United States of America


We’re just under 100 days before the beginning of the Copenhagen climate talks (COP15) this December and Adopt a Negotiator is stepping up its efforts to cover the process.  We’d like to start by introducing you to a few new faces.

Juliana Russar

Adopt a Negotiator proudly welcomes Juliana Aziz Miriani Russar to the team.  Juliana is based in Sao Paulo, Brazil and she’ll be joining us to help you track the Brazilian Negotiators from now through the final round of climate treaty talks this December.

Ben Jervey

We’re also excited to welcome Ben Jervey to the team.  Ben joins our US tracker, Reed Schuler, to help keep an eye on the American Negotiators and keep all of you updated on their actions and positions over the coming months (more…)

If the talks in Bonn are any indication, the world will end with a whimper, not a bang.

tck. tck. tck...

tck. tck. tck...

A terrifying lack of progress at the negotatiation puts us in an ever-more precarious position, staring over the precipice into the realm of devastating climate change.

The Doomsday Clock, a symbolic indicator maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to indicate humanity’s distance from “catastrophic destruction,” stands at 11:55. In 2007, the clock shifted two minutes forward from 11:53, taking into account for the first time climate change and humanity’s capacity to dangerously abuse technologies besides nuclear weapons.

This kinda thing really calls for some urgency. Ever heard of fiddling while Rome burned? Except we’re collectively not just fiddling, but adding fuel to the fire.

Jonathan Pershing said bluntly at the conclusion of the meeting (more…)

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Graceful summarizing the progress of 2,000 people arguing about literally thousands of separate issues on scores of major topics on a number of different negotiating tracks is tough.

That’s it for the disclaimer – on to the graceless summaries!

Atmosphere of negotiations according to sources on the ground (which doesn’t include me at the moment, sadly). Quiet. Not the usual circus. None of the normal side events hosted by NGO. No innovative demonstrations. An environmental newsletter counted one member of international press in attendance.

Speed of negotiations. High-level US negotiator in off-the-record session says talks are going slowly, but there is some progress. The text is getting smaller. Is there enough progress? He doesn’t know. Scary. Yvo de Boer, who leads the UNFCCC secretariat, says frankly “Time is running out.”

Some people look at the level of detail in country negotiating positions as tactical – wait until late in the game to give away information about your positions as leverage. Others, including American negotiators, say some countries have not fully developed – they don’t know – their own positions.

From Reuters: “With time pressing, Elliot Diringer of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change said Copenhagen would, at best, agree a framework for a deal with many details to be filled in later. And he said it was “highly unlikely” that the U.S. Congress would agree on a climate bill by Copenhagen.” Argh.

Financing. The United States is making noises around scaling up the level of financing, agreeing that everyone’s on board with this goal. Still not clear what this means, but the US has now at least MENTIONED money for the Least-Developed Countries fund.

The World Resources Institute puts out useful summaries of country positions (available here if you are interested) on a range of issues. The recently-released document has the US on finance saying the same thing I heard Jonathan Pershing say two months ago: “The private sector is expected to be a much larger source of funding than the public sector.” Some worry this is a roundabout way of saying “don’t expect much from our government.”

CDM. (Clean Development Mechanism) The US wants to keep using them. Unless the US ratifies Kyoto (this is not going to happen, as Pershing and others say repeatedly, as most people know, and as a few frustrated non-US people refuse to admit) this needs to make the Long-term Cooperative Action text. Sounds like an interesting split – the State Dept. team wants a sectoral approach, while the EPA folks in attendance, and presumably back home, are scared of what that would entail in terms of measurability, reportability, verifiability (MRV for the acronym-lovers the negotiations are full of – I’m not one of them). State dept. recognizes we’re not on track to fully develop a sectoral approach anytime soon.

Double-counting. This is a messy issue. Developed countries, namely the EU at this point, want to…. Let me just give you language from an NGO briefer. “At present the developed countries are planning to undertake creative accounting with carbon off-sets, and are in danger of double counting both the emissions reductions and financial resources the off-sets deliver in developing countries as well as counting them towards their own mitigation targets.” I remember standing around a gathering of NGO people in Bonn when this first came out. They said confidently “This is a trial balloon. We’re gonna shoot it down.” The balloon’s still floating, and the same people are getting nervous.

Level of ambition in mitigation targets. Official data from the secretariat said the mitigation targets offered by developed countries excluding the US are somewhere between 15 and 21% below 1990 levels. This is well below what the science demands. The (relatively) strong cuts are coming from the EU, Switzerland, and Norway. The bad cuts are coming from Canada, Japan, and Russia. It’s amazing how easy the US is getting away with its weaker targets. Many believe it’s the most we can get through congress. Viewed through a basic lens, the US is proposing not a reduction from, but a return to 1990 levels. It’s more complicated than that, but I won’t get into it now.

China says: (via Reuters) Yu Qingtai, China’s special representative for the UN climate change talks  [said] the two major obstacles… are the lack of political will by the developed nations to take the lead in emission cuts, and no substantial progress in providing finance and technology to developing countries.

