Climate Divide: The Common Blind Spot of China & U.S. pre-COP15

Coastal Dakar, where 1 in 10 residents is threatened by climate-induced sea level rise.

The last few days have been busy ones for announcing opening positions for the COP15 negotiations.  The United States announced on 11/26 that it would reduce the total tonnage of its greenhouse gas emissions “in the range of” 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.  These numbers reflect targets specified in the House bill passed last June (currently stalled in the Senate (while health care reform takes the front burner), which uses a cap and trade system that includes most of the nation’s major sources of carbon dioxide emissions.

Within two days, China, now the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, set out its COP15 offer:  to reduce its “carbon intensity,” defined as the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of economic output, by 40 to 45 percent by 2020, compared with 2005 levels. Under this standard, overall emissions would still increase but the rate would slow. While many countries have called on China to set flat emission reduction targets not tied directly to economic development, others accept the carbon intensity concept but hoped for at least a 50% decrease, given the country’s already documented advances in energy efficiency.

The main form of transportation in the villages of Senegal, often used, as here, to bring water to people's homes.

China and the US will be major players at Copenhagen, in part because of their unwillingness to participate in the Kyoto Protocol.  (A fact outlined in yesterday’s NYT headline “Europe Bypassed on Climate Summit.” E.U. officials believe, however, that their “first-mover strategy” encouraged countries like Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, and South Korea to make more ambitious bids than expected ahead of the COP15 meeting.)  But even with US/China 1) willingness to join in the Copenhagen negotiations and 2) opening positions articulating some level of commitment to limiting greenhouse gas emissions, Elisabeth Rosenthal reminds us of the elephant in the room, what she calls “the blind spot”:   how to pay for the $100 billion (some even estimate a trillion) per year by 2020 price tag for the cost of helping rapidly developing countries like India and Brazil switch to cleaner technologies and assisting less developed economies with adaptation.  Developing countries have made this a deal breaker, as my earlier post about the climate divide chronicles.  While the US and Europe have generally agreed to the polluter pays concept, the track record of the UN Adaptation Fund portends ill.  Countries promised in Bali to fill it up using two income streams, namely 1) a 2% tax on carbon credits sold in the UN carbon trading system, in which rich nations invest in green projects in the developing world to offset emissions at home, and 2) voluntary donations by richer countries.  The carbon credits tax is expected to generate at least $1.6 billion by 2012 but the donations are currently at 0.

The climate divide in person: who will help his generation adapt to climate change?

Current proposals for the Copenhagen discussion of the adaptation fund focus on both who and how to pay for it.  On the first question, China has been clear that it should not, arguing that its industrialization did not contribute to current climate change impacts.  Having counted themselves among the who, industrialized countries have turned to how and how much.  The EU’s offer ranges from a $3 to 22 billion contribution from member states (back to the who problem, i.e. how much per member).  The US legislation passed by the House and currently before the Senate would donate a portion of its auction proceeds, but doesn’t say how much.  And COP15 Chairwoman Hedegaard has proposed a tax on shipping fuel or airline travel, to jumpstart the fund.  France and Germany receive a round of loud boos from developing countries when they floated the idea that adaptation fund donations would come out of current international aid budgets.

Exhibit A of the current climate divide.

With these thoughts in mind, here is Simmering Senegal’s second installment of the WFSD/FMDD declarations, to follow the first eight laid out here

9. To support the African position which strongly recommends continuation of the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol experience, especially the commitments to precise greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions targets for developed countries and support for adaptation, attenuation, access to clean energy, technology transfer, and strengthening of capacity and financing for developing countries, through projects and other concrete actions.

10. To support the commitment of industrialized countries to reduce GHG emissions by at least 40% from 1990 levels from now until 2020, as well as the adoption by developing countries of national actions appropriate for attenuating GHG levels.

11. To launch an appeal for the lightening of procedures and relaxing of access conditions for African countries to Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) resources, to spur a critical mass of appropriate projects.

12. To affirm the common African position, which seeks to relax financing conditions, the rationalization of funds, the facilitation of direct and swift access to resources by developing countries who are State Parties, and the promotion of an individual allocation system to countries.

13. To accelerate the creation of the African Environmental Facility at the level of the African Development Bank (ADB) to mobilize resources dedicated to adaptation and attenuation.

14. To implement the African Union’s decision, which recommends that the ABD accelerate the feasibility studies of the Permanent Secretary and of the African Funds for Sustainable Development.

15. To insist on the need for financing the total cost of the National Adaptation Action Programs (NAAP) and their extension to other African countries.

16. To pay particular attention to the responsibility for the migration flows and the curbing of social conflicts attendant to climate change, through the establishment of pertinent local, national and regional programs.

Stay tuned for the last installment, coming later this week!

One Comment

  1. Posted February 5, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    “China and the US will be major players at Copenhagen, in part because of their unwillingness to participate in the Kyoto Protocol.” This is unbelievable to me. Global efforts towards sustainability slowed down not by individuals but governments who simply do not want to join. The system needs a fix !


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  1. […] everyone is assuming that the targets countries announced in the run-up to Copenhagen (see this earlier post) will write themselves in the blanks.  But what about the national laws needed to make them […]

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