On January 25, GMF's Climate & Energy program with the Embassy of Spain, hosted an event on Capitol Hill entitled "Decoding the Copenhagen Accord & Charting the Course Ahead." The event featured Teresa Ribera Rodriguez, Secretary of State for Climate Change, Spain; Luis Alfonso de Alba, Special Ambassador for Climate Change, Mexico; and Jonathan Pershing, Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, United States. GMF's Climate & Energy Program Director Cathleen Kelly and Spanish Ambassador Jorge Dezcallar de Mazarredo provided opening remarks. Nigel Purvis, Senior GMF Fellow and President of Climate Advisers moderated the discussion.
Ambassador de Alba discussed the lack of transparency in the UN climate process in Copenhagen, which he described as the worst UN meeting he had ever witnessed. He said that the closed-door meetings among high-level officials from small groups of countries are a standard part of international climate negotiations. He said poor transparency was created by slow communication on these outcomes of the small meetings to the larger UN process, a problem that Mexico plans to fix as the host of COP16 later this year. He cited an absence of coordination and clear leadership to guide the talks as another key issue in Copenhagen. While these problems may tempt countries to abandon the UN process, he instead recommended soft reforms to the UN process and emphasized that President Calderon is ready to provide the leadership needed to navigate the UN process and the complexities of climate negotiations. Mexico has high expectations for these talks and will push for a legally binding treaty. Mexico believes it is in a unique position to broker legally binding climate actions from developed and developing countries-Mexico is a member of the OECD, but as a newly industrialized country it wasn't required to adopt emission cuts under the Kyoto Protocol.
Ambassador de Alba emphasized that countries need to make significant progress within the UN process this year, with negotiators ideally meeting three to four times before COP16. He said that informal bilateral and regional talks among key players could complement the UN process, but that these discussions would need to merge with the official UN negotiations well before COP16. Ambassador de Alba announced the dates of COP16-November 30 to December 10, 2010-and that it will be held in Cancun, rather than Mexico City as many had expected. He said that long-term financing to help countries cope with climate impacts will be a key issue at the Mexico meeting.
Ribera Rodriguez stressed that people shouldn't blame any single country or actor for the problems in Copenhagen (click here to read her entire speech). She said that the negotiations in Copenhagen were complex and that countries didn't achieve as much as they had hoped. Nonetheless, she said that the meeting was significant in that it elevated the discussion of solutions to climate change to the highest level of governments from around the globe. She explained that countries will need to think carefully about the lessons from Copenhagen to avoid making the same mistakes in future climate talks.
Secretary Ribera Rodriguez discussed the EU Council of Environment, held in Seville in mid-January, where ministers agreed to comply with the Copenhagen Accord's immediate obligations and promote it internationally. She said that the EU will not strengthen its emission reduction target from a 20 percent cut from 1990 levels by 2020 to a 30 percent cut, as many had hoped. She said that the EU will need to review the emission reduction commitments of other countries before it determines if the 30 percent cut is warranted. Major emitting countries are expected to make clear their emission reduction targets and actions by January 31.
Like Mexico, Secretary Ribera Rodriguez said that Spain supports using the UN as the main negotiating forum but emphasized the need for significant reforms. She stressed that countries need to focus less on their own national interest and more on the greater common interest of reducing carbon emissions and strengthening domestic climate and energy policies. She also discussed how cutting emissions and creating incentives for clean energy can improve energy security and economic efficiency and competitiveness.
Pershing said that the notion that many countries were underrepresented at the Copenhagen climate meeting is not accurate. Nonetheless, he agreed with Ambassador de Alba that before the climate talks in Mexico the UN needs to create a better system to report the outcomes of meetings among small groupings of countries to the rest of the COP. He also emphasized the need for a new UN mechanism to better handle dissenting views, given that disagreement among nearly 200 countries is inevitable. He said that countries will always act based on their own national interests, but that countries must act on these interests in a transparent way. While the Copenhagen Accord is only 12 short paragraphs, Pershing noted there is important substance text behind each paragraph. He mentioned that countries were just shy of agreeing on text that ultimately didn't make it into the Copenhagen Accord (e.g., on reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation or REDD). He said that countries will need to go back to these texts and build on what's in the Accord in the lead up to the Mexico climate talks.
Pershing said that to add the necessary details to the Accord, developed and developing countries will need to coordinate closely. He said that comparability of effort to cut emissions is at the heart of the agreement, and emphasized the need for North America and Europe to provide united leadership in Mexico. He described several powerful coalitions of countries that have emerged in the climate negotiations, including: the BASIC countries (China, India, South Africa, and Brazil), which are among the largest emitters of greenhouse gases and critical players in the climate talks; the Alliance of Small Island States, which historically has played a central role to ground the negotiations in the latest climate science but were less organized than usual in Copenhagen; the ALBA countries (a new grouping of countries including Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua) that unite around anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism to obstruct progress within the UN; and the countries engaged in the Major Economies Forum, that have their own economic concerns but need to play a lead role in 2010. Pershing agreed that three to four meetings need to take place before COP16 this December, and suggested that countries set aside the acrimony of the Copenhagen meeting to allow these common cause coalitions to work to support a strong outcome in Mexico.
Panelists also discussed the "glass half full" verses the "glass half empty" assessment of the outcome of the 2009 Copenhagen meeting. Panelists acknowledged that the Accord will require countries to work together to keep the global temperature increase below two degrees Celsius to avoid the worst climate change impacts, and that it provides a framework to build on at COP16. But, Panelists also agreed the Copenhagen Accord is missing key elements such as collective mid-term and long-term reduction targets from developed and developing countries; more specific commitments for long-term financing; and a new deadline for finalizing a legally binding agreement.
Participants asked panelists about the "coalition of the unwilling" and whether the deal in Copenhagen was a race to the bottom, or if the Europe viewed Obama's engagement as productive under difficult political circumstances. Secretary Ribera Rodriguez stated the term "coalition of the unwilling" is unfair and Europe acknowledges that the new U.S. administration had a lot of ground to cover in a short period after nearly a decade of inaction.
Participants also raised questions about short-term financing and what countries are doing to distribute funds to developing countries. Pershing noted that developed countries are committed to deploying $30 billion to most vulnerable nations by 2012 and $100 billion per year by 2020. He said that the U.S. is actively working on including climate financing in the budget and that a high-level UN panel will facilitate distribution of the funds. Secretary Rodriguez stated that the EU will deliver 7.2 billion Euros in 2010. Finally, participants asked whether a legally binding agreement will come out of COP16 in Mexico. Ambassador de Alba stated that the Copenhagen Accord must be strengthened and that a legally binding agreement could come out of COP16. Secretary Ribera Rodriguez stressed that confidence in the UN climate process among stakeholders, governments, the private sector, and civil society system must be restored.
To read an E&E publishing analysis on the event, please click here.