What progress was made

December 27, 2009

Heads of state and others tactfully pronounced the Copenhagen climate change summit last week ‘an important first step’ and ‘a constructive discussion.’  Indeed, most cast a dusting of shimmering snowflakes over two grueling weeks of “negotiation by exhaustion,” as one official put it.  The truth, of course, is that the Copenhagen Accord is no substitute for a real-deal treaty.  While the accord itself is painfully disappointing to many, crucial breakthroughs occurred during the climate change talks.  Insights were gained about the likely components and shape of a successful package.  World leaders were educated first hand about the history and key issues.  Along the way, the process revealed itself to be so flawed in many respects that no one can disagree that more nimble approach is now required.

If leaders waste no time to build upon the breakthroughs, personally engaging in bilateral talks, Copenhagen will be seen in hindsight as a “teachable” moment on the way to a true agreement.

The crucial breakthroughs began even before the curtains were raised when a number of countries made new pledges to limit their GHG emissions, including some that had never before done so like China, India, and Brazil.  While one might have hoped that these pledges were even more ambitious than they were, we can’t forget that these were initial negotiating positions.  So, we now know the bare minimum that these countries are willing to do, and we can assume that with a little give and take, they might do more.

Similarly, thanks to the leadership of the UK’s Ed Miliband, Europe took the crucial step of putting a material sum of money on the table to help less well off countries with their transition to a low-carbon economy and adaptation to climate changes already occurring.  By finally offering a specific, albeit initial, amount of “fast-start” funding, European countries formally acknowledged for the first time the fundamental need of all countries to develop their economies, with financial support for leapfrogging to cleaner technologies.  Oddly, however, they didn’t ask for much in return.  During the negotiations, other countries upped the total to nearly $30 billion for the initial tranche.  Another surprise was that Secretary Hillary Clinton agreed that by 2020, $100 billion would be needed annually for climate funds, but did not clarify how much the United States would contribute, a gigantic detail not lost on anyone.

All decided for the first time that global average temperatures should not increase above 2°C, which implies deep cuts in global emissions during the coming decades.  In fact, it is possible to derive an emissions budget for the world with this goal now specified. Highly vulnerable countries like the Maldives and Tuvalu advocated a 1.5°C limit instead, which stretched the imagination.

The most intriguing development was on the protections of forests, from which 20 percent of global CO2 emissions are emitted through deforestation.  Why now?  This agreement, known as “REDD+” was proposed originally by Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea.  Now that monitoring and verification technologies have improved enough so that conservation efforts can be assessed, Norway and the United States volunteered money to support it. Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silvas’ views evolved to the point where Brazil could accept compensation for forest protection, and the pieces fell into place.  Many details need to be worked out so that the program has integrity, but it was an unexpected and welcome step forward.  Sadly, the deal was scrapped when the broader package fell apart, but there is no reason why it cannot be quickly reconstituted.

Perhaps the best thing about Copenhagen is that world leaders became personally acquainted with the tough issues, directly and seriously negotiating for the first time.  It was idealistic to expect that they would be able to resolve their differences through a series of chaotic and ad hoc meetings at the 11th hour.   In his hours in the Bella Center, President Obama quickly identified the core elements of the package – emission reductions, financing, and verification.  He no doubt got an earful from his counterparts about the many American promises made and broken on the long road of climate diplomacy.  Obama returned the favor during his speech, lecturing about the need for transparency and verification. Because of Congressional constraints, however, President Obama didn’t have any leeway to actually negotiate on two of the three core elements of the package: emissions reductions and financing.  Other countries, especially China, knew his constraints perfectly well, and naturally they dug in on the third issue: monitoring and verification.

The contours of the eventual deal are now much more clear. Developing countries need to see that all industrialized countries, including the United States, will actually reduce their emissions.  Deeper cuts would be nice, but it’s likely that everyone would be relieved if they just got on with it.  Major developing country emitters need to commit to binding emissions limitations in exchange for financing.  Again, more stringent initial targets would be preferable, but that would require more financing. In exchange for the provision of financing for clean technology deployment, developing countries need to open their markets so all firms, including those from industrialized countries, can fairly compete for clean energy business in these markets.  Least developed countries need more aid for adaptation. Finally, all countries need to agree to a fair system of verification.

We need a leader to push forward at this point. Someone needs to shoulder responsibility for brokering a deal, starting tomorrow, to build on the momentum begun at COP15.  Brazil’s President Lula springs to mind because he is respected in the developing world, is a mediator, and cares about both environment and development.  Alternatively, President Calderon is hosting the next conference of parties and is not afraid to generate creative ideas such as the Green Fund.  Such mediators need to go from capital to capital for serious consultations.

Meanwhile, Premier Wen and President Obama need to directly talk again, and soon.  If the U.S. and China can break their impasse directly, it will be infinitely easier for the Congress to pass legislation and unlock the whole international process.  When the Senate does pass legislation, it must not only focus on reducing emissions, but also on how to contribute to the international climate funds.

If the core elements of the deal are agreed upon at the highest levels, it is conceivable that many of the unresolved details will be rapidly and agreeably ironed out at the next meeting of the climate convention in Mexico City.

Kelly Sims Gallagher is associate professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a senior research associate at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.


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

Converging on Copenhagen

December 8, 2009

Professor Kelly Sims Gallagher, students, and researchers from The Fletcher School at Tufts University are Converging on Copenhagen for the COP15 climate change negotiations.  Many are associated with Fletcher’s new Energy, Climate, and Innovation research program in the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy.  For a list of who’s going and what they are focusing on there, see below.  We’ll be blogging from Copenhagen on the specific issues identified with each researcher.

