Keeping the Faith in COP15

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The Climate Change Conference has created an aura of anticipation with many betting against its success and others holding on to the hope that this round might advance a concerted commitment to the climate change process. This tension has inspired two Think Tanks, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Chatham House, to address the prospects for the success of the conference, as well as the obstacles that it will need to overcome. In a report entitled The Darkest Hour, Chatham house is able to highlight the issues that have created problems for agreement in the past, and which might rise up again in the December conference. Most importantly, this report echoes the work of the Carnegie Foundation, which also highlights the importance of a US-China initiative, as well as the necessary incentives that are demanded by developing countries for which reform is more economically challenging.

The Copenhagen summit caps two years of negotiations on a global climate change treaty to replace the UN’s1997 Kyoto protocol on carbon dioxide emissions. Two of the most important players in climate change advancement are the U.S. and China, and much speculation has come about with respect to their willingness to commit to levels that other countries would find reassuring.

Interestingly, both Think Tanks recognize that the new American administration, which is overwhelmed with domestic challenges, is being expected to devise a very difficult deal that, without significant Chinese commitments, will not be accepted by the Senate. This perspective highlights the tautological nature of the tension between China and the US in the context of this conference, as the commitment of one country depends on the commitment of the other.

According to the Carnegie Endowment, for these two countries to become leaders in the conference, specific tactics need to be implemented in the negotiations.   For one, the organization has highlighted the necessity of dividing the talks into phases that set a basic structure, which would give both countries both more time to settle disagreements.

A second problematic subject amongst the different “interests groups” involved in the conference is the role the north-south divide plays in the negotiations. The importance of an American commitment to help finance the involvement of developing countries is addressed by both reports. However, they also note that the degree to which the north-south divide impact the negotiations is more extensive. Developing countries say industrialized nations should carry most of the burden, because they argue, limits on their emissions would hamper their economic growth. In the context of an economic downturn, these beliefs may carry more weight than they have in the past.

Similar tensions between developed and developing countries have not been addressed until now. This conflict is centred on the division of responsibilities. According to both Think Tanks, while industrialized countries are willing to help developing nations, their willingness to compensate for their status as a developed country ends there. “They believe developing countries stand to lose the most from failure and know the problem cannot be solved with out more action by them.”

It has been suggested that a possible solution for the differences between industrialized nations and developing ones, is a side agreement that would allow different countries to take varied degrees of action. Such an agreement would delineate options that would correspond to the level of development of the country, and would include a financial clause.

This suggestion is an important possibility to consider if it is to represent the difference between commitment and abandonment on the part of developing states. However, neither report addresses the details that such a commitment would entail. Understandably, it is difficult to estimate how such a plan would be put into place. However, suggestions such as these highlight that there is a tendency towards contradiction amongst the organizations that recommend tactics for the conference. As the idea of a side agreement with detailed expectations for specific countries contradicts the aim of allowing the Copenhagen conference to be the framework for details that are to be filled in at a later date. 

However, not all aspects of the Conference appear problematic. There is significant agreement on cap, trade and offset mechanisms. This mechanism has already allowed countries to meet binding limits by trading allowances or investing in projects elsewhere that reduce emissions. The project, pioneered by the US in the 60s, is the basis of the EU policy that has created a surge of investment in emission reduction projects around the world. 

This mechanism is popular as it engages developing countries and promotes private finance to achieve the goals of climate change , including decarbonisation and sustainable development. This specific mechanisms, along with other recent positive signals from the new governments of the US and Japan, could go a long way in advancing the aims of the conference. 

For the compete reports see:

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