Reframing a Copenhagen Deal

This post originally appeared in Yale Environment 360.

Two years ago in Bali, climate negotiators set an extremely ambitious goal for Copenhagen that quickly came to be viewed as a deadline for achieving a new, ratifiable global climate agreement. Striking such a deal is certainly in line with what the science says is urgently needed. But political realities, not the science, dominate global climate negotiations.

And the political reality is that many of the major players are not yet ready to sign a binding deal.  Many, including the United States, China and India, are making encouraging progress domestically.  Yet there remain wide differences among parties on many of the core issues – the nature of parties’ commitments, how they will be verified, how to generate new public and private finance, etc.  So the objective in Copenhagen must be a strong interim agreement that captures what progress has been achieved and creates fresh momentum toward a full and final deal.

Two major components involve carbon cuts and money. On emissions, a probable Copenhagen deal includes pledges from developed countries to meet reduction targets and pledges from major developing countries (e.g., China, India, Brazil) to meet  other mitigation actions such as carbon intensity goals. On finance, developed countries would pledge near-term funding to help developing countries adapt to climate change and develop low-carbon strategies. It’s also imperative that Copenhagen produce a clear deadline for concluding a final legal agreement, with the December 2010 Mexico City climate summit providing a reasonable timeframe.

A Copenhagen deal should also go as far as possible in outlining the architecture of a legally-binding treaty. This includes: the nature of commitments for developed and major developing countries; how to verify that countries are complying with their commitments; and new financial mechanisms.

Achieving strong national pledges of action and making available some quick-start money to address immediate climate-related needs for developing countries will represent genuine progress, and will help bridge the gap between developed and major developing countries. But to be a true success, Copenhagen must be a springboard toward a legally-binding agreement in 2010. 

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Eileen Claussen is President