Some of us on our way to the Bella Center (From left: Ted Mathys, Tillman Liebert, Kelly Sims Gallagher, Carlos Munos, Nick Davidson, Hengwei Liu, and Mukhtar Amin

Kelly Sims Gallagher, Associate Professor of Energy and Environmental Policy, Director, Energy, Climate, and Innovation Program (ECI), Center for International Environment and Resource Policy (CIERP), The Fletcher School, Tufts University.  Professor Gallagher focuses on energy and climate policy in both the United States and China. She is particularly interested in the role of policy in spurring the development and deployment of cleaner and more efficient energy technologies, domestically and internationally.  Her focus at climate change negotiations is on technology transfer and finance, and the role of China in the negotiations.  She is the recent author of “Breaking the Climate Impasse With China: A Global Solution”, available at http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/Gallagher_Final_5.pdf.

Mukhtar Amin, Graduate Student, The Fletcher School, Tufts University.  Mr. Amin is researching how African countries have fared in international environmental negotiations.  In most cases, they have aligned themselves with the G77.  While this alignment has brought some benefits (for instance, more attention is now paid to adaptation issues, thanks in large part to the efforts of the G77), it has also expressly fallen short of core interests of the continent.  He is currently looking into whether African countries would be better off by forming a distinct block with a distinct negotiating position that is meaningfully different from the G77 block.  If so, what would be the defining elements that make such a negotiating position distinctly African?

Carlos Munoz Brenes, Graduate Student, The Fletcher School, Tufts University.  Mr. Munoz’s research is focused on the connections between conservation, sustainable development goals, and climate change.  He is assessing how forest-related multilateral environmental agreements, in particular the ongoing climate change negotiations on REDD, affect institutions at the national level to promote conservation and environmental policy actions.  Understanding the connections between domestic institutional arrangements and the international climate change framework helps to identify real opportunities from climate change mitigation through (i) reversing forest ecosystem services (ES) decline and (ii) the sustainable management of the agro-forestry landscape.

Nicholas Davidson, Graduate Student, The Fletcher School, Tufts University.  Mr. Davidson is investigating the evolution of carbon markets.  He is specifically researching how the creation of a sectoral crediting mechanism will evolve from the current offset markets (CDM) and what the implications for carbon markets in East Asia might be.  He is looking into how this will affect the supply-side of carbon credits (case study of Chinese electricity generation from cement manufacturing) and the demand-side (Japan’s evolving carbon market).

Travis Franck, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, The Fletcher School, Tufts University.  Dr. Franck is researching the regulatory, technological, and public policy hurdles for carbon capture with algae.  In addition to algal carbon capture, his research interests include the dynamics of climate policy and the implications of delaying action, important environmental and economic feedbacks in climate adaptation, building more climate robust communities, and uncertainty analysis of carbon permit pricing.  Travis is also a member of Climate Interactive <http://climateinteractive.org>, which is developing the C-ROADS simulator, a decision support tool designed to help the UNFCCC negotiations remain grounded in the science of climate change.

Andrew Freedman, Graduate Student, The Fletcher School, Tufts University.  Mr. Freedman is an environmental journalist working primarily on issues related to climate change.

Tilmann Liebert, Graduate Student, The Fletcher School, Tufts University.  Mr. Liebert is investigating the extent to which the level of ambition in a country’s climate policy is correlated with the competitiveness of the country’s renewable energy industries.  To the extent that there is correlation, he is exploring how those industries are affecting climate change policy domestically and internationally.  He aims to explain negotiation outcomes as a result of how competitiveness has been framed – as a facilitator or rather as a barrier to ambitious climate change policy agreements.  He is looking into what is needed (rules, incentives, etc.) for climate change policies to be perceived by private actors as opportunities for enhancing their competitiveness, as well as what role competitiveness plays in determining a country’s negotiation position regarding QELROs/NAMAs in post-Kyoto negotiations.

Hengwei Liu, Post-Doctoral Research Associate, The Fletcher School, Tufts University.  Dr. Liu’s current research focuses on advanced coal and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology policy in China. He has been involved in a wide range of national and international initiatives and projects, including Carbon Mitigation Initiative (BP); National Alternative Energy Strategy of China (NDRC); National Planning of Technology & National Mid- and Long-term Energy*Equipment of Coal-chemical Industry (NDRC); Strategy of China (CAE); Promotion of the IGCC Technology in China for Power and Fuel Production (Energy Foundation); Sustainable Urban Mobility (NDRC&BP); COACH (EU). He will be focused on technology transfer, the role of China, and the potential impact of Copenhagen on the technological trajectory for CCS globally.

Ted Mathys, Graduate Student, The Fletcher School, Tufts University.  Mr. Mathys is investigating the social effects of climate change policy implementation and technology deployment in the developing world.  Specifically, he is exploring how informal labor economies and informal actors in poor countries are bolstered, suppressed, or otherwise ignored in the formulation and implementation of climate policy.

Odette Mucha, Graduate Student, The Fletcher School, Tufts University.  Ms. Mucha is looking into how corporations are responding to international climate policies, and whether corporations are more likely to cut carbon emissions if dictated by international and/or national policies or if left to determine their own voluntary measures.

Aaron Strong, Graduate Student, The Fletcher School, Tufts University.  Mr. Strong is researching the technical complexities of monitoring, reporting, and verification of carbon emissions, including the appropriate accounting of carbon across sectors of the economy.  He is looking into the factors that have led to original carbon accounting errors and why such carbon accounting errors have persisted in subsequent legislative proposals.  He is looking to discover if the institutionalized distinctions between various emissions sectors are the direct, proximal causes of such accounting errors.  He seeks to understand the complexities of the interactions of scientific information and scientific uncertainty with the politics of climate change negotiations and policy development.  He is also following the “bunker fuels” issue.