By Julian Wong Dec.7.2009
In: climate change

Copenhagen Kickoff

Follow the periodic tweeting on COP15 by The Green Leap Forward at @greenleapfwd!; follow webcasts of COP15 sessions here.  A group of Yale University grad students, led by Angel Hsu, will be shadowing the Chinese negotiations team over the two weeks, and will be guest blogging on The Green Leap Forward, so watch for this, too!  For now, here’s my curtain raiser:

Today marks the fist day of the event the world has been waiting for.  Sort of.

It has now been known for months that the UN climate conference in Copenhagen, also known as the Conference of the Parties 15, or COP-15, will not deliver a full legally binding international agreement on climate change action that we’ve all hoped for.  But COP15 is now viewed as the first step fo a two-step process on the way to a legally binding agreement, that is expected to be concluded in the next six to 12 months.  In the fine tradition of Chinese phraseology, this has been dubbed as the “One Agreement, Two Steps” approach.

The U.S. Climate Action Network has put together a great 90-page Copenhagen briefing book.

The Danish Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, largely responsible for resusitating the hopes for some measure of success out of Copenhagen when all seem lost just a month ago, has described his vision for a Copenhagen agreement that is “political by nature, yet precise on specific commitments and binding on countries committing to reach certain targets and to undertake certain actions or provide agreed finance.”  According to the COP15 briefing book:

It would include “political text framing the agreement, say five to eight pages. Not a political declaration with niceties, but precise language of a comprehensive political agreement covering all aspects of the Bali mandates. Beneath that we will have underlying annexes outlining the specific commitments of individual countries. These will be negotiated and they will be subject to a transparent system of measurement, reporting and verification.” The agreement would also mandate continued legal negotiations and set a deadline for final conclusion

Another good primer of all the full range of issues that governments will have to rally around over the next six to 12 months is provided by Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council in his five-part blog series:

But let’s be clear – the measure of success for the two-week Copenhagen summit will not be a full agreement of all the issues Jake identifies.  Rather, I think the COP15 briefing correctly identifies the four elements that an outcome from Copenhagen itself has to produce to put us on the path for a legally binding agreement in the next 6 to 12 months:

1. Political Statement/Accord: Heads of state need to sign a statement that goes beyond the general principles that have already been part of previous G-8 and G-20 statements. They must make a commitment to the core elements of a deal including emission reductions targets/actions, short- and longterm investments needed to create a new energy economy, technology development and diffusion to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and support for adaptation to global warming.

2. Fast-Start Operational Decisions: At Copenhagen, countries need to pledge near-term investments of at least $10 billion dollars and must issue operational guidance to begin reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation, set up a framework for adaptation, outline developed and developing country mitigation obligations, detail key technology cooperation and sharing agreements and commit to a transparent system for monitoring and verifying progress.

3. Legal Text: The negotiators should come to agreement on the current draft text under discussion and convert it to legal language, including incorporating the big political commitments made by the heads of state. Taking this step ensures that those issues decided in Copenhagen would not be open for renegotiation.

4. Mandate for extended negotiations: In Copenhagen, countries must agree to a short timeline to reach a final agreement, preferably 6 months, but no longer than a year. The mandate would act as a “to do list” that identifies the process for coming to agreement on the unresolved issues in the legal text.

Let’s watch for this.  You can follow webcasts of all the official sessions here.

China’s Negotiating Position

In the mean time, it is worth a reminder of what China’s climate change position is going into the Copenhagen conference.  Reuters has done a good job summarizing China’s predicament AND positions, which I reproduce in full here:

