24 November, 2009

The road to Copenhagen looks a bit brighter

The preparatory measures towards Copenhagen are already important in themselves. For the first time several pivotal players are signaling cooperation, and effective commitment, rather than threatening to veto a deal.

Sergio Abranches

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was the latest to move a step ahead. He said yesterday that India would be “part of the solution” to the global climate change challenge, tells  Climate Progress, after an ENNews report. On a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, Singh told his audience that “it is important for all countries to make every effort to contribute to a successful outcome at Copenhagen”. He also stated that although India was a latecomer to industrialization,

“we are determined to be part of the solution,” and “willing to work toward any solution that does not compromise the right of developing countries to develop and lift their populations out of poverty.”

President Hu Jintao had already announced that China would go to Copenhagen with a set of concrete actions to help negotiate a deal. More recently the Brazilian government has pledged to reduce by 36%-39% emissions to 2020 projected on a BAU scenario with 5% annual economic growth. White House officials said the US will propose an emissions reduction target to the climate summit, although pending Congressional approval.

Around 65 heads of governments have already said they will be in Copenhagen to help sealing the deal. Among them, UK prime minister Gordon Brown, German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Nicolas Sarkozy, Brazilian president Lula da Silva. No news yet from President Hu Jintao, of China, or Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh. President Barack Obama has said he’d go if his presence could make a difference in closing the deal. White House officials think it is becoming likely he will finally decide to go.

The road to the Copenhagen climate summit is already very different from the route countries have taken towards each previous COP, since, at least, the Buenos Aires meeting, in 2004. All COPs have been marked by the fact that major players would arrive with a pocketful of objections to the negotiations, rather than reasonable bids. Each summit ended on a tighter deadlock.

In Bali, this tightening deadlock threatened the whole diplomatic architecture built around the Kyoto Protocol. As a last minute bailout solution negotiators decided to draft an “action plan”, a “roadmap”, so that an agreement could be reached over the next 12 months.

In Poznan, 2008, 12 months later, however, the US, a pivotal player, was changing administration. It seemed only too appropriate to wait for the Obama crew to take hold of governmental affairs, and bring to COP15 its full weight to close the deal.

Alas, president Obama invested more time than he imagined to get a health care reform from the Democratic majority on the Capitol. Only very recently he started to look after the US emissions reduction plan. Too late to get it on time.

It seemed we were moving more or less in the same direction we headed when going to Bali. But there is no room for another roadmap. However, when we look at what negotiators had on their briefcases before – objections, demands, blaming each other – and what they are packing today, it seems they’re not preparing for the same journey they’d made in 2007.

The road to Copenhagen has become as relevant for global climate politics as the final outcome. Several important steps were made for the first time: China agreeing to discuss an action plan to curb its own emissions; Brazil talking numbers, after years rejecting any hint of commitment by non-Annex I countries; the US seating to help closing the deal, rather than to veto any progress, and probably offering, also for the first time, to propose a target for emissions reduction; India, offering to cooperate and even to discuss actions.

It doesn’t seem that bad at all. Add to that the already approved EU targets, and the statement by the Japanese prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, that his government will raise emissions target from 20% to 25% below 1990 levels, and it looks like we already have a blueprint for a deal.

Sure, as the UK Secretary for Agriculture and the Environment, Hilary Benn, has said on an interview to Brazilian journalist Miriam Leitão, for the Globonews channel: “the science is clear, and time is short.” The sum total of bids will likely fall short from what science sets as the minimum necessary to increase the likelihood of a global warming scenario not too far beyond 2oC by 2100.

But let’s look at the brighter side: we would be moving from deadlock to a preliminary deal. World leaders would have crossed a critical line, from refusing to act to pledging meaningful action, though still not sufficient to meet scientific requirements. The politics would get past the standoff; it would have acquired a new dynamics. It is easier to improve upon a deal, than to break deadlocked negotiations.

If the only feasible target for Copenhagen is to go just beyond the stalemate, although to a point not close enough to the necessary scientific goal, I’d say it is at any rate pointing towards a historical outcome.

The road to Copenhagen has become a bit brighter. The preparatory measures for the meeting already show changes that we weren’t expecting a few months ago. If a political deal based on these pledges can be closed in Copenhagen, it will not be a breakthrough but, perhaps, a fair passage to another and higher stage of the game.

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