We Need to Come Together on the Solutions…Progressing to Copenhagen Global Warming Negotiations

We have just completed the first week of international global warming negotiations for 2009 -- held in Bonn, Germany.  This is the beginning of the serious negotiations in the lead-in to Copenhagen later this year where the world has committed to reach an agreement.  And there were related events occurring in London, UK (the G-20 meeting) and Washington, DC (the Waxman-Markey discussion draft).      

This week negotiators were immersed in the details of the international agreement on global warming.  And not surprising there were differences of opinion, bold negotiating positions, and posturing.  So not everything you hear about this meeting or the statements of countries should be taken as definitive signs of their positions in Copenhagen.  Consider some of these the "opening bids".

So those dynamics and the short timeframe to Copenhagen have been starkly in front of me this week.

Coming together with solutions so the boat doesn't sink.  Any climate negotiations contain debates about how much action developed countries undertake, how much action do developing countries undertake, and what incentives are provided to help developing countries achieve greater emissions reductions?  And that dynamic definitely emerged this week.  

So I've been thinking about this debate a lot and here is an analogy I've come up with (I'm sure there are imperfections):

Imagine two people in a rowboat in the middle of a body of water.  One person (the bigger one) causes a hole in the floor of the boat...water is now coming into the boat making it start to sink.  Sometime later, the other person (the smaller one) causes another hole in the floor of the boat.  Water is now coming in even faster and the boat is going to sink very soon.  Of course the bigger one is making the boat sink faster and they were the first one to cause a hole in the boat...starting the sinking process.  But the smaller one is also in the boat that is sinking.  When the boat sinks both are going into the water...together.  So they have a choice...argue over whose fault it is that the boat is sinking or work together to scoop out the water as fast as possible and plug the holes.

That is the situation I believe we are in as we are trying to address climate change.  The boat is sinking...we have to plug the holes and scoop out the water together or else we both will go into the water.

We need the political leaders at the highest level to come together before Copenhagen for a strong agreement.  These climate negotiators will need their leaders to point them in the right direction if we are going to get a strong agreement.  It can be done as this meeting witnessed a large number of countries stand up for the world's tropical forests and demand that efforts to reduce these emissions are included in the Copenhagen agreement .

There are a lot of very difficult political decisions that will need to be agreed before and during the Copenhagen meeting.  And these will require decisions "above the pay grade" of climate negotiators if we are to have any chance.

A number of venues are emerging for these leaders to start to send the signal that there is space for a strong agreement...that countries are ready to set aside their differences and get into the business of designing the strategy to stop the boat from sinking.  These world leaders will be meeting a number of times, including at the Major Economies Forum just announced by President Obama, the G20, the Summit of the Americas, and a number of key bilateral engagements (that will bring together countries representing most of the world's global warming pollution).  I hope that time is used wisely.

World Leader's Want an Agreement in Copenhagen.  At the recent G20 meeting in London the leaders of the largest 20 economies in the world (and the world's biggest emitters) agreed to the following direction for their negotiators:

"We reaffirm our commitment to address the threat of irreversible climate change, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, and to reach agreement at the UN Climate Change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009."

But this week suffered a bit from the "twin US dynamic".  There is a clear recognition that the US is back.  But we are also feeling the impacts of the US negotiators not quite having a specific position -- as it is still early in their term.  So that dynamic has played out a bit this week and explains some of the strong positioning of countries and their posturing.  They are putting forward their strong opening bids and since the US doesn't have a counter proposal, the opening bid just lingers.  I'm optimistic that this dynamic will change quickly as the US will be working to start to outline a position. 

The other dynamic that is playing out is the reality that these negotiations are now for real...and countries know that.  No longer can they hide behind the fact that the US won't do anything -- as became painfully clear under the past Administration.  Those days are thankfully over as the US is moving towards implementing policies to deliver clean energy and global warming solutions.

Greater clarity will emerge in the coming weeks.  Countries will be asked to put forward their proposals for the Copenhagen agreement by end of April in order for them to be included in the draft negotiating text.  And with the Major Economies Forum holding its first meeting in Washington, DC April 27-28 all countries will have to "start to show their cards".  What do they really want?  What are they proposing?  How much give is there in the current negotiating position?  And most importantly, what can we agree in Copenhagen to put the world on the path to solving this challenge?

The rest of this week will help feed into those conversations, but we'll need to quickly get past the posturing and into structuring the strong agreement. 

After all, we'll need the leaders of these countries to make the tough decisions for the fate of their country and the world.  That is what they are paid to do and that is why they are elected (or appointed) to this position.

And it is becoming painfully clear to me that we'll need the strong leadership of President Obama to change this dynamic.  I believe that with this leadership and with Members of Congress the world can still come together and stop the boat from sinking.