  • China says it is threatened by global warming and the shrinking glaciers, expanding deserts, prolonged droughts and more intense storms predicted to come with a warming world.
  • China is the world’s biggest [annual] emitter of greenhouse gases from human activity. In 2008, its output of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from burning fossil fuels, reached 6.8 billion metric tonnes, a rise of 178 percent over levels in 1990, according to the IWR, a German renewable energy institute. U.S. emissions rose 17 percent over that time to 6.4 billion tonnes.
  • But China’s average greenhouse gas emissions per person are much lower than those of rich nations. The average American is responsible for greenhouse gas emissions equal to 25.0 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, compared to 5.8 tonnes for the average Chinese, according to the World Resources Institute.
  • China says global warming has been overwhelmingly caused by the accumulated greenhouse gas emissions of rich economies, and they should lead in dramatically cutting emissions, giving poor countries room to develop and expand emissions in coming decades.
  • China has previously said that those emissions cuts should be 25 to 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2020, but more recently it has been coy about specific numbers.
  • China says industrialised nations should also transfer much more green technology to poorer nations, and has demanded that they commit up to one percent of their economic worth to helping poor nations fight global warming. Here, too, Chinese officials have recently been vaguer on specific numbers.
  • Last month, China said it would cut its carbon intensity — the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for each unit of GDP — by 40 to 45 percent by 2020, compared with 2005 levels. This target will still allow emissions to grow substantially over the next decade as the economy continues expanding. This goal was the first measurable curb on national emissions in China.
  • China has ratified the Kyoto Protocol. As a developing country, China is not required by the protocol to set binding targets to control greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The United States and other countries have said China and other big developing nations should accept more specific goals and oversight in the successor to Kyoto. But China has said that, as a developing country, its emissions goals should not be binding under any international treaty.

It is also worth bearing in mind President Hu Jintao’s statement of principles on September 22 at the United Nations climate change summit:

I wish to highlight here a few principles that we need to follow in our common endeavour to tackle this issue of climate change.  First, fulfilling our respective responsibilities should be at the core of our efforts. The principle of common, but differentiated responsibilities embodies the consensus of the international community. Adherence to this principle is critical to keeping international cooperation on climate change on the right track.

Second, achieving mutual benefit and win-win outcomes should be the goal of our effort. Developed countries should support developing countries in tackling climate change. This not only is their responsibility, but also serves their long-term interests.  We should make our endeavour on climate change a win-win for both developed and developing countries and a win-win for both the interests of individual countries and the common interests of humanity.

Third, promoting common development should be the basis of our effort. We should and can only advise our efforts to tackle climate change in the course of development and meeting this challenge is a common development.  It is imperative to give full consideration to the development stage and basic needs of developing countries while we address climate change. The international community should pay close attention to the difficulties facing the developing countries, especially the small island states, the least developed countries, landlocked countries and African countries. We should combine our efforts to address climate change with efforts to promote the growth of developing countries and build up their own dynamism for development and their ability for sustainable development.

Fourth, ensuring financing and technology is the key to our success of the effort. Developed countries should take up their responsibility and provide new, additional, adequate and predictable financial support to developing countries to enable them to have access to climate-friendly technologies.

Finally, don’t forget the list of non-negotiables that China aligned around with Brazil, South America and India (see previous post “Green Hops: BASIC Instinct, New Energy Plans, Natural Gas Deals“).

Stay tuned for more Copenhagen updates!

Comments (5)

  1. Calvin Quek Dec.8.2009@12:12 am Reply

    Excellent Julian! I am staying in, hunkering down, and reading all I can! I am also staying as carbon neutral as I can! (so pay me if you are driving today)

  2. Patrick Lynch Dec.13.2009@5:58 pm Reply

    Generally an okay post, but I especially want to pick on one point. You list 10 billion as a good start (by suggesting it is the least developed countries can do). The number requested by developing countries is more like 100 billion a year. Ten billion is much too little, and the developed countries can afford more.

    Which raises in my mind the question, are you supporting the positions of the wealthy developed countries, the poorer developing countries, or do you wish to be neutral? (I am not sure I believe anyone is neutral).

    [Julian: Patrick, thanks for your comment. To be clear, I never say $10 b is a good start. I am merely quoting from the COP15 briefing book by US CAN. That said, one must be clear between the distinction between the $10 b/year (for 2010 to 2011) figure that Commonwealth countries actually coalesced around in Trinidad & Tobago the week before COP15, and the $100 b/yr by 2020 that many countries are also in general agreement of, including developed countries. (In fact, some developing countries are asking for $300 to 400b/year.) Subsequent posts in the "China in Copenhagen" Series, and "No Money for China--No Problem" post try to draw this out. With respect to your question on neutrality, I am not taking sides on this issue, merely laying out the outstanding issues as they stood on Day 1 of COP15.]

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