Momentum from Poland Climate Negotiations?

Reflecting back on the last two weeks of the Poland climate talks, it is hard not to think how much we need "leaders to lead" us to ambitious solutions to global warming, while creating millions of green jobs and helping solve the financial crisis.  There was a lot of debate -- in the corridors and in the press -- about whether the world could come together next year.  But we need to, so let's not write it off before we even really get started.  And with leadership the task will be that much easier.

All of these negotiation sessions have high points and low points -- that is the natural cycle of these negotiations.  Usually the beginning of the week is the highpoint as there is always possibility in the undefined...followed by a drop in momentum as the negotiations get into the details (and differences arise).  The key after this low is whether the end produces positive forward movement.  In the case of this meeting, no major outcomes were expected so the momentum at the end would have to be generated elsewhere.  So, did it?

Yes, but not as much as I had hoped (as I discussed in this Bloomberg article).  There is room for optimism in a couple of the elements that arose in Poland.

We accomplished what we really needed to lay the foundation for the hard work next year.  The stage is set for a real negotiation on an international agreement in Copenhagen.  The Chair of the group tasked with coming up with new commitments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was given a mandate to begin to produce a negotiating text for the agreement.  This is to be done in two phases (see conclusion here):

  • By the end of March a "convergence, divergence, and options" paper will be produced. For each of the key elements of the Copenhagen agreement, this document will detail the areas of agreement and the places of disagreement. And, where there is disagreement it will contain a set of options for how that element could be handled. Debate over this document will be the main focus of the negotiations at the meeting held the end of March.
  • Prior to the June negotiating session, a draft negotiating text will be produced. This document will build upon the "convergence, divergence, and options paper" (discussed above), the debate on this document at the March negotiating session, and any new options proposed since March.

This outcome is crucial since without starting to get into details soon countries will continue to talk past each other.  These documents will force countries to start to stake out firm positions, which we need soon if we are going to get a strong agreement at the end of 2009 in Copenhagen.

So, the new US Administration will need to get their negotiation team in place quick and start to figure out their position on key elements (with strong input from Congress) -- a point we made in our transition recommendations.

Developing countries continued to show an emerging willingness to engage in emissions reductions.  We aren't quite there yet with these signals, but we are getting closer.  During the meeting a couple of significant announcements were made by major emerging economies.  Brazil announced a goal to cut deforestation rates in half by 2018 (as I discussed).  Mexico announced a goal to reduce its overall emissions by 2050 and more importantly announced that it would put a limit on emissions from oil refining and cement sectors (as I discussed).  This adds to the recent announcements from South Africa, South Korea, and the signals from China.  While not firm commitments at this point, I think these steps show a major opening when the developed countries show leadership in committing to cap their emissions and put on the table significant "performance-based" incentives.  It has significant potential to help break the impasse that has been at much the heart of the international negotiations during the Kyoto Protocol debate and afterwards.

On other items, we made modest if no real progress.  The debates over incentives to help reduce deforestation emissions, technology and finance incentives to help developing countries take further emissions reductions, and adaption for the most vulnerable are essentially no further along than prior to the meeting (arguably in some cases we might have actually lost ground on some of these).  So we have our work cut out for us next year as these are key building blocks of the international agreement.

The pieces of the global agreement are there, but we need them to be brought together into a coherent picture.  That point is becoming ever clearer in my mind as elements of the global agreement are emerging and becoming solidified in the minds of many of the negotiators that I spoke with in Poland.

This provides a unique opportunity for the US to help lead the world to a strong global the world has been waiting for the last seven years.  This is a perfect opportunity for the new Administration and Congress to show a new international engagement (and oh by the way make a dent in solving our financial crisis and address global warming).

It will be an interesting and busy time next year.  The pieces will need to be pulled together quick if we are to get a strong agreement in Copenhagen.  There is a bit of momentum coming out of Poland.  With a new leader in the US, I'm optimistic that the world can come together to address global warming.  After all, we have no choice as too much is riding on our success. 

Hope you'll join us by helping build strong support for this action.   We'll need it!