Sectoral Intercourse

A little ray of sunlight peeked through the clouds on Wednesday, the opening day of the latest round of the climate treaty talks, taking place in Accra, Ghana.  The meeting began with a workshop on “sectoral approaches.”  Country presentations focused on how to reduce heat-trapping emissions from heavy industry sectors in rapidly industrializing countries such as China and India.  Both developed and developing countries found themselves talking about the same ideas in the same language.  Given the Tower-of-Babel quality of these international negotiations, that is a big deal. 

In China, for example, CO2 emissions are dominated by a handful of heavy industries, such as steel and cement, and from the electricity generated to power those industries.  Since China does not yet have a large service sector or high levels of personal energy consumption, these industries account for 70 percent of the country’s emissions.  By comparison, these industries account for less than 20 percent of emissions in the U.S., where the service sector is huge and personal energy use is high,  The dominance of heavy industry emissions in China somewhat simplifies the problem of involving that country in the next climate agreement.  

The workshop in Ghana began with clearer presentations than countries have made before.  The EU put on the table initial proposals to focus on key industrial heavily-emitting sectors in developing counties, and to use a combination of carbon markets and technology and financial assistance to support developing country actions.  South Korea offered a similar approach.  Japan dropped several unproductive ideas that distracted discussions earlier this year (the idea of replacing national emissions caps for industrialized countries with goals applying only to key industries, and the idea of imposing uniform worldwide standards on such factories as steel mills).  What remained of the Japanese proposal on developing countries bore substantial resemblance to the EU’s and South Korea’s, with the three proposals differing in emphasis on the carbon markets vs. other forms of technological and financial assistance.   

China opened the door to further discussing these approaches for its heavy industry sectors, while strongly emphasizing the need for technological and financial assistance to help carry out its increasingly ambitious domestic emission reduction policies.  India, though emphasizing the potential complexity of sectoral approaches, left the door to those discussions open.  Algeria and others kept a sharp focus on the key questions who will pay and who will provide technology, and by what means.   

To be sure, there are still clouds in the sky.  As discussion proceeded the next day, professional negotiators indulged in old habits of legalism and proceduralism, making fine distinctions about what parts of the sectoral discussion may take place in which negotiating forum.  (The talks are currently divided into two fora, one concerned with the future commitments of the industrial countries – minus the U.S. – who joined the Kyoto Protocol, and one broadly addressing the future actions of all countries.)  Even in these darker speeches, however, countries were careful to leave room to continue the constructive sectoral approaches conversation. 

All in all, this may be the start of real engagement between developed and developing countries on key elements of the next climate treaty.