Four Essential Steps to the Copenhagen Agreement

In order to enter into force around the world before 2013, the Copenhagen agreement must meet the political requirements of all participating countries. This requires immediate clarity on four key points: emission targets for industrialized countries, developing countries' responsibilities, financing for international cooperation, and democratic governance of the agreement.

NEW YORK – The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this year will be the moment in history when humanity can rise to the challenge and decisively deal with the issue. It is beyond the shadow of a doubt that greenhouse gas emissions must be radically reduced to prevent climate change from sliding into climate chaos.

In 2007, in Bali, the 192 Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change committed themselves to launching negotiations on strengthened action against climate change. This process is to culminate in an ambitious negotiated outcome at the end of 2009, which needs to enter into force before January 2013.

This leaves just nine months to conclude one of the most complicated international negotiating processes in the world today. Last year, negotiators developed a better understanding of what they want from the different aspects of the action plan they agreed in Bali, and they gathered ideas and proposals. The political process has now reached a phase at which areas of convergence are emerging. These areas will form the basis of an initial draft agreement, to be presented in Bonn in June.

In order to enter into force around the world before 2013, the Copenhagen agreement must meet the political requirements of all participating countries. For this to happen, clarity on four key political points is needed this year.

First, clarity is needed on ambitious, legally binding emission-reduction targets for industrialized countries. Without such targets, the international community will not take the necessary action to address climate change, and developing countries will not have confidence that industrialized countries are willing to take the lead on solving a problem that they caused.

There are some positive signals in this direction. For example, the European Union has agreed to a climate and energy package with which it will be able to reach its target of a 20% emission reduction over 1990 levels by 2020 (30% if other industrialized countries follow suit. within the United States, President Barack Obama has indicated his intention to achieve an 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and to return US emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Other countries, such as Russia and Japan, will announce their mid-term targets in the course of this year.

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Second, clarity is essential on the extent to which major developing countries can undertake nationally appropriate mitigation actions beyond what they are already doing. For many industrialized countries, particularly the US, it will be very difficult to conclude an agreement unless their citizens see that major developing countries are also willing to engage further.

A number of developing countries, such as China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, have already developed national climate change or energy strategies that indicate the extent to which they feel that they are able, given their economic constraints, to address the issue. Many developing countries are coming forward with ideas for further nationally appropriate mitigation measures that they could take.

Third, clarity is essential on financing. The magnitude of action by developing countries will largely depend on the effective delivery of finance and clean technology through international cooperative action. We need to know how significant financial resources will be generated to help developing countries both limit the growth of their emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change.

Some interesting ideas have been floated. For example, industrialized countries have suggested auctioning emission rights and using part of the revenue for international cooperation – something that Germany is already doing. The concept also features in the Liebermann-Warner bill, an example of draft legislation on climate change for the US. Norway has put forward a proposal to monetize a portion of industrialized countries’ emissions budgets, generating revenue for international cooperation.

Emissions trading and market-based mechanisms will continue to play a role. However, the Bali action plan addresses the need for developing countries to adopt nationally appropriate mitigation actions. Because the carbon market cannot be the sole instrument, government-to-government cooperation will be needed as well.

Finally, clarity is essential on the governance structure under the convention. If significant financial resources are to be generated for mitigation and adaptation, developing countries will want a representative say in how that money is to be allocated and spent. The governance structures have to function according to democratic principles, founded on equity.

Many other important concerns will feature in this year’s intense negotiations. But clarity in these four areas will be essential for success at Copenhagen.