Rethinking Climate Policy Nigel Purvis & Andrew Stevenson New ideas for transatlantic cooperation post-Copenhagen
On April 6, GMF hosted a lunch event showcasing its latest publication in the 2010 Brussels Forum paper series, "Rethinking Climate Diplomacy: New Ideas for Transatlantic Cooperation post-Copenhagen" by GMF Senior Fellow Nigel Purvis and Andrew Stevenson, Research Assistant at Resources for the Future. Nigel presented ideas in his paper and Friedo Sielemann, Counselor for Environment & Energy at the German Embassy and Rob Bradley, Director of the International Climate Initiative at the World Resources Institute were respondents. Cathleen Kelly moderated the event.
Nigel Purvis started off the event by presenting the key ideas in his paper. First, he outlined the political risks he foresees coming out of Copenhagen.
• There is not a common sense of purpose among key players following the Copenhagen negotiations. The EU and United States both want to secure a binding international agreement however; they have different expectations on when this can be achieved. In Copenhagen, China's opposition to participating in a top-down climate regime was clarified. China does not see committing to emissions cuts under a legally binding treaty as in its national interest.
• The U.S. administration cannot make the same mistake it made with the Kyoto Protocol by moving ahead of Congress. In Copenhagen, the administration embraced the goal of helping to mobilize 100 billion dollars annually by 2020 to help developing countries cope with climate impacts. But there is little awareness and support in Congress of this goal.
• We need to recognize that we are not on the path to limit global temperature increases to 2°C by the end of the century. The targets put forth in Copenhagen are in line with 3-4°C of warming.
• The UN process is neither the problem nor the solution. The stumbling blocks facing Parties in the UN process have also been encountered in the G20 and the Major Economies Forum. There are more efficient meeting configurations that don't involve reaching consensus among 190 actors that can be used to support the UN process. However, there is strong resistance among the G77 to move outside of the UN process.
Mr. Purvis also outlined new thinking on how to best move forward after Copenhagen.
• He urged U.S. and European policymakers to adopt a new theory of change. The old theory of focusing first on commitments and then actions is no longer viable. Countries need to be ready to act before they can make legally binding commitments. There needs to be a greater focus on the political nature of the negotiations than the legalities. The best way for the transatlantic community to facilitate action is by meeting its pledge to deliver 100 billion dollars annually by 2020. Funding for developing countries should be delivered on a pay-for-performance basis, i.e., conditional based on delivery of real emission reductions.
• There needs to be a greater focus on linking the trade and climate agendas. Countries need to follow through on the G20 commitment to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. They should also eliminate trade barriers to clean technologies. Doha is currently not on track to do this and there is no chance of negotiating this issue in the UN framework. The transatlantic partners need to work to align the trade and climate agendas to avoid unilateral carbon border tariffs, such as those envisioned in current legislative proposals being debated by the U.S. Congress.
Friedo Sielemann emphasized that countries shouldn't lose sight of securing an internationally binding agreement. A global climate treaty can and should be achieved. The question is when, not if, a climate treaty will happen. Mr. Sielemann also stressed that it is critical for the United States to play a leadership role by passing domestic climate legislation, as this will catalyze other countries like China and India to move as well. Mr. Sielemann agreed that the United States and Europe need to cooperate on climate financing for developing countries; reducing emissions from deforestation; and making progress on designing protocols for monitoring, reporting, and verification of national actions.
Rob Bradley discussed how countries have different perspectives on what happened in Copenhagen and different expectation on how to move forward. Movement toward a legally binding treaty is the ultimate expression of political will; however willingness among several key players is somewhat bleak. He argued that the chicken and egg game being played between China and the United States is blocking progress and that the Senate wouldn't necessarily rush to ratify an international treaty if China agrees to sign on. Mr. Bradley doesn't think showing more EU courage and charging back at the negotiations, as Commission Hedegaard and other leaders in Europe propose, will yield results. Mr. Bradley agreed with Mr. Purvis that finding a solution is not a process question, but a question of fundamental differences in national interests. Like Mr. Purvis and Mr. Sielemann, Mr. Bradley argued that the best way for the United States and the EU to keep momentum going is to deliver on the financial commitments made in Copenhagen.
Participants were interested in new innovative ideas to help secure funding for developing countries given the prospects for passing a U.S. cap-and-trade bill this year appear bleak. The U.S. administration requested an increase in overseas development assistance for climate activities. Mr. Purvis argued that scaling up funds through appropriations and foreign assistance is the best immediate alternative in raising climate funds for developing countries. Mr. Purvis suggested that it will be critical for the NGO community to emphasize that the Obama administration will need to articulate a strategy in Cancun to meet the climate financing commitments it made in Copenhagen. Mr. Bradley was skeptical about finding "creative" mid-term financing solutions that don't require significant political buy-in. He argued that the United States needs to build political constituencies that demand the climate financing goal is met. A key piece of information extracted in Copenhagen was China's concession that it doesn't expect to receive funding for the targets it puts on the table and that financing will go to the most vulnerable countries.
Other participants were interested in the intersection between the legal and financial issues in the UN framework. One participant asked whether developed countries could mobilize 100 billion dollars per year in climate financing with or without a legally binding treaty. The speakers asserted that there isn't necessarily a strong connection between financial and legal issues.
One participant was interested in what the UN process could achieve if a legally binding agreement isn't likely in the near term. Speakers agreed that the ideas behind the text in the Copenhagen Accord could serve as the basis for progress within the UN framework and the spirit of the Copenhagen Accord can be given life through the official UN process. Mr. Purvis pointed out that the next ten years is likely to focus on a "pledge and review" process rather than legally binding commitments. He emphasized that it's important for the pledge and review period to evolve into a commit and verify stage. Some participants were concerned that countries may never get out of the pledge and review process and avoid taking action to tackle climate change, especially if their commitments aren't legally binding. Nonetheless, pledge and review is the inevitable reality and countries will need to learn to make progress in this framework.
Participants also discussed the significance of the U.S. and China in the international negotiations and that striking a deal will likely come down to these two actors. Many of the Europeans around the table were impressed by the political significance the U.S. gives to China and that China is largely viewed by the U.S. as a competitor.
Mr. Bradley closed the discussion by stating there is too much self-criticism in Europe on the role the EU played in Copenhagen. Mr. Bradley reminded guests that 90 percent of the Copenhagen Accord was written the United States and EU. The final meeting among the heads of state was the result of 3-4 outstanding points Obama had to hash out with the BASIC countries not because they were leaders, but because they were blocking progress.