Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Copenhagen conference update

The U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen continues to be defined by the disagreements between developed and developing countries as the talks wind toward Friday’s conclusion. Not much progress has been made. Yesterday was marked by a day of protest by African countries, whose representatives walked out of the conference over draft language being discussed regarding the expectations and responsibilities of developed and developing countries when it comes to greenhouse gas emission reductions.

This display by developing countries gets to the heart of the major obstacle facing the climate negotiators, which is what exactly the role and responsibility is of developing and developed countries if a truly effective international agreement to reduce global greenhouse emissions is to be reached. Developing countries argue that historically the majority of emissions have come from developed countries as they industrialized their economies. Therefore, developed countries bear responsibility to more aggressively reduce their emissions. Further, there is an expectation that developed countries must financially assist developing countries in transitioning to low-carbon technology and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

Developed countries worry that since developing countries are expected to account for more than two-thirds of the emissions growth over the next 30 years, they must agree to binding reductions. The rift between the U.S. and China highlights this divide. The U.S. is demanding real reductions by China and third-party verification of its reductions. China is resisting both demands, as well as efforts to create a new status for emerging economies like those in India and China that would be separate from developing countries, opening the door to requiring mandatory reductions from them.

It is unlikely that these issues will be resolved when the negotiations conclude at the end of the week. The role of developed and developing countries is sure to dominate the legislative debate in the U.S. when Congress takes up climate change legislation again after the New Year.

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