COP15: DOA?

Hello or Goodbye? (Image courtesy of Reuters)

Developments over the past few weeks have all but confirmed what many had already suspected: There will be no global agreement in Copenhagen. Officials from the UK have been floating warnings for the past few weeks that a new climate treaty would no be possible by December but this weekend President Obama publicly conceded that time has run out for any legally binding agreement. So now what?

While national leaders now acknowledge the political impossibility of achieving broad consensus in Copenhagen, governments are scrambling to find something to salvage, hoping Copenhagen does not become known as an unequivocal failure. The latest developments which led to President Obama admitting the obvious stem from the impasse at the APEC negotiations this weekend (for an interesting perspective, see Andrew Revkin’s article). The crux of the problem seems to be the inability of the US and China to resolve basic differences going into the climate negotiations. While a central disagreement between developed and developing nations involves the amount of financial aid and technology transfer wealthy nations are willing to offer, the core of the disagreement is based on more fundamental differences.

Earlier this week China’s senior climate change official, Gao Guangsheng, reinforced China’s negotiating position heading into COP15 in a strong statement. By proclaiming that any global agreement must maintain the “Kyoto principles” Gao is reinforcing the position that a distinction between “Annex I” (developed nations) and non-Annex nations (developing nations) must be maintained. Taking a thinly veiled swipe at the US, Gao emphasized that China has always maintained its’ responsibilities under the Kyoto Protocol and will continue to do so in future. Of course, the United States continues to insist that the Kyoto framework is flawed and requires restructuring.

As we move toward Copenhage, now more than ever, expect governments to engage in more posturing than ever. We’ll be watching for any indication from the US whether they will concede that the Annex I/non-Annex I distinction will be maintained. We’ll also keep an eye on China and India’s positioning, though it’s unlikely they will change. It seems increasingly that the US cannot maintain it’s hard-line position much longer, for any global agreement to be reached. For now, China and India hold all the cards, but can the US come up flush on the river?

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