I just joined the BBC World Service for a live, hour-long program called “Copenhagen: Who is to Blame?” reflecting on the outcomes of the negotiations, including BBC’s environmental analyst, a Chinese policy specialist, WWF’s Campaign Director, India’s Vandana Shiva, and other experts (the podcast is available here, and for a cliffnotes version, start at 39 minutes).
One of the central points I make is that we need to understand what happened at Copenhagen in order to move forward successfully. As I wrote on Saturday in an open letter to Bill McKibben, founder of 350, the failure to achieve “legally-binding” emissions targets is not the Obama administration’s fault, but rather the result of a flawed UNFCCC framework. If anything, President Obama should be applauded for bringing together the major emerging economies and hitting the “reset button” on the mitigation negotiation framework.
Indeed, the writing is on the wall: the Kyoto Protocol failed, even with a “legally-binding” agreement among its signatories. As Obama noted in his press conference, “Kyoto was legally binding and everybody still fell short anyway.” Copenhagen failed to produce a meaningful treaty, even with overwhelming pressure from the global climate movement and the G-77. If the world moves ahead under this framework yet again in Mexico next year, negotiations will again fail to produce a meaningful treaty.
As Newsweek’s Sharon Begley concluded today: “The best chance of reining in emissions of greenhouse gases and avoiding dangerous climate change is to stamp a big green R.I.P. over the sprawling United Nations process that the Copenhagen talks were part of.”
What’s demanded now is a major departure from the mitigation framework of the past to a renewed focus on the biggest emitters and global investments in low-carbon technology development and deployment — on the scale of $10.5 trillion the International Energy Agency has called for over the next twenty years — without which we will fail to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.
David Victor, one of the world’s leading energy experts, notes: “With a deal this complicated and difficult, the fewer countries you need to reach an agreement, the better the chances are… A well-managed disaster [at Copenhagen] could be as constructive as the collapse of the 1986 Reykjavik summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, which broke down in the final hours yet helped pave the way for later arms control.”
President Obama succeeded at managing the collapse of the Copenhagen negotiations and pressing the reset button. The task now is to strengthen the Senate energy bill to invest at least $15 billion per year in clean energy R&D and around $30 billion per year in clean-tech demonstration and deployment, which can form the basis for a new investment and technology-centered global framework and make the United States a leader in what Thomas Friedman has declared the “Earth Race.” Let’s hope the administration sees the writing on the wall and advances with a new way forward.