Dan Bodansky Letter from Copenhagen

by Daniel Bodansky

[As noted earlier, Professor Dan Bodansky is continuing his dispatches on the climate change talks.  He is Copenhagen this week and next, and sends us this initial letter from Copenhagen.  OJ will be providing additional commentary on the climate change talks — from the conference, and from other academic commentators — over the next week. Dan’s letter is being cross-posted at the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at Oxford.]

Under grey skies, the Copenhagen Climate Conference began this week in a sprawling complex at the edge of the city. Whether anything will actually happen here to address climate change remains an open question. But the conference is definitely a happening. Reportedly, more than 40,000 people have registered and the conference has dramatically more energy than the lead-up meetings (although that is an admittedly low standard of comparison). Indeed, my sense is that it’s on a bigger scale than any environmental meeting since Rio. And the energy will only build next week, with the arrival of more than 100 heads of state.

In theory, the outlook here should look bright, since the core substantive elements of the “deal” are already on the table. The major emitters have put forward their provisional national emission targets: 20-30% reductions from 1990 levels for the EU, in the range of 17% reductions from 2005 levels for the US, a 40-45% improvement in carbon intensity for China, and a 20-25 % intensity target for India. Although these numbers fall short of putting the world on a pathway towards the goal of limiting climate change to 2 degrees (indeed, there is disagreement whether the Chinese number is any improvement on BAU), I think few realistically expect them to be tightened during the course of the conference (although the EU has criticized both the US and EU numbers as too weak, so I may easily be proved wrong). Similarly, the figure of $10 billion annually in near-term (“fast start”) financial assistance, which the US and EU have endorsed, may not meet the financial needs of developing countries, but I don’t think it will be the subject of further negotiations.

With these substantive elements in place, one might expect a deal to be easy, but the reality is far different. Not only do the various negotiating texts remain a mess, there is still no political agreement on the “architectural” aspects of the regime, including the legal form of the ultimate outcome. The divergence of views is reflected in the two texts that are informally circulating at the meeting: a text that the Danish presidency put forward last month at a pre-COP ministerial meeting, which has drawn significant fire from developing countries; and the BASIC text developed by Brazil, South Africa, India and China (the so-called BASIC group). And the opening days of the session revealed the growing rifts within the G-77 (the developing country negotiating group) between those who favor a weaker and stronger outcome.

The following is a brief summary of the key issues in the negotiations:

A Climate Committment That’s Not A Treaty?

by Duncan Hollis

The Guardian has a leaked copy of what it’s calling “the Danish text” (see it here).  Apparently, this draft was developed by the Danes along with other developed countries including the United States and the United Kingdom in the hope that it might become the basis for whatever instrument emerges from Copenhagen.  As widely expected, the instrument is framed as a “political agreement” rather than a treaty.  Hostility to the instrument has not centered (so far), however, on its form, but rather (a) on its reliance on the World Bank in lieu of existing UN fora for overseeing the new regime as well as (b) its imposition of new commitments on emissions for developing countries that they were apparently not expecting. 

The Guardian reports that the leak of the Danish text has thrown the talks into disarray, and makes it sound like the talks are already in danger of failing just as they’ve begun.  My own sense is that we’re only at the beginning of a two week process, and I’d expect that there’s still time to get the train back on track toward some consensus on a political commitment.  That said, a leak like this will certainly require a fair bit of posturing on all sides before negotiators can get back to that goal.  Meanwhile, we’re hoping to have a number of guest bloggers weigh in in the days ahead on Copenhagen, so keep an eye here for future updates as they arise.

Hat Tip:  Foreign Policy’s Passport Blog

Bodansky: Update from Barcelona Climate Change Negotiations

by Daniel Bodansky

[Daniel Bodansky, University of Georgia School of Law and OJ guest blogger, sends this second dispatch on the state of the Climate Change talks leading up to the Copenhagen Conference. Professor Bodansky will also be blogging from Copenhagen here at Opinio Juris in December.]

This week, the chair of the negotiations and the executive secretary of the UN climate change secretariat both confirmed what had been obvious to most knowledgeable observers for some time: the Copenhagen Conference in December will not be able to adopt a new climate change treaty. Instead, they suggested, as a goal, adopting a series of COP (conference of the parties) decisions, which would be “politically” but not legally “binding” and would form the basis for a treaty to be negotiated post-Copenhagen.

Although a political outcome in Copenhagen should be easier to achieve than a legal agreement, it will still be difficult and will require significant compromises by all sides. The basic elements of the Copenhagen outcome could include:

• A long-term goal, expressed as a limit to global temperature increase (e.g., 2 degrees), greenhouse gas concentrations (e.g., 450 parts per million) and/or long-term emission reductions (e.g., emission reductions of 50% by 2050) .
• Mid-term emission reduction targets for developed countries, expressed either as an absolute number (e.g., reductions of 20% by 2020) or as a range (e.g., 16-23%).
• Policies and measures by major developing countries such as China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa.
• Financial commitments/pledges by Western countries to assist mitigation and adaptation actions by developing countries.
• Decisions addressing adaptation, technology transfer, REDD (reductions in emissions from deforestation and degradation), mechanisms (possibly including new rules for the CDM and for land-use change), and capacity-building.

Given the current state of the negotiations (which remain bogged down), an outcome along these lines remains a very ambitious objective for Copenhagen, even if it is reflected “only” in COP decisions rather than in a new legal agreement.

How much does the legal status of the Copenhagen outcome matter?

Bodansky: Letter from the Barcelona Climate Change Talks

by Daniel Bodansky

[Daniel Bodansky, University of Georgia School of Law and OJ guest blogger, sends this dispatch on the state of the Climate Change talks leading up to the Copenhagen Conference.  Professor Bodansky will also be blogging from Copenhagen here at Opinio Juris in December.]

Barcelona, 4 November 2009

The UN climate change negotiations resumed on Monday in Barcelona, after only a three week hiatus since the last round in Bangkok. Between the official negotiations, the parallel political meetings of the major economies forum (MEF), the Commonwealth, and APEC, the numerous bilaterals (including the upcoming Obama visit to China), and the off-line dialogues convened by Denmark, the negotiating process will essentially be non-stop between now and when the Copenhagen Conference begins on December 7.

But progress remains elusive at best. The disconnect between the political urgency surrounding the climate change issue among political leaders and the insular world of the UNFCCC negotiations is growing ever more striking.

On the one hand, most of the key countries or groups – the EU, Japan, China, Brazil, India, South Africa, Indonesia and Australia – have either adopted or appear near to adopting domestic climate change policies. And although enactment of climate change legislation by the United States remains in doubt, a major bill has already passed the House of Representatives and the Senate is now beginning its consideration of similar legislation. So, from the perspective of national climate change policies, prospects have never been brighter. . . .