This morning (Singapore time), leaders from 19 countries --
including the US, China, Mexico, Australia, South Korea, and Japan --
joined a last minute breakfast to discuss the upcoming global warming
meeting in Copenhagen. The breakfast meeting, hosted by the
President's of Mexico and Australia on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
summit, reportedly agreed to a framework being called "one agreement,
two steps". This framework would result in a political agreement with
some key details being reached this December and a deadline for
finalizing the full legally binding agreement in a short timeframe.
This outcome for the meeting in December began to arise more
seriously over the last two weeks and was a key part of the discussions
at the recent climate negotiations in Barcelona (as I discussed here).
So it isn't a huge shock, but the fact that these key world leaders
agreed to such an outcome is the first open acknowledgement from such a
large number of key world leaders may come as a surprise to some (as
you can see from this sampling of news coverage: Washington Post, New York Times, Reuters, and Financial Times).
To some this may be viewed as a setback, but is it?
Well it depends on what countries actually do in response when they
come to Copenhagen. After all, every year of delay in taking action
increases the costs of addressing global warming (as a recent International Energy Agency report has shown and as I discussed here).
But an extension -- months not years -- could be worthwhile if
countries use the time to firm up their commitments to reduce their
global warming pollution and to finalize all the details of an
international structure to ensure that those commitments are met.
Especially since the lack of clarity about what the US would actually
be able to commit to is limiting the willingness of other countries to
firm up their commitments (as I highlighted here).
This framework would then allow the U.S. Senate to finalize its clean
energy and global warming bill in the first part of next year so that
the US could then be more explicit about its actions in the final legal
So the ultimate impact of this extension in reaching a final legal
agreement that puts the world solidly on a path to address global
warming depends on how countries respond.
Do countries use this extensions as an excuse for not taking
action to reduce their global warming pollution OR do they agree that
they will continue (and deepen) their efforts to reduce emissions and
take a bit more time to firm up the full legal details of the final
agreement? All the major emerging economies have provided
strong hints of the types of further actions that they'll undertake to
curb their global warming pollution and almost all developed countries
have put forward more aggressive targets (as I discussed here).
So I doubt that such a delay will setback these countries efforts to be
able to come forward with strong measures to address their global
warming pollution. In fact, if done right it could allow some key
countries -- like the US -- a bit more time to have a solid enforceable
basis for their commitments.
Having the Copenhagen meeting such a focus of world leader's
attention has had a positive impact in getting a number of countries to
bring forward their commitments to action. I find it hard to believe
that such a diverse and wide-ranging group of countries would have come
forward with such actions if Copenhagen hadn't been looming. So as
long as the delay doesn't lead to a loss of focus by world leaders --
an unlikely scenario -- we could see even more solid commitments come
forward before the final agreement is signed next year.
Does that extension never end OR is it a short extension to finalize the full legal details -- months rather than years?
While the announcement doesn't explicitly outline a firm deadline for
finalizing the legal agreement, most discussions have focused on
finalizing the legal agreement either sometime in mid-2010 or December
2010 in Mexico when countries are scheduled to meet again on global
We can't afford a long extension in firming up the final
international agreement so this needs to be measured in "months not
years". So world leaders will have to agree to a firm deadline in
Copenhagen -- not an agreement to maybe finalize the agreement sometime
in the future.
Are there enough details reached this December in Copenhagen
to leave all countries accepting of an extension and enough details to
firm up the final agreement in months OR are there insufficient details
reached this December? We'll have to wait and see on this
one as Africa and the small-island states signaled in Barcelona that
they would be unhappy with any delay (as Reuters discussed here).
And it will really depend on what clear actions countries signal they
can do in Copenhagen. Trust isn't necessarily the nature of
international negotiations so world leaders will have to say more than
"trust me". Rather they'll have to say: "here is my down payment" and
then "trust me" that I'll bring more firm commitments in months.
The answers to these and more questions will be critical in
assessing whether this "one agreement, two step" framework will
ultimately lead to a strong international agreement that puts the world
solidly on a path to solving global warming. We don't know for sure at
this stage, but stay tuned as I expect we'll have an interesting
two-week ride in Copenhagen. And we'll get a glimpse of the response
from other countries as Ministers from 40 key countries are meeting
tomorrow in Copenhagen for preparatory discussions before the
negotiations reconvene in Copenhagen in just 3 weeks.
I remain optimistic that the world can actually come together and
address this challenge. We don't have any choice, so let's stay
focused on solving this challenge and make sure that the extension to
finalize the agreement leads to stronger and more robust set of
commitments to take action and an international framework to ensure
that those commitments are met.