Climate experts disagree on possible outcomes of COP15
On July 7, the German Marshall Fund (GMF) in cooperation with Ecologic Institute hosted a dinner in Berlin on "Current Trends in the American Climate Debate and Prospects for a Global Deal in Copenhagen." This was the first event in Berlin supported by the Climate Bridge Initiative of the German Federal Foreign Office. The discussion featured Elliot Diringer, vice president for International Strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, and Nicole Wilke, head of Division for International Climate Policy at the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety. The discussion was moderated by Andreas Kraemer, director of the Ecologic Institute. The meeting took place under the Chatham House rule; participants were an expert mix from various ministries, policy institutions and foundations. The discussion was lively and remarks both by the two speakers and by participants showed that while international climate negotiations have gained new momentum with the arrival of the Obama administration, expectations for Copenhagen still diverge. Elliot Diringer shared his expectations that Copenhagen will provide the political foundation, but the final agreement with binding targets will have to be negotiated thereafter. Nicole Wilke emphasized that there is no time left for a plan B and she expects the international community to arrive at a binding agreement in Copenhagen.
Details of the discussion
The event discussed both the recent passage of a comprehensive climate and energy bill in the U.S. House of Representatives and the implications and expectations for the UN COP 15 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December. Elliot Diringer praised the House energy and climate bill, stating that it was a step in the right direction and marked progress in the United States. He went on to discuss the upcoming obstacles the bill faces in the Senate, noting the need for bipartisan support coming from moderates on both sides of the aisle to maintain the necessary 60 votes to pass the legislation. He predicted that it would be unlikely for final legislation on the bill to occur prior to Copenhagen. With regards to prospects for Copenhagen, the best position for U.S. negotiators there would be that an ambitious Senate bill is on the horizon, but not yet passed, as that would leave negotiators with less flexibility. The likelihood of that, however, is yet unclear.
The House bill sets a target for a reduction in emissions of 17 percent below 2005 levels, or 4 percent below 1990 levels, by 2020. This is in contrast to the European Union, which has looked for 20 percent reductions from 1990 baseline, which translates to 15 percent below the 2005 baseline. The bill includes mandatory targets through 2050 and its targets converge with European Union targets in later years. The bill provides support for developing countries to assist in reducing emissions, but Elliot Diringer questioned whether this will survive the Senate. While praising the bill in general, he criticized that there are some protectionist provisions contained in the bill, including automatic import charges on goods from countries without equivalent emission reduction policies - something that was also criticized by President Obama
With regards to the prospects for Copenhagen, he stated that there is a need for a new international legal instrument/protocol in the field of climate change, but predicted that Copenhagen would not be able to accomplish this and more time was needed. His hope is that Copenhagen will create a "solid political foundation" and a "legal architecture" for a binding international agreement, but believes that the actual provisions and targets will need longer to agree on.
Nicole Wilke disagreed on this point, and stated that "there is no ‘plan B' for Copenhagen," stressing that she sees no alternative to success in there. Even from a purely economic standpoint, the cost of inaction would be far greater than the cost of taking action at Copenhagen. Four years after the implementation of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, industry in Germany is largely supportive of these efforts and, for reasons of fair competition, is expecting international action. She pointed out that international agreements make countries do more than they would on their own. Nicole Wilke challenged Elliot Diringer on his expectations for Copenhagen, stating her belief that the world can get more out of Copenhagen than he assumes.
With regards to U.S. policy and recent developments, Nicole Wilke applauded the U.S. House bill, but criticized the 2005 baseline as this weakens comparability. She emphasized that with regards to climate policy and international negotiations there has been a positive change since President Obama has come to office, not just in tone but also in substance. She also acknowledged that Europe has to realize the complexities of U.S. domestic policy, but expressed her hope that the United States will be able to truly negotiate in Copenhagen and not just come with a fixed position.