Saturday, January 16, 2010

More on Copenhagen:

An Insider's View

Although I have promised not to turn this into a greenhouse gas reduction blog, I've attended a couple of "post-Copenhagen" events in Washington, DC recently that bear coverage. One was a briefing at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). This briefing followed hard on the heels of the release of the report I discussed in my last blog. However, this briefing (which you can hear in its entirety through the link below) was from a very different perspective, that of Jonathan Pershing, US Deputy Envoy for Climate Change.

In his position, Dr. Pershing serves as the Department of State's senior climate negotiator and Head of Delegation at official meetings of UN climate change conferences. He has been involved with climate change discussions and negotiations starting with the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Rio, and including the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. As such, he has a high-level and long-term view of these activities.

Among Dr. Pershing's points at the CSIS briefing were the following:

• It was obvious months before the conference that they would not get a binding treaty. The next best outcome possible would be a political agreement that would allow things to move forward in the future. He feels they did achieve that. He acknowledges that the process was chaotic and the agreement was achieved at the nth minute and by the skin of their teeth, but he views the outcome as the best they expected.

• This agreement is the first one that recognizes the importance of and need for adaptation. Dr. Pershing regards this as an important breakthrough, and one that will allow a range of needed actions to be implemented in the future.

• This is the first agreement that will have "statements of commitment" from developing countries. He views this as a "breaking down of the walls between developed and developing countries." Developing countries need to commit to actions. The agreement also asks for the development of measurement, reporting and verification for these actions.

• He seems to take issue with criticisms of China as being the "spoiler" of the meeting. He points out that China was one of the key participants of the agreement that was hammered out. Rather, he points to a small handful countries (including Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba) that blocked consensus on the agreement because they wanted to use this agreement as a way to redistribute wealth. As a result of their objections, the agreement was not "adopted." Instead, in the language of international diplomacy, the decision was only to "take note" of the agreement.

• He acknowledges that a serious weakness of the UN system is the requirement for consensus. It is difficult to get 190 countries with widely disparate interests to agree on anything. In that, he seemed to agree with the conclusions of the paper I reported on previously. However, he stopped short of predicting whether and how the process might change in the future. He does think that starting with a smaller group, as was done this time, then getting buy-in of a larger number of countries could be promising. He did not try to predict which small group of countries might take that role--i.e., whether it could be an existing group, like the G20 or an ad-hoc group, such as happened at this conference. But he concluded that the UN was the only venue in which global buy-in could be achieved, so he seemed to anticipate there would be some continuing role for the UN.

• It has been widely observed that the European Union was not a member of the select group that ended up hammering out the agreement. He did not address directly why they were excluded from that table, but he did comment that he thought it was the EU that was the real stimulus for the whole meeting. They were the first to implement a carbon market. As he saw it, since more countries were involved this time, the role of the EU appears smaller.

• As for the US, he noted that our next step will be to "enshrine" our target. He noted that this time, we will use the Congress to get this target. We did not do so last time, and in the end, that was our undoing.

Dr. Pershing is obviously in a position where he has to put the best spin possible on the outcome of this meeting. As such, I know some I spoke to disagreed with some of his statements. Nevertheless, his statements provided useful perspectives into some of the background for the outcome of the meeting and some pragmatic insights into what might happen in the future.


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