That sums it up better than I could.

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Bonn 3 has begun. So far, it’s not quite as dramatic as its movie-sequel title would have you believe – though it ought to be. The pacing of negotiations is invariably a source of frustration for participants and observers alike.

For the main annual negotiating events (the “Conferences of the Parties,” or COPs), the momentum tends to gather slowly at first and then explode in a burst of activity at the end. The more frequent and less-attended periodic sessions (the “intersessional informal consultations” – don’t be fooled, as they are plenty formal) usually have a bit of a steadier pace.

As I mentioned last week, it is crucial that Bonn 3 produce a workable negotiating text – a clear, concise (under 200 pages!) platform including all of the elements of a final agreement for Copenhagen.

This agreement must be FAB – Fair, Ambitious, and Binding. (more…)

Negotiators are returning next week to where I last tracked them – Bonn, Germany.

They’ll be working to “digest” the “indigestible” – massage a 200-page negotiating text, dense with contradictory and extraneous clauses, into a working document from which the rest of the negotiations may proceed.

In June, the document began with 50 pages. Country negotiating delegations peppered it with additions, leaving it the bloated and unmanageable 200 pages it is now. This effort to cut it down to size may sound like an administrative task, but this summarizing process will shape the final agreement and humanity’s response to climate change.

Like carving a block of stone, and with as much painful grunt work, negotiators will shave the text down until it the general shape of the final agreement emerges.

And that’s why we need to watch it closely.

What can I communicate to our American negotiators on your behalf?

What needs to stay in the text? Please give me feedback or questions as comments on this blog.

The United States is no longer demanding a binding emissions cap for China, Todd Stern announced this week.

Instead, the US is looking for continuing actions along the lines of the actions they have been taking, which I’ve been told are viewed by the administration as comparable effort in a number of areas, from vehicle performance standards to renewable energy portfolio standards.

The administration wants to be able to tell American people that China gave as much as it got – particularly, they want to show that American business will not be damaged by an agreement. If Chinese sectors important for trade are making no strides in reducing emissions, the political fallout will be that the agreement is making the US less economically competitive.

This dropped demand by the US may smooth the path to an agreement between the US and China.

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By the second-to-last day at the Bonn talks, a few tensions have emerged.
First, there’s an interesting tension between transparency and secrecy.
On the one hand, we at the Adopt-a-Negotiator project are firmly committed to transparency. We really believe that by sharing information and engaging citizens, we can have a positive impact on an important policy process.
At the same time, sometimes there can be a need for more closed proceedings. A member of an environmental NGO told us that while she wants to push for as much transparency as possible, if everything was completely open, “nothing would get done,” because governments could never frankly exchange views.
I struggle with this, and though I believe there is room for some work that is not open to the media, the whole proceedings need more transparency. After all, decisions are being made that will affect literally all of our lives.
Another tension we sense in the US negotiating team is scale of ambition vs. political pragmatism and role definitions. Many, though not all, of the members of the US team (and though led by State, there are are also great people from other agencies – EPA and US Agency for International Development, to name a few) believe deeply we need to take serious action on climate change.
For those on the team who think we need more aggressive action than what the US is currently offering, there are a few things holding them back. The roles of the negotiators are defined here – they are not free agents. They are here to support US government policy developed at a high level. This operates both professionally, because breaking from the mandate is simply not tolerated, and personally, with the viewpoint that their proper role is to support American success at the talks. This means they can only push so far, and in specific ways on narrow issues.
In addition, because unlike in most other countries, for us to make treaties with legally binding requirements, congress must pass legislation. This means that negotiators at the highest level (i.e. Stern and Pershing) can only develop fairly specific policy – much has to come from domestic legislation (probably Waxman/Markey).
Of course, the higher in the hierarchy the negotiator is, the more he or she can push back in policy discussions with the administration, who can then intervene with congress. For example, if Jonathan Pershing and Todd Stern decide that the US is simply not offering enough for realistic chances of getting a deal, they will tell Obama, and he will talk with congressional leaders.
The other major limiting factor is the perception of what is politically pragmatic. As I mentioned before, Pershing took the lead on Kyoto, only to watch it fail at home. So there is very serious attention paid to what will play at home with voters. This means, for example, that serious money for China to be used in adaptation or for energy technologies is essentially out of the question.
These are some of the constraints we’re dealing with here. Thoughts on how to manage them?

By the second-to-last day at the Bonn talks, a few tensions have emerged.

First, there’s an interesting tension between transparency and secrecy.

On the one hand, we at the Adopt-a-Negotiator project are firmly committed to transparency. We really believe that by sharing information and engaging citizens, we can have a positive impact on an important policy process.

At the same time, sometimes there can be a need for more closed proceedings. A member of an environmental NGO told us that while she wants to push for as much transparency as possible, if everything was completely open, “nothing would get done,” because governments could never frankly exchange views.

I struggle with this, and though I believe there is room for some work that is not open to the media, the whole proceedings need more transparency. After all, decisions are being made that will affect literally all of our lives. (more…)

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