Beginning the March to Copenhagen: Climate Negotiations Getting Serious


If you've read my previous posts, you'll know that the international global warming negotiations have already commenced (see here, here; and here). But if last year was the "dry run", this year will be need to be the real thing. While progress was made last year, it was stymied as the US Administration sitting across the negotiating table from other countries was never really serious about getting a strong agreement. Of course, that has changed with President Obama signaling that he will move domestically to cap US global warming pollution and also help secure a strong international agreement to this global challenge.

So that is why I'm in Bonn, Germany right now. For the next ten days, delegates will be engaged in the next round of climate negotiations (I'll be back in Bonn in early June for another negotiation session). This will be the first negotiation session where the US will be led by a team that wants to address global warming (and more importantly a President and leaders in Congress that support that vision).

At some point during the reign of the previous Administration, other countries knew they weren't really serious so the developing countries stopped providing stronger signals of the action that they would take in the new agreement. Some hints of progress emerged, but they were held back by this reality (as I discussed in my New Year's Resolution).

So what does a changed US dynamic mean? What can we expect at this negotiation session?

The changed US dynamic, will have a very strong impact on these negotiations. If anyone wants an example of how US leadership can change a complex international negotiation, all you have to do is look to the recent agreement to negotiate a treaty to address mercury pollution (as my colleague Susan Keane discussed). For the previous 8 years the US didn't want an international mercury treaty and things didn't progress (to put it mildly). But at the beginning of the last negotiation session, the Obama Administration signaled that they wanted a mercury treaty. And after two weeks of hard negotiations, an agreement was reached to negotiate a mercury treaty. Which is why many people, including the members of the US Climate Action Partnership have stressed that: "U.S. climate policy is an essential precondition for a full and effective international framework".

Of course, simply a change in US position won't break down all the impasses, but it sure can go a long way. But this is a complicated negotiation with a lot of issues on the table, which is where we are at right now. I still believe that there is a lot of convergence on the agreed structure (as I discussed here), but the clock is ticking as we are less than 8 months from Copenhagen. Continued...