At the ongoing pre-Copenhagen climate talks in Bangkok, the US has made a step towards resolving the deal-breaker issue of funds to help developing countries respond to climate change. The Guardian’s all over it, perhaps thirsting for some good news to break up the drumbeat of doubt we’ve heard lately on the climate policy front.
The slight but significant shift is that the US now agrees with developing countries that money for mitigation and adaptation should come through a new, single, independent fund administered at least partly by the UN. Before, the US had argued for sticking with existing funding bodies like the World Bank, an institution disfavoured by the global South for its policy of loaning, rather than aiding, money.
But critical questions on climate funding are still up in the air – not least the numbers to be written on the cheques. And on other issues, the US stands accused of putting on the brakes. As the AP reports, it is increasingly being recast in the familiar role of climate villain.
Details are few on the negotiations, which are sealed off from press. But an anonymous EU source told the Guardian last month that the US team is putting forward a new framework for the Copenhagen deal that would scupper Kyoto-style policy. Instead of working top-down to divide a global emission cut among countries, the US reportedly wants the deal to be a patchwork of national commitments, each with its own rules and timetables.
Add to this the long-running demand for emissions commitments from emerging economies like India and China, and they’ve got the developing world in a righteous fury. Yesterday, China was joined by the head of the G77 (which has grown from the eponymous 77 to a group of 130 developing states ) in a coordinated statement charging that rich nations collectively – not just the US – intend to kill Kyoto.
Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy programme at the World Resources Institute in Washington DC, has laid out four possible outcomes. The ‘Breakthrough’ outcome, in which countries come to the table with strong proposals and then build them into an even stronger agreement. The ‘foundation’ scenario, which relies on a solid framework that spells out basic commitments and things such as funding, monitoring and verification, leaving the details for later. The third, ‘greenwash’, involves nothing but bottom-up commitments that nations would have made anyway, which means there is no value added by the international framework. And the last is self-explanatory: ‘collapse’.
Right now, Morgan says she thinks the negotiations are hovering between foundation and greenwash.
In the Guardian story on the US gambit, Farhana Yamin, an environmental lawyer with the Institute of Development Studies, puts it this way: “It seems a bit backwards. The danger is that the domestic tail starts to wag the international dog.”
But as the US team has repeatedly pointed out, it doesn’t have the power to wag that tail. US negotiators are intent on bringing back an agreement that the Senate will ratify, rather than setting up a repeat of the domestic brush-off that Kyoto received. And many domestic policymakers are, of course, none too enthusiastic. Hopes have passed that the US climate bill could be signed into law before Copenhagen, said Obama aide Carol Browner last week. The bill has just reached the Senate and is in for acrimony; if we’re lucky, hearings may just about be finished by the time negotiators hit Denmark on December 7.
Could a concentrated dose of high-level charisma at Copenhagen get us over these fences? Ed Miliband, the UK secretary of state for energy and climate change, said so yesterday: “If we treat this like a conventional negotiation we are going to fail… I think leaders can crack this problem.” But even Obama has limited tail-wagging power here. Consequently, there’s another question US commentators are now taking guesses at: will the president show up to the big conference?