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Copenhagen Week One Wrap-Up

One week down, an agreement to go.  The first week at Copenhagen was intense in and out of the Bella Center.  Inside, thousands of government bureaucrats and staffers mixed with thousands of environmental advocates, researchers, students, journalists, bloggers and a guy dressed in a polar bear suit.  The media and blogosphere played up the atmospherics of shocking “secret” draft texts, sharp words and session stoppages, but most people realize these are just part of the game.  There are real differences to be worked out, but my colleague Jake Schmidt describes the reasons we are optimistic for a positive agreement this week and highlights the issues to look out for.  The first week has narrowed the issues and produced a short draft text (see here).  For the first time ever, we have major plans of action from all emerging economies and strong targets from most of the developed countries.  Moreover, we’ll soon have an unpredecented gathering here of over a hundred heads of government who will arrive to finalize an agreement.  This sort of focus and commitment is unprecedented.

Outside, city was relatively quiet yesterday after anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 protestors took to the streets (and nearly 1,000 were arrested) on Saturday.

China and the US


“The Fate of Climate is in Your Hands” Courtesy of Global Voices Online

The media focused last week on the various barbs thrown around by SU Wei (China’s chief climate negotiator), HE Yafei (a vice-minister at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and Todd Stern (US Special Climate Envoy) (video). But there was more smoke than fire, as both countries want to come to a political deal by the end of this week.  At SU Wei’s more sparsely attended Saturday press conference, he took a less combative tone and noted that China’s slogan for this 2nd week of negotiations was to: “enhance confidence, consolidate consensus, strengthen cooperation, and implement actions.”  The arc of the negotiation seems just about right to us here.  Both the US and China stepped up with targets in advance of Copenhagen to set a constructive tone for the negotiations, came out of their corners swinging earlier this week to establish their positions, and ended the week on a constructive note.  They will all be scrambling early this week to hammer out the key details before the world leaders start to arrive mid-week.

To MRV or Not to MRV? One of the big issues for the week will be on the question of how countries stand behind their commitments and how they do so in a transparent manner.  In climate parlance, this is known as “measure, report and verify” (MRV) (whether it be actions, emissions inventories or technical/financial support).

The position of China, India and the so-called “BASIC” countries (Brazil, South Africa) is that actions supported by developed countries will be subject to international review, but that actions without support will only be domestically, not internationally, reviewed.  China has been laying out the case that it has put in place institutions to measure data and drive implementation of its climate targets, which should give other countries comfort that China is meeting its targets.  We’ve talked about the efforts that China has made in this regard to use complex bureaucratic evaluations, its Top 1000 energy consuming enterprises program and other measures.

The US position is that commitments should all be transparent, part of the international agreement, and put through a “consultative-type process” for some sort of appropriate international review.

So how do we “get to yes” here?  There is a great deal of space for creative thinking if the countries are willing to step away from their postions, and focus on their interests.  The US interest (and the goal of the climate treaty in general) is to better understand how all major emitters are doing on their efforts to “bend the curve” on or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.  China is interested in preventing inappropriate intrusion on its sovereignty.  Look for room to compromise on the scope and frequency of any reviews of actions or emissions inventories, as well as use of facilitative review focused on capacity building and technical support.  China actually has a good deal of innovative practice and experience and may be willing to show this off on the international stage.  The US should be willing to step to appropriate international review and transparency as well to stand behind its commitments.

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