Webcast Recap

Because expectations were so high before the Copenhagen Climate talks in December 2009, there was major disappointment when the talks did not produce a comprehensive agreement on controlling global greenhouse gas emissions. Climate experts speaking at a November 5th China Environment Forum meeting stressed that expectations for the December talks in Cancun need to be realistic. Moreover, while major breakthroughs are unlikely, it is notable that all parties in the climate talks are moving forward despite continued tensions over transparency in measuring, reporting, and verifying CO2 emission targets and how to finance developing countries to take actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The path to a final climate agreement will be a lengthy process and it is thus important that in Cancun the negotiators work on translating the targets that countries committed to in Copenhagen into specific mechanisms that will successfully reduce emissions.

Featuring Jake Schmidt, International Climate Policy Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, Duncan Marsh, Director of International Climate Policy at The Nature Conservancy, and Michael Davidson, a China Climate Fellow at Natural Resources Defense Council, much of the discussion at the meeting centered on how the ongoing tensions between the United States and China could impact the challenging topics that climate negotiators will discuss in Cancun and beyond.

Prognosis for the Talks in the Shadow of U.S.-China Climate Squabbles

Jake Schmidt explained that the focus of these climate meetings in Mexico will shift to formalizing the emission reduction commitments countries made in Copenhagen. "We don't expect any walking back" on those commitments, he stressed. The major sticking points in Copenhagen over measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) of GHG emissions and financing will play a large role in discussions in Mexico. Hopefully Cancun will lay out a working plan for future climate negotiations better than Copenhagen did. Although the U.S. and Chinese officials at the Tianjin intercessional were slinging mud at each other, Jake noted that despite the rhetoric there has been no slowing down in clean energy cooperation between the two countries. Like many other countries, both are attempting to move forward on low carbon initiatives despite the lack of a final global climate agreement. The clean energy cooperation between the United States and China were given a boost last year with the signing of 9 new energy agreements at the November 2009 Presidential Summit. Both leaders agree that domestic clean energy policies create jobs, increase energy independence, lower local pollution, and could make both countries winning contenders in the race for the future clean energy market that is estimated to be worth $13 trillion.

Duncan Marsh stated without hesitation that the United States and China constitute "the most important climate change relationship by far" and their actions on lowering GHG emissions will likely determine the effectiveness of any global climate agreement. In considering the potential of the Cancun talks, Ultimately, Duncan argued that additional time is needed for all countries to build the infrastructure for MRV systems. China has made admirable progress in this area. In comparing domestic actions on CO2 reductions of the world's two biggest GHG emitters, Duncan stressed that China is moving much more aggressively in creating energy efficiency and renewable energy targets and policies than the United States. China' upcoming Five-Year Plan notably will include strict carbon intensity reduction targets—which will likely follow model of the policies and campaigns that the Chinese government implemented to fairly successfully reach the energy intensity reduction targets in the previous plan. These progressive low-carbon policies combined with huge investments into clean energy R&D have created a dynamic clean energy market that is attracting considerable Chinese and international businesses. The U.S. stimulus package and new Department of Energy initiatives have infused significant new investment into clean energy projects and research, but without comprehensive energy policies to accompany this short-term spending the business community has no confidence that low-carbon will remain a priority.

Michael Davidson agreed with Duncan, stating that China is "making significant commitments" to address climate change by creating binding energy intensity targets, emphasizing data reporting and management in the upcoming Five-Year Plan, and demonstrating a willingness to talk about transparency. China's aggressive internal and external policies regarding climate change were emphasized by Premier Wen Jiabao in his "Iron Hand" speech in May 2010, which underscores the top leadership's continued commitment to climate issues. According to Davidson the Chinese leaders have several related goals in pursuing these policies, namely they want to: (1) get credit for their ambitious domestic GHG and clean energy commitments on the international stage, (2) establish China as a green development leader, and (3) provide a model for developing countries, (4) and claim a large stake in the transfer of clean energy technology. The progressive energy policies combined with the Chinese government's willingness to engage with international NGOs and energy researchers on MRV data issues is one sign that "a solution to the transparency Gordian knot can be reached," Davidson concluded.

Though there was a shadow cast in Copenhagen as negotiations were dominated by the voices of a few countries and were poorly managed, Duncan noted that the agreements reached there have served the interests of all who came to Denmark. Adequate due process in Cancun, which has been a focus of the international leaders and Mexico in the preparation process, is expected to ensure that all countries are more comfortable and negotiations are better managed. Everyone involved in the negotiations are hopeful that redundancies and vague passages in the Copenhagen agreement can be clarified or rewritten in Mexico.

Drafted by Lindsey Eckelmann.