It is climate week in New York! Before tomorrow’s opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon held a summit on climate change.
Given the slow progress thus far to meet the December deadline of putting together a global climate deal, it was hoped that today’s meeting of leaders might breathe some life into the negotiations.
The entire proceedings are available via webcast from the UN. I haven’t had a chance to watch them, but I did skim the prepared remarks from some of the global leaders.
For a nice pithy assessment of what is at stake, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri’s remarks are useful. He reminded leaders that the science tells us that doing nothing will result in a planetary temperature increase of somewhere between 1.1 & 6 degrees C, with a likely range between 1.8 & 4. The G8 leaders agreed that warming should be limited to 2° C. Because of the lagging nature of warming and emissions, this would require a peak level of emissions by 2015.
After Pachauri’s comments, various leaders took the podium, beginning with US President Barack Obama. His speech was vague and not revelatory in terms of stating what sort of action the US was going to take to limit greenhouse gas emissions and how (and how much) rich countries will finance adaptation aid to poor countries bearing the brunt of the climate crisis. It was pretty disappointing. Being the largest per-capita emitter, the US needs to show some leadership in agreeing to binding emissions cuts and in financing its fair share of any adaptation fund. Obama danced around the issues, offering no specifics about reductions targets.
Maldivian President Mohammed Nasheed followed and didn’t mince his words. He called for developed countries to reduce their emissions enough to quell warming at 1.5°C by accepting legally binding targets. He also said that if developed countries accepted these ambitious targets, then developing countries would also be prepared to accept their own more modest targets if rich countries helped out with the financing.
Nasheed’s deal is sound–requiring appropriate binding emissions on the part of all countries. Rich countries, however, have to show leadership and help poorer nations reach their own goals.
Rawandan President Paul Kagame had an interesting proposal: develop a global carbon emissions trading scheme based on per capita emissions. Pick a safe cap–he suggested 2 metric tones of CO2E per year–and allow global trading. Countries with low per-capita levels would receive flows of financing from high per capita countries that would allow the former to sustain forests and invest in renewable energy. Kagame’s plan also seems more equitable since it uses per-capita numbers to evaluate which countries should reduce their emissions.
The new Japanese Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, reflected the seriousness with which his government is embarking on negotiations by getting precise about emissions targets–a reduction by 25% from 1990 levels. Hatoyama also gave some detail on how he would like to see aid distributed–a major issue for developing countries skeptical of the demands of multilateral institutions. He specifically called for financing to go through the “UN climate change regime”–as opposed to the World Bank, which may not have the same environmental goals.
Rounding out the session were speeches by Nicholas Sarkozy, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, and Hu Jintao of China.
In sum, it is not clear how this event will impact the negotiations. There obviously will be back-door maneuvering this week in New York which may move things along.
Obama’s speech was a bit of a disappointment given the expectations that the US would change radically under the new administration. Although these expectations have always been a bit overblown, it is surprising that US has maintained such a noncommittal position. Obviously this may not bode well for real action in Copenhagen.