“It’s worth waiting for a feast”

December 17, 2009

In his press conference yesterday, Chinese lead negotiator Su Wei was asked whether he believed what Senator Kerry had stated in his press conference (namely that the Senate would pass legislation early next year if there was a deal in Copenhagen), and he obliquely replied that the Chinese have a saying, “It’s worth waiting for a feast.”

There’s been a lot of waiting going on during these climate negotiations.  Waiting to get into the Bella Center (or, in the case of many, waiting for 8+ hours but not getting into the center), waiting to see whether or not countries will make new or more ambitious pledges regarding emissions reductions and financing, waiting to see negotiating texts — especially the elusive “Danish text”, and waiting for plenary sessions to start (yesterday’s 1PM session was delayed 9 hours, beginning at 10 PM).  Confusion has reigned, and unlike all the previous UNFCCC negotiations I have ever witnessed, there is a sense that no one really knows what is going on.  Are secret negotiations occurring in the dark recesses of the Bella Center?  Has everyone given up on a meaningful breakthrough so nothing is really happening?  Or, do the negotiators simply not know how to produce a substantial outcome?  My guess it is the latter.

From my standpoint as an observer, even though we are now two days away from the conclusion of COP15, it doesn’t appear that serious negotiations have even begun (aside from the interesting developments on REDD+ — a related blog from Carlos Munos is coming soon).  Congress hamstrings the Obama Administration not only in its ability to offer more stringent targets, but also in its ability to put financial resources on the table; in other words, it cannot negotiate the core issues at hand.   How can the United States shape an effective financial institutional mechanism for the deployment of low-carbon technologies, for example, if it cannot be specific about how much money it can contribute?

Todd Stern’s position coming into COP15 was not a beginning negotiation position; it was his one and only position.  His hands are tied.  The Europeans were so focused on getting a target out of the United States, they apparently forgot that financing for low-carbon technology was a core interest of developing countries.  The Chinese, on the other hand, came with a negotiating position – an intensity target that could definitely be strengthened, and some seeming flexibility on how much financing for mitigation and adaptation would be required.

Recognizing that the Todd Stern cannot actually negotiate in the true sense of the word, Xie Zhenhua does not appear to be interested in being accommodating by making their intensity target “binding” or more stringent, much less agreeing to a robust monitoring, reporting, and verification regime.  The EU appears to be desperate for any deal at all, and the G-77 is being sidelined aside from REDD+.     Meanwhile, the G-77’s sky-high expectations about how much U.S. public financing will be made available for mitigation and adaptation in other countries at a time when unemployment is above 10 percent and more than one in ten Americans are now relying on food stamps to feed themselves are sure to be unmet.

Climate Interactive’s latest tabulation of the commitments, even including the most optimistic interpretation REDD+ deal, result in emissions concentrations of 720 ppm CO2eq., which is associated with a global average temperature change of 6.7° F (or 3.7°C).  An overcooked feast to be sure.

A different approach is needed.

Kelly Sims Gallagher

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