03 Jul 2010
More on the Copenhagen Accord: US vs India (part 1)
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Three negotiation related documents that I have been sitting on, which need to be put on public record, are:

  1. Todd Stern, US special envoy on climate change, speech at the Brookings Conference, May 18, 2010
  2. Submission of the US to the AWG-LCA chair, April 26, 2010
  3. Submission by India to AWG-LCA, May 2010

Todd Stern puts the US position out clearly: According to him:

1.     President Obama salvaged the chaos and dysfunction of the climate negotiations, when he produced (with other European leaders) the short but meaningful Copenhagen Accord

2.     The ‘old paradigm’ (which needs to go) held the world in sharply divided two camps – developed and developing – defined in 1992 – with no real obligations to address climate change accruing to developed countries. Kyoto Protocol enshrined this division.

3.     The principle of ‘Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respected Capabilities’ is invoked to propose that developed countries must take legally binding commitments but developing countries are not obliged to take voluntary measures. The Bali Action Plan codifies this division.

4.     This paradigm is fatally flawed (remember the famous Bush words on Kyoto – fundamentally and fatally flawed: this administration certainly needs new ideas and new language).

5.     You cannot focus on climate change by focusing only on developed countries – they (poor things) account for around 45% of global emissions now and will account for some 35% by 2030 (Clearly, Mr Stern has no clue or acceptance of the historical emission burden of his country in particular – some 30% of cumulative emissions between 1950-2000). Therefore, the world needs to start with 85% of emissions by major economies (emission history must be wiped clean). It is a political reality that there will be no support in the US for a climate agreement that requires no action from China and other emerging markets (firstly, this misses the point of why his country needs to act more and faster and secondly, the fact that China and the rest will also do their bit).

6.     Copenhagen Accord changes all this.

7.     It reflects a bottom up architecture, letting each country do what it can based on domestic programmes. This the only practical way forward, as no across the board, top-down target would be acceptable to developing countries or indeed to us (whitewashes the point that targets are needed for developed countries and these targets must add up to real reductions).

8.     This agreement can be legally binding – or some elements legally binding on all countries.

9.     This will be the basic bargain for the new climate architecture. It pushes countries to deliver (not his country), but does not insist on promises that can’t be kept (in other words, right to pollute guaranteed); it understands the fundamental imperative of development of developing countries (the bribe to us to also give us the right to pollute, see my earlier blog on this); it acknowledges that a regime premised on an absolute separation of responsibilities based on a snapshot of the world in 1992 makes no sense (but what he does not say is that it replaces it with a regime, which is not good for anything); and it is meets the most important objective of the framework convention – to avoid dangerous climate change (this is certainly does not. The accord puts the world on a trajectory of high emissions).

10. As far as Kyoto Protocol is concerned, the US is any case, not a party and so whatever happens it won’t establish the architecture of a truly global agreement.

On domestic action, Todd Stern, is not so forthcoming. He lists a number of things the Obama administration is already doing – to put the country on a pathway to a clean energy future. However, he makes no attempt – even a feeble one – to explain how any of these ambitious steps will add up to reduce emissions in the US or change patterns of energy use in the country. No numbers, no targets, just some fluff. This is the problem the US does not seem to realize. We need serious confidence building measures, measurable, reportable and verifiable (and whatever else) to know how it will cut its emissions, really and seriously. This is the crux of the climate challenge – how the world’s single biggest polluter (in historical, current and per capita terms) will cut its emissions at the scale needed. Will it?

MRV: the crux of changing sides

The US submission is in most parts a more diplomatic version of the Stern speech. It is blunt that it wants its way in global climate negotiations. The matter of ‘MRV’ – measurable, reportable, verifiable, is according to them the crux of the change in framework. They want a strict and transparent MRV regime for non-Annex 1 countries (not required to take on mitigation commitments). This will bring all these countries at par with countries, who have mitigation commtments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). Their objective is clear: all actions taken by these countries -- voluntary or financed by industrialised countries must be reported, measured and verified by international institutions. This will bring comparability of actions -- theirs and ours -- and remove the differentiation between countries who have to go first and the rest. This one-stroke-of-the-pen-change is enough to bring all at par, change the framework of the agreement. This is why for them, MRV is the egg that they want cracked, beaten and eaten only the way they like it.

 Just consider this language from the US submission (April 2010):

“The Bali provision that refers to developing country mitigation actions includes a reference to the fact that such actions are “supported and enabled by technology, financing and capacity building.” A comma after this clause makes clear that the phrase “in a measurable, reportable and verifiable manner” refers both to technological/financial support and to developing country mitigation actions.”

So, now the game of word chess is now: To confuse those ignorant denizens of the emerging world, smart language is coming to first-state aid.

The US definition of MRV is as follows:

  1. MRV applies to financial and technological support and developing country mitigation actions, whether supported or unsupported.
  2. Internationally supported mitigation will be internationally MRVed
  3. Domestically financed mitigation will be domestically MRVed but it will involve international consultation and analysis (same as above)

So, all actions, supported or unsupported will be MRVed. The game is won.