The International Community Gets Serious About Global Warming


By Jake Schmidt

If you've read my previous posts, you'll know that the international global warming negotiations have already commenced (see here, here; and here).?
But if last year was the "dry run", this year will be need to be the
real thing.? While progress was made last year, it was stymied as the
US Administration sitting across the negotiating table from other
countries was never really serious about getting a strong agreement.?
Of course, that has changed with President Obama signaling that he will
move domestically to cap US global warming pollution and also help secure a strong international agreement to this global challenge.

So that is why I'm in Bonn, Germany right now.  For the next ten days, delegates will be engaged in the next round of climate negotiations
(I'll be back in Bonn in early June for another negotiation session).?
This will be the first negotiation session where the US will be led by
a team that wants to address global warming (and more importantly a
President and leaders in Congress that support that vision).

At some point during the reign of the previous Administration, other
countries knew they weren't really serious so the developing countries
stopped providing stronger signals of the action that they would take
in the new agreement.  Some hints of progress emerged, but they were
held back by this reality (as I discussed in my New Year's Resolution).

So what does a changed US dynamic mean?  What can we expect at this negotiation session?

The changed US dynamic, will have a very strong impact on these negotiations.?
If anyone wants an example of how US leadership can change a complex
international negotiation, all you have to do is look to the recent
agreement to negotiate a treaty to address mercury pollution (as my
colleague Susan Keane discussed).?
For the previous 8 years the US didn't want an international mercury
treaty and things didn't progress (to put it mildly).? But at the
beginning of the last negotiation session, the Obama Administration
signaled that they wanted a mercury treaty.? And after two weeks of
hard negotiations, an agreement was reached to negotiate a mercury
treaty.? Which is why many people, including the members of the US
Climate Action Partnership have stressed that: "U.S. climate policy is an essential precondition for a full and effective international framework".

Of course, simply a change in US position won't break down all the
impasses, but it sure can go a long way.  But this is a complicated
negotiation with a lot of issues on the table, which is where we are at
right now.  I still believe that there is a lot of convergence on the
agreed structure (as I discussed here), but the clock is ticking as we are less than 8 months from Copenhagen.  As I said elsewhere: "it's a good start but there's still way too many options".? And we still need leadership from a lot of countries (e.g., the US by capping our global warming pollution).? We've been progressing in small steps, but now is the time for leaps and bounds.

Anybody that starts to dive into these negotiations can quickly get
confused, but these negotiations boil down to four key things for the
Copenhagen agreement:

  1. Strong leadership from developed countries with firm and aggressive emissions reduction caps
    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).
    The Europeans have put forward their commitment (last December), but
    other countries will need to signal their commitment if we are going to
    have any chance of a strong agreement in Copenhagen. Most of this
    aspect hinges on when the US will cap its emissions and how deep those
    cuts will be in the near-term. Some hints will emerge on the US front
    this Tuesday as Chairman Waxman of the House Energy and Commerce
    Committee will put forward a discussion draft.
  2. Willingness of developing countries to undertake significant emissions reductions on their own and the structure and size ofperformance-based incentives from developed countries to encourage even greater developing country emissions reductions.
    These actions need to lead to a reduction in the growth of developing
    country emissions in the near-term (e.g., through 2020) and lay the
    foundation for even deeper cuts in the medium-term. This is an
    extremely complex part of the negotiations. How much do developing
    countries do on their own and how are the incentives designed to help
    encourage greater action by developing countries and create
    opportunities for expansion of green technology transfer to developing
    countries? This debate is a bit stuck at this point as both sides are
    waiting for the other side to move.
  3. Reversing the rate of deforestation. Since deforestation accounts for approximately 20% of global emissions, any serious effort to solve global warming needs to reverse this trend.
    Lots of difficult issues are involved in this effort, including how
    best to help developing countries get a reasonable handle on these
    emissions on their own (e.g., addressing forest governance and illegal
    logging) and how to create incentives to properly assist developing
    countries in going further in preserving their pristine forests.
  4. Supporting adaptation to the impacts of climate change in the most vulnerable countries. Many
    poor countries will be faced with serious impacts from the global
    warming that is built into the system. These impacts will set back
    their development, but also create potential "threat multipliers" as a
    number of military and national security experts are beginning to identify.
    So the international agreement will need to help these countries
    address the impacts of global warming and improve the resilience of
    these communities over time.

So, this negotiation session begins with a mix of optimism and
pessimism.? Lots of signs of hope that haven't been evident in the
international negotiations over the past 8 years, but a long ways to go
before we'll have a strong agreement that puts the world on the path to
solving global warming.?

At the end of these 10 days, the world will need to be two steps
closer to a strong agreement and poised for big leaps in the coming
months.  Stay-tuned as I'll be providing updates on those steps and


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