Running Out of Hope in Pozna?
After a lively weekend of holiday fairs, cocktail receptions and NGO parties, the beginning of week two at the United Nations International Climate Change negotiations in Pozna? got off to a slow start. The official negotiations were cancelled in observance of the Muslim holiday Eid ul-Adha, so most participants spent their time milling around side events and other informal discussions.
With a week left to go in the process, there are mixed emotions about how much progress has been made so far, and how much we can expect over the next few days. A key figure in the process lamented this weekend that although we are halfway to Copenhagen (where COP will be taking place in 2009), we have not yet done half the work that needs to be finished before we get there. Much clarity must still be achieved on the issues of commitments, money, institutions, and governance.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Danes (who are hosting the 2009 COP) express optimism about the process, and do not believe it is unrealistic that there could be an agreement by next year. Others still counter that all COPs end in some sort of agreement -- even if it is only to agree to future agreements, so we may get something from Copenhagen, but whether it has teeth is another issue.
At a packed side event in the International Emission Trading Association's Pavilion this evening, recently arrived U.S. Congressional delegates seemed mixed as well. On the one hand, some expressed skepticism that the Congress would be able to finalize any agreements before COP15 next year. On the other hand, others expressed the belief that a final decision on a cap-and-trade bill would not be a requirement for the U.S. to advance an international negotiating position next year in Copenhagen.
The Congressional staffers touched on some interesting points:
• Legislating is difficult by nature and design, but this doesn't mean the U.S. isn't committed to the issue of climate change
• Many unknowns remain in terms of who the key players will be on legislation and Executive Branch action, although much of this will shake out over the next few months
• We learned from Kyoto that decisions must not pass what Congress will not sign, but that there is strong potential for Obama to use his grassroots campaign network to mobilize public support and put pressure on Congress
• President Obama and EPA do have authority to regulate GHGs through the Clean Air Act, and this may also be another way to act without congressional authority
• Beyond climate legislation, there are lots of other policies that will be developed next year to generate emission reductions through promoting renewables, energy efficiency, building efficiency etc., some as part of an economic stimulus package
• An audience question pointed out that although many of the Congressional staffers raised competitiveness and comparative action concerns with respect to China, that in many ways China has passed stronger policies and emission reduction goals than the U.S.
• Another audience member pointed out that the U.S. delegation is focused on issues like allowance allocation whereas the international negotiations are focused on adaptation, mitigation, financing and technology, and encouraged the Congress to consider these issues
While hope for progress in Pozna? continues to look bleak, hopes and expectations for the new U.S. administration are raised by almost everyone, and references are made almost daily to Obama's remarks to the Governor's Summit hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger last month. While it is clearly important to manage expectations for U.S. action before Copenhagen, it is also clear that this process could use a little "Yes, we can" spirit.
Aimee Barnes is senior manager of U.S. regulatory affiars at EcoSecurities.