There is heavy pressure on the United States and other countries like the EU, Denmark, Canada and Australia to deliver a “legally binding” agreement at the upcoming UNFCCC summit in Copenhagen, Denmark scheduled for mid-December.
Many developed nations are not in a position to deliver a legally binding deal due to various reasons. At the same time there is great pressure being put on politicians by civil society, grassroots organizations and environmental groups for there to be a successful outcome at the Copenhagen meeting.

In order to consolidate the opposing goals of a “legally binding” and the need for the public to perceive a successful outcome in Copenhagen, I would recommend reframing the definition of what is considered a success. To do this, political leaders must shift the perception of success as being a “politically binding deal as a opposed to a “legally binding” one.

Key Messages:

We are committed to seeing a successful outcome in Copenhagen that is politically binding.

We are working towards a deal with a strong commitment by all nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

November 04 2009


A politically binding climate change agreement is great... if you're a politician

The biggest news coming out of the Barcelona climate talks being held this week is the re-framing of a successful climate change treaty as being one that is "politically binding" as opposed to "legally binding."

With all the long hours I've been putting into to covering these climate talks, I'm sure my wife is wishing our marriage was a politically binding agreement, as opposed to a legal one.

This double-speak-aganza started earlier this week with Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen telling Reuters that, "it is a challenge for every single industrialised country in the world to deal with the climate change issue and that's why we are working very strongly to reach a politically binding agreement in Copenhagen..."

President Rasmussen said he was optimistic that a politically binding deal could be reached in Copenhagen. No kidding he's optimistic. Who wouldn't sign on the dotted line to an agreement that has absolutely no ramifications if the terms are not met?


Politicians invented the art of making promises they can't keep and now we're expected to bank on their promise to deal with the most pressing environmental challenge the world has ever seen. Call me cynical, but I think I'll be stocking up on sand bags and sunscreen tomorrow.

The spin continued with, of all people, the head of United Nation's climate treaty process, Yvo de Boer, saying, ""It is absolutely clear that Copenhagen must deliver a strong political agreement and nail down the essentials."

Then UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon echoed de Boer. saying "several key countries were not ready to sign up to binding targets and that the best the world could hope for from the summit would be 'political commitments.'"

All this "politically binding" talk is great if you're a government official who is looking for a way to pretend that the last two years of climate treaty talks have amounted to something more than an impressive sounding document that has no teeth.

"Politically binding" is even better if you're a politician looking for a way to appear like you're committed to resolving the issue of climate change, without having to actually commit to doing anything you cannot weasel your way out of later. Watch more countries jump on this do-nothing train in short order.

Maybe while they're at it they could change highway speed laws from legally to politically binding. It would save me a ton in speeding tickets.

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