Some Small Steps in the Right Direction on Global Warming by the Major Economies

The first meeting of the Major Economies Forum (MEF) on Energy and Climate has just concluded.  This forum is a critical channel to help secure a strong agreement in Copenhagen.  This process provides a unique setting for the largest emitting countries to come together to discuss strong actions to solve global warming -- by "moving from rhetoric to agreement".

Getting agreement will require all countries to move from their public positions some.  And this process was an important small step towards building more trust.  Much more leadership will have to emerge over the coming months if we are to secure a strong agreement in Copenhagen.

Countries will need to start discussing: "what if we did this, would you be willing to do that...and if you provided this, we could do that".  Without that conversation occurring amongst the participants in the Major Economies Forum, the chances of getting Heads of Government to agree in Copenhagen are slim.

So this process has a lot riding on its shoulders.

This first meeting wasn't expected to deliver any tangible outcomes.  From the outside the impact of this first meeting will be small.  No major announcements were expected and none were delivered.  But from some conversations I had with participants, the discussions on the inside provided some glimpse that this process can help in the lead-in to Copenhagen. 

Here are just a few of the inside discussions that stuck out in my mind:

  • President Obama is truly committed to a clean energy and global warming agenda. Outside the cameras, President Obama took a bit of time out of his extremely busy schedule to meet with the lead delegates from the participating countries. This small step was very well received by the participants that I talked it showed his true commitment to this issue. And especially because he didn't do it as a photo-op, but rather outside the limelight of the presidency. He signaled that the US was back, but mostly wanted to hear from the participants what they thought. Small gestures like this can go a long way in these international negotiations.
  • Congressional action is picking up pace and is serious. A number of delegates were very curious how the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearings went last week, what was happening this week in the House, how would things progress, and what was happening in the Senate? It is probably too obvious to say, but all international eyes are closely affixed on what the US does. US leadership is the cornerstone of an agreement in Copenhagen.
  • General goodwill, but some serious discussions. Overall, most participants seemed to feel that the spirit of the meeting was good. There was a lot less rhetoric than has recently emerged in the international negotiations, but there was enough disagreement on some key issues to know that countries were taking this forum serious. If they weren't serious, then you wouldn't have any moments of disagreement. After all, solving global warming will require every country to move from their stated public position and there are some differences at this stage that will have to be resolved.

There is a busy negotiating session before Copenhagen and two more preparatory meetings of the Major Economies Forum.  Plenty of opportunity to get agreement, but only if a few countries signal their willingness to be leaders and stick their necks out. 

Step-by-step the world will have to come together to agree to a solution to global warming.  And this meeting is one small, but important step towards that goal.