Did Rich Countries Leave Bangkok Climate Talks in Stalemate?


Now, the Final Stretch to Copenhagen
Time to loosen those collars. After a tough mock trial and tougher words, the world's richest and poorest nations have left 11 days of climate talks in Bangkok with little to show for it, a month and a half before the big negotiations begin in Copenhagen.

While Norway was praised for a pledge to cut emissions by 20-30% by 2020, the G77 group of developing countries bitterly lamented the failure of rich countries to outline the steps they would take to lead -- including making the first set of binding cuts and offering more money to fund clean development in poor countries.

Even Obama got dissed.Lumumba Disses Obama
The U.S. also took heat for its proposal to scrap the binding framework of Kyoto for a plan that would cut emissions through individual countries' laws.

That approach, said G77 chairman, Sudan's Stanislaus Lumumba, would waste time and might not come with any kind of punishment for non-compliance. Added to these complaints were a general sense that US senators will not pass a climate bill before Copenhagen.

President Obama, Lumumba said, had some good ideas "but perhaps he is a general without troops."

But the U.S. isn't China. The president can't order climate cuts without Congress' support, and he is already hard pressed to marshall the troops he needs in a climate already made tense by the lively debate over health care reform. The Congress hasn't accepted an international agreement since 1992.

Because of concerns among US Senators about how developing countries like China will pull their weight, and a general reluctance to pass legislation, American negotiators have been pushing for scrapping Kyoto and pressing for pledges from developing countries.

China's climate change negotiator sharply dismissed the idea that developing countries take first steps, reiterating that rich countries have been polluting longer and thus had more responsibility to lead.

"If the United States joined with other countries in the developed world without other major economies, we don't solve the problem," said Jonathan Pershing, the chief US negotiator.

China has recently committed to becoming more carbon efficient, but not to absolute cuts.

US Leads on Climate Fund
The US was credited for making one breakthrough: Although developed nation negotiators have not made any specific promises on finance to developing countries, the US has accepted the principle of a single independent fund to be administered at least in part by the UN.

Under the new US proposal, the Guardian reports, countries would be allowed to choose how much they paid and to direct it to specific areas, such as forestry or technology. Businesses and other groups including NGOs would have access to the funds.

Developing nations are expected to reject that idea, in part because of suspicions about how the money might be administered. But the move was seen as a promising step forward on the finance issue.

Norway Leads on Emissions Cuts: Who Will Follow?
Norway's unilateral offer of a 30 per cent cut in its emissions by 2020 and as much as 40 per cent if other developed countries matched it was the most promising development. Greenpeace's climate policy director Martin Kaiser said, "This is what leadership looks like and it's a clear signal to President Obama to step up from the 4 per cent target" set by the US.

The EU meanwhile has offered 20 per cent cuts, and would be prepared to go to 30 per cent if similar efforts were made by others like the US, Australia and Canada.

Even this however would fall short of the cuts scientists say are needed to avoid dangerous global warming.

Oxfam's senior climate adviser Antonio Hill said that the developed countries should have spent the talks not making demands of developing G77 nations but sussing out cuts amongst themselves.

The G77 countries were "right to cry foul," he said, because rich countries had "not only tried to change the rules of the game, but they've tried to change the game itself."

Who's Gonna Play, and Who's Gonna Lead?
The particulars of "the game" aside, progress at Copenhagen may rest on simply a willingness to play. As Brian noted yesterday, with each nation that comes out and pledges bolder climate action, others will be enticed into following suit. Japan's made a bold pldege, and, in relative terms, so has China.

There's still a window of opportunity for smaller agreements to be hammered out ahead of Copenhagen. There's one last climate meeting before Copenhagen, next month in Barcelona. In addition, Obama meets Hu in Beijing in November, and Britain has said it wants to convene a meeting in the Maldives with the 20 "most vulnerable" nations, mostly small Caribbean and Pacific island states that stand to go under with any sea level rises. (But will they hold the meeting underwater?)

If developed nations can follow Norway's new lead, and lead the poorer countries in making emissions cuts and providing green financing, they will not just be meeting their responsibilities. They'll also be encouraging the developing nations to take their own actions, thus laying the groundwork for the some kind of agreement.

Image: Flickr: fabbio
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