28 September, 2009

There is some hope for a climate deal in Copenhagen

But the odds against an effective deal are increasing. The NYC Climate Summit and the G20 meeting did not break the deadlock. Negotiators are working on a raft agreement in Bangkok this week. Meanwhile the UN has released the latest draft.

Sergio Abranches

Meetings of heads of governments and states have rarely led to very specific and detailed policy communiqués. But the last two, the Climate Summit in New York City, and the G20 meeting, in Pittsburgh were even more vague than official communiqués use to be.

Both meetings were a lost opportunity to sort out the differences that are stalling sound decisions on critical matters. Both failed to raise hopes that the climate deadlock might be approaching its end, and that COP 15, in Copenhagen, could be different from the others. We don’t need another roadmap. We need a substantive deal.

The G20 made no real progress regarding a climate deal. It has also failed to advance on new regulation to the domestic as well as global financial industries. The financial markets are returning to pre-crisis behavior due to the lack of new rules for their game. Governments are again getting as complacent as the markets.

The financial crisis was the result of both market and regulatory failures. The signs are that we will do nothing to prevent both to happen again. I know it is impossible to eliminate the risk of market or regulatory failure. But it is entirely within our possibilities to prevent the same sort of failure to happen again. That’s why new regulation is needed. And that’s why this lack of substance of government’s responses is a serious risk.

Will Copenhagen be a business as usual conference of the parties to the Climate Convention? The likelihood of a positive answer increases with each new failed summit. The signs are mixed, and are raising controversy: here, here, and here. The New York Summit was an opportunity for some countries to show part of the cards they are expected to play in Copenhagen.

Most of the uncertainty regarding an effective climate deal lies on what president Obama will be able to do about it. The fact that the US is no longer in denial has a significance of its own, but will not be enough. The effectiveness of a US shift towards a scientifically sound deal will be strongly mitigated if the US Congress fails to approve a substantial climate change bill. In Europe there is much concern about a US inertia that could ruin the prospects for a good deal in Copenhagen.

The second major source of uncertainty is China. President Hu Jintao’s address in New York on China’s new plans was very much welcome. The core of these policies is the program for reducing the Chinese economy’s carbon intensity by unit of GDP. It is an important step, but it falls short of what is expected from China. The same is true of the changes in India’s and Brazil’s last announcements regarding their intentions to act more effectively on climate change mitigation.

If the Us cannot show the capability to act domestically, developed nations will probably reduce the intensity of their own commitments. That is not to say nothing will happen. EU countries will certainly move forward. The new Japanese government is likely to implement what prime-minister Yukio Hatoyama has announced in New York. But these unilateral moves, though helpful, would not be enough.

We still have time to save the deal. Reuters said this Monday that the United States has “asked Britain to hold the meeting of the 17-member Major Economies Forum (MEF) it set up earlier this year, to provide an informal forum to discuss climate issues in London on October 18 and 19”. The meeting “will cover most of the climate issues discussed in the official UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) talks ahead of Copenhagen but is not an official part of the negotiations,” Britain’s Department of Energy and Climate Change said in a statement, according to Reuters. “Real commitment from all countries is needed to secure a breakthrough deal,” says the statement.

Delegates are currently in Thailand to discuss an outline of the new institutional arrangement to replace the Kyoto Protocol. The UNFCCC has released a “Draft Agreement” today. The 200-page long text is a difficult read not only because of diplomatic jargon, but also because it is full of optional clauses and remittances to previous drafts and documents.

A first reading of the document shows that delegates are prepared for a breakthrough deal as well as for a watered down one. Let me show two good examples of texts that might be developed into a stronger commitment by all parties.

On page 15, an optional phrasing of two paragraphs says: “All Parties should aim at a long-term goal of achieving at least fifty per cent reduction in global emissions of greenhouse gases from their current level by 2050, with a reference to scientific knowledge of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change through realization of a low carbon society and development of innovative technologies. In order to achieve this goal, peaking-out of the global emissions of greenhouse gases in the next ten to twenty years, 2015 for developed countries and 2025 for developing countries, should be pursued and all Parties should share the vision on how to pave the way to reduce global emissions by 2050 with flexibility and diversity of nationally appropriate actions.”

The major problem is that the text fails to set these goals as binding commitments. Rephrased to commit all parties it could be a good starting point.

On page 59, the draft also has an option that points to an effective deal:

“Parties recognize that in this context greenhouse gas emissions must be stabilized as far as possible below 350 ppmv CO2 eq, with temperature increases limited to as far as possible below 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels; hence global emissions must peak by 2015, and then be reduced by more than 85 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Economy-wide emission reductions by all countries shall be set as a stabilization of GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at 350 ppm carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq) and a temperature increase below 2oC above the pre-industrial level. For this purpose, Parties shall collectively reduce global emissions by at least 45 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020 and by at least 95 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050.

To stabilize the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate, the Parties recognize that the global temperature increase should be limited to 2oC above the pre-industrial level.

In accordance with scientific findings, this implies that the aggregate greenhouse gas emissions by developed country Parties shall be reduced by [25–40] per cent by 2020 compared with 1990. Emissions from developing country Parties shall collectively deviate significantly from business as usual by [15–30] per cent by 2020. The global greenhouse gas emissions should peak by 2015.

Parties shall further collectively reduce global emissions by 50–85 per cent by 2050 compared with the 2000 level. These collective obligations should be adjusted in accordance with best available scientific information, including the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC.”

Add the proper wording to create a biding commitment to all parties, even if at different time frames, and we could seal an effective deal. Especially if another provision contained in the draft agreement holds: the one determining a review of goals and commitments every five years, the first review being set to 2015. Gradualism and effectiveness coupled with sound targets for all would do the trick.

The UNFCCC’s rules require all parties to sign the deal. This unanimity rule turns all parties into veto players. It’s a major obstacle to any ambitious agreement. But politics is never egalitarian. If the 40 major powers and emitters sign the deal, it will very likely be approved by all.

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