Grist's coverage of Copenhagen climate talks

Wow!  Has it really only been a week of the international global warming negotiations in Copenhagen?  Based upon the intensity of the debate you would think that we are down to the wire in the second week of the negotiations.  After all, these negotiations often only get finalized in the wee hours of the final days.

Usually these negotiations start out with a lot of optimism, then hit a lull around the end of the first week through the beginning of the second week, and then start to gain momentum towards agreement in the final days.  This meeting has a very different trajectory.  We started with grumbling (in response the Danish Text as I discussed here) and at the end of the second week things are tense but are down to a small set of key issues.

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It is impressive that the negotiations have focused so quickly on a core set of issues.  And at this stage we have a draft negotiation text (available here) which is down to 7 pages.  Granted there are a number of technical decisions which add to the page length and there are differences on those details.  But still even these have been narrowed down to the core set of issues.  Some of these are narrowed down because the divisions have been nuanced for next year, while others have been narrowed because countries feel pressure to finally move off their original stated position.

If you only judged progress on the length of the negotiation text and the limited number of “core” issues that need to be resolved, then simply the structure of the current negotiation text would give you hope for this coming week.  But there are a number of positive signs that we must not lose sight of: 

  • Level of attention in key countries is at the highest level.  We now have 110 heads of government who are going to attend the Copenhagen negotiations.  And they aren’t just expected to come here to take a photo, but they are expected to help overcome impasses and to make real commitments to action.  As a result you have ministers from key countries in Copenhagen as early as last Wednesday (they were originally scheduled to arrive on Friday so clearly countries are under pressure to agree).  And there are some heads of government expected as early as this coming Tuesday.  The focus on this issue has had a huge increase this year.
  • World is paying attention to this issue very closely.  On Saturday there was a march in Copenhagen where upwards of 40,000 people (maybe even as high as 100,000) people were calling for climate action.  And the amount of people in the venue has overwhelmed the system to the extent that they have reduced the allowed number of people per organization (now I call that a declining cap) — there are way over 20,000 people affiliated directly with the negotiations.  I’ve never seen this many people in the negotiations, nor this much attention.  We’ll need that level of world attention for a sustained period of time if we are to solve this challenge, so that is very promising.
  • Key countries have signaled that they’ll take clear action.  When the agreement was reached in Bali, it was a very big shift in the international efforts to address global warming.  For the first time developing countries signaled that they would take action to reduce their global warming pollution.  That was big news at the time.  And now that news is very stale as it isn’t just the promise of action that we’ve secured.  Rather, all the major emerging economies have outlined specific efforts that they’ll undertake to curb their global warming pollution.  And almost all developed countries have put forward more aggressive targets as a part of their commitment to continue to lead.

So that is the big ticket state of play.  We have seen in just the last 2 years a huge upward trajectory of international action on global warming and more high-level focus on this critical issue.

But what should we watch this week?  I see three key issues emerging as the heart of the negotiations in the final stretch:

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  1. Do developed countries come forward with clear commitments on finance?  It looks like we’ll get agreement on the $10 billion per year in “prompt start” funding through 2012.  The Europeans made a nice down payment (as we discussed here) and all countries are working very hard to be able to come forward with their “fair share.”  So it looks like the key issue will focus around whether there is a clear signal that larger investments will be produced in the 2015 and 2020 timeframes.
  2. Will countries “stand behind their commitments?”  The U.S. and China (and to a lesser extent India) are in intense negotiations on how they will have to provide transparent information to show that they are living up to their commitments.  I’m optimistic that they can find a path forward as both the U.S.-China and U.S.-India agreements contained very positive movement on this front (as I discussed here and here).  As Special Envoy Todd Stern said: “…I absolutely think that there is a deal to be done here.”
  3. How we finalize the treaty next year.  The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) have made a big push this past week to establish a treaty here in Copenhagen.  Hopefully this will lead to a very clear political signal to finalize a new treaty next year.  And we’ll need to have a specific path that gives confidence that this agreement will be finalized next year.

In just about 4 days, key heads of government will be in Copenhagen.  They need to lock in the actions that what we’ve achieve over the past 2 years, lay the groundwork for deeper efforts next year, and create the foundation for the final treaty in months, not years.  That is a goal that is within reach.

Will it be easy?  No.  Will it be a smooth path to get there?  Definitely not.  After all this is a negotiation.  Countries poke and prod each other.  Countries push hard on one position.  But if they are really interested in finding agreement a path emerges.  If they moved too quickly towards agreement then you would think: “they could have moved even farther.”  So expect a lot more back-and-forth this week before agreement is reached in the “dark hours of Copenhagen.”

Agreement can emerge if we continue to stay focused on the “big ticket” items and not get lost in the details.  The details matter immensely, but let’s not forget that we need to have strong underlying actions if we are truly going to have a robust international agreement.  And on that front, the trajectory isn’t as positive as we ultimately need, but is clearly headed upward.

This blog was originally posted @ NRDC Switchbaord

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