Copenhagen's famous mermaid (source: about.com)

The leading think-tank Chatham House held a conference on Monday and Tuesday this week, entitled “The Politics of Climate Change Agreement”.  There were some high-level speakers, including Joan Ruddock (DECC minister), the head of UNEP, and the chief negotiator of Papua New Guinea (he who told the USA to “show some leadership or get out of the way” at Bali).There was a vein of optimism running through the discussions – after all, who would have thought three years ago that the US would (almost) have a cap-and-trade bill, that India and China would have mitigation plans, and in 2008 investment in renewable energy would exceed investment in both nuclear and fossil fuels.

The main focus of the conference was what needed to happen politically to get a good deal at Copenhagen. The position of most developing countries is that annex 1 countries must provide binding targets for emissions reductions by 2020, consistent with keeping us on a 450ppm pathway or below. Secondly, there will be no deal without clear commitments by rich countries on adaptation financing. There was general agreement that Gordon Brown has broken the logjam on this with his speech last week finally putting a price tag of $100bn a year.

These are both likely to be forthcoming, but the extent of rich country cuts are still unclear – the Waxman-Markey bill in the US is unambitious, and recent figures put out by Russia and Japan were also disappointing. An aggregation of commitments so far gives a 16-26% reduction on 1990 levels by 2020. This is not good enough, as the IPCC says we need 25-40% cuts by 2020 to stay on the 450ppm pathway.

On the rich country side, the US in particular wants developing countries to commit to binding emissions cuts (cf. previous stand-offs with India), which many of them see as unjustifiable. This will probably be the major sticking point at Copenhagen. The piece of UNFCCC jargon for developing country emissions cuts is “Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions” (NAMA) by poor countries, which implicitly mean a move away from business as usual. This move is critical, because even if OECD emissions were zero, developing country emissions would still need to fall in order to meet 450ppm.

It is clear that we need a political deal at Copenhagen, even if the technical aspects take another year to hammer out. Regional or national negotiations targets around CCS and industry will be important, but a global political agreement is needed to hold it all together. The worst outcome would be a deal with vague or insufficient emissions reductions, including lots of greenwash around REDD. In conclusion, four essential elements for a good deal probably include (i) emissions targets for rich countries consistent with staying below 2 degrees warming, (ii) NAMAs for developing countries, (iii) a decent institutional framework, (iv) financing for adaptation.

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