Good article on the political terrain leading up to Copenhagen

Here’s a good new potential reading for a climate change course or module on climate change: Sikina Jinnah, et al.,  Tripping points: barriers and bargaining chips on the road to Copenhagen, 4 Environmental Research Letters 1-6 (2009). In the article, the authors outline the most important “tripping points,” i.e. political barriers and bargaining chips that must fit together if efforts to develop an effective mid-term strategy to address climate change are to be successful at 15COP in Copenhagen. Among the authors’ conclusions:

  1. The parallel negotiations taking place in the Ad-hocWorking Group on Further Commitments by Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) and the  Ad-hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the UNFCCC (AWG-LCA) has created institutional complexity, with many members of each group waiting for signals from the other group before they move forward. Some States have plumped for drawing the groups together, but many developing States in particular are resisting this, arguing that Annex I Parties to the Kyoto Protocol must show leadership before any discussion of potential mitigation actions by developing States can take place;
  2. Among the barriers to achieving an agreement at Copenhagen are following:
    1. Different philosophies on how to structure mitigation commitments have developed, largely along developed/developing State lines, with most developed countries arguing for a “bottom-up” approach, whereby countries establish individual pledges based on perceived capability to reduce emissions, while developing States have predominantly argued for a “top-down” approach, whereby an aggregate target for emissions reductions, based on the best available science, would be established, and States would then be allocated pieces of the smaller pie. At this point, many developed States are chary to make substantive commitments before details are worked out on issues e.g. LULUCF and the configuration of the flexible mechanisms in a potential successor agreement to Kyoto; developing countries are extremely skeptical about the level of commitments that developed countries have been discussing to date;
    2. Differences between States as to whether commitments on the part of developed States should be legally binding or soft, and the relevant baseline year for calculating reductions
    3. Effectuating the delicate balance between developing States taking “nationally appropriate mitigation actions” (NAMAs), as contemplated under the Bali Roadmap, and the reciprocal obligation of developed States providing appropriate financial and technological support for such measures remains extremely difficult, and is likely to be one of the most important “tripping points” heading into Copenhagen. Another important issue in the context of potential commitments by developing States is whether differentiated commitments would be appropriate among developing countries, given substantial differences in technological and economic resources in this bloc;
    4. Adaptation is now acknowledged as a critical consideration, but serious divides remain in terms of developing adequate funding sources and which activities should be eligible for adaptation funding.
  3. In terms of “bargaining chips” that States may bring to the table, the following are identified as most important by the authors:
    1. Developing a viable REDD mechanism into any future regime could be both important for reducing emissions, as 17% of global GHG emissions in 2004 were related to deforestation and decays of biomass, as well as engendering developing country support for an agreement at Copenhagen. However, many issues remain to be resolved, including financial support for such initiatives and protocols to ensure environmental integrity;
    2. Technology transfer. While effective technology transfer could help engender support by developing countries for an agreement in Copenhagen, several sticking points remain, including how to finance such transfers and intellectual property rights concerns, with developed States predominantly arguing for maintaining current IPR protections, and developing countries arguing for IPR relaxation, compulsory licensing, patent pooling, etc.;

The authors conclude that reaching an agreement at Copenhagen is by no means assured, and it is possible that an agreement might develop in another fora, e.g. the G20, and potentially be brought to the UNFCCC for approval. Another important point is that what some countries see as barriers to agreement others see as bargaining chips for getting there. For example, some developing countries may view their amenability to taking on mitigation commitments as a bargaining chip for adaptation funding. In the end, the question is whether this delicate dance gets us to where the science says we need to be, and within what kind of time frame.

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