With Climate Change Negotiations Stymied, Mexico and Korea Offer Hope

August 18, 2009
Ten days ago, CGD published my working paper on developing country positions in the climate negotiations, to coincide with the start of a week of preparatory talks in Bonn ahead of the December climate summit in Copenhagen. In her foreword, Nancy Birdsall wrote: “Readers concerned and interested in the fate of the Copenhagen discussions will be dismayed and heartened, depending on the issue. To the extent the negotiating positions are just that, they may of course change; our website will provide periodic updates.” Nancy and I agreed that the shelf life my paper might be very short. While a breakthrough at Bonn was seen as unlikely, negotiators nonetheless expected some progress. Surely, the 200-page negotiating text could be trimmed. Surely, some of the less viable proposals could be taken off the table. Surely, compromise options would receive more attention. I had hoped that, by the end of the week, I would have to put a disclaimer on the paper: warning, outdated! Well – not yet. Reading reports on the Bonn meeting, it is discouraging just how little changed. The negotiating text remains a maze of bracketed options on which there is no agreement. UN climate chief Yvo de Boer could not have been clearer at the closing session: “a climate deal in Copenhagen this year is an unequivocal requirement to stop climate change from slipping out of control,” he said. “At this rate, we will not make it.” Yet success in Copenhagen remains within reach. The UNFCCC Secretariat is putting a ceaseless effort into bringing clarity and structure to the labyrinthine options. Leaders of the largest emitters will have a chance to break the deadlock when they meet twice in September, first at the UN Secretary-General’s high level event on climate, then in Pittsburgh at the G-20 meeting. The Obama team may find ways to bring more to the negotiating table than what is contained Waxman-Markey bill, and enable an equitable compromise without condemning the eventual Copenhagen agreement to the same fate that the Kyoto climate treaty met in the Senate. Now is the time to focus on the common-sense compromise options that have already been floated. There are many good proposals. To my mind, Mexico’s and Korea’s suggestions deserve much more attention and could gather wide support. Both countries champion a path that strikes a careful balance on burden sharing between developing and developed countries. Their vision complements markets with public investment. It favors strong monitoring to ensure that what we do is effective. It seeks to improve the flow of funding to developing countries with as little bureaucracy as possible, and much more. Those of us who understand just how close we are to the brink of rapid, catastrophic climate change should take a few minutes to examine the sensible proposals from these two countries—and then spread the word.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.