The Transatlantic Climate in Copenhagen
COPENHAGEN -- As hope dims for a major global climate deal in Copenhagen, participants still could make enough progress to lay a real foundation for a future treaty. But even that will take significant cooperation, particularly between the transatlantic partners. With only two days left in the negotiations and tensions running high as the talks deadlock around several crunch issues, it's hard not to speculate on whether Europe will stick with the United States in demanding the transparency needed to evaluate whether major emitters (including China and India) deliver real emissions reductions. The alternative, however -- going the way of the past and accommodating push-back from developing countries -- would ignite a firestorm of criticism in Congress. Most countries hope to reach a deal in Copenhagen that provides clarity on several key issues: how much will rich countries cut their emissions over the mid- and long-term? How much will emerging economies slow their emission growth? How much financing will rich countries put on the table to help developing countries slow their emissions and cope with the consequences of climate change? How much transparency will be required to guarantee that major emitters deliver on their emission-reduction commitments? How does one guarantee that the financing from developed countries is invested in credible climate projects that deliver real outcomes? Prompted by a Senate that has made clear its strong distaste for climate treaties that only require emissions cuts from developed countries, the Obama administration is holding firm on demanding a Copenhagen climate deal that will instill confidence back home that all major emitters, including China and India, will make good on their emission reduction commitments and that the climate financing it is prepared to offer to developing countries is well spent. If the Copenhagen deal doesn't provide this confidence to U.S. lawmakers and companies, Congress is unlikely pass legislation that would cap U.S. emissions and provide a source of long-term financing for climate action in developing countries. Many lawmakers are reluctant to vote for climate legislation without strong assurance that China and other major emitters will deliver emissions cuts similar to those contemplated in the United States, particularly since energy-intensive American industries already hampered by economic recession argue that higher energy costs will simply force them to move their factories and jobs to countries without similar emissions limits. With the clock ticking in Copenhagen, it's clear that firming up a deal that will deliver both emissions cuts and transparency will not be easy. China is weary of providing open access to information about its economy to the international community and is pushing back hard on calls for transparency. Until Thursday morning, the United States didn't have much more to offer to break the deadlock. The U.S. pledge to cut emissions in the range of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 -- an amount on par with the emissions limits currently debated in the U.S. Congress -- has disappointed many countries who hope for the United States to cut more. Nonetheless, without Congressional approval of U.S. climate legislation, there is no political support back home for the U.S. administration to offer deeper emissions cuts. Until Thursday morning, the United States was also unable to offer long-term financing to support climate actions in poor countries -- the offer China and other developing countries have been waiting for to make big concessions in the negotiations. But the makings of a potential climate deal emerged Thursday when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that America would help raise $100 billion a year for developing countries by 2020 if emerging economies like China and India agree to binding emissions cuts that would be open for international review and verification. Without certainty that the U.S. Congress will pass climate legislation, the U.S. administration is unsure that the revenue it expects from selling emissions allowances to companies under a cap-and-trade program will ever materialize. Without this guarantee, the United States has been reluctant to pledge a specific dollar amount to help poor countries cope with climate impacts over the long-term. In the talks last week, rich countries converged around a proposal to provide $10 billion a year from 2010 €“12 to help developing countries take near-term steps to cut emissions and contend with climate change. The EU promised $3.6 billion per year through 2012. The U.S. signaled it could offer roughly $1.2 billion in 2010 and more substantial amounts in 2011 and 2012. But this $10 billion is only a drop in the bucket relative to the bank bailouts and funds pumped into the global economy to respond to the financial crisis. It also falls far short of the $100 billion per year that Project Catalyst estimates developing countries will need to finance climate projects. Nonetheless, rich countries expect that these near-term funds will allow the Copenhagen agreement to provide immediate assistance while buying developed countries more time to come up with more substantial financing over the long-term. In the scant two days left in the climate talks, the U.S. and Europe will need to work together to shape a deal in Copenhagen that can form the basis of a legally binding treaty, now expected to come together at the climate talks in Mexico City in December 2010. While Europe has stood strong with the United States in calling for transparency in the lead-up to Copenhagen, the transatlantic partnership broke down at the 1995 climate negotiations in Berlin. During the final hours of the talks, Europe heeded the demands of developing countries to lock in a mandate for a treaty that required legally binding emission cuts from rich countries and none for major emitters in the developing world. With many EU members strongly committed to alleviating poverty in the developing world, Europe felt compelled to firmly embrace the principle that developed countries should lead the fight against climate change. In the United States, the Berlin mandate sounded the death knell for the Kyoto Protocol even before the treaty was finalized. The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Byrd-Hagel resolution, rejecting any climate treaty without equal commitments from all major emitters, including India and China. In Bali in 2007, the United States was isolated in its opposition to a proposal from developing countries to only take actions to slow emissions growth if developing countries paid for them. To be fair, the U.S. has not always been the best partner to Europe in the climate talks. During the Bush era, Europe faced eight years of U.S. obstruction in the climate negotiations and inaction on emissions cuts at home. Despite past transatlantic climate rifts, with only 48 hours before the Copenhagen conference closes, there are strong reasons to believe that the United States and Europe will stay unified. The lack of trust that plagued the U.S. €“EU relationship during the Bush administration evaporated when President Obama took office in January -- GMF's Transatlantic Trends 2009 survey reveals that Europe's support of the U.S. has quadrupled since the change in U.S. administration. A study by the International Energy Agency shows that roughly 56 percent of global emissions growth between now and 2030 will come from India and China. Like the United States, Europe is keenly aware that a climate deal without firm and transparent commitments from China and India will not adequately solve the climate problem and protect the people and welfare of our planet. The transatlantic partnership is critical to getting us there. Cathleen Kelly directs the German Marshall Fund's Climate Program
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.