Kate Mackenzie Progress on Copenhagen: Two down, two to go

News out of yesterday’s Major Economies Forum meeting in London – where the 17 biggest emitting countries battled out their Copenhagen stance – was surprisingly positive.

Developed countries talked about relenting on their demands that poorer countries sign up for big commitments for the year 2050 – something that has been a major sticking point in talks so far.  Rich countries such as the UK and US have signalled that they would settle for 2020 targets for now.

And developing countries made a big concession, too – last week they apparently dropped demands for access to rich countries’ clean energy intellectual property. This was one of those demands that tended to fly under the radar in a lot of news coverage, but had been the source of a big rift behind the scenes.

So, what’s left? The task of reaching an international agreement in December is still mind-bogglingly challenging, but it will hinge on two more issues:

How much rich countries will help fund poor countries’ emissions reduction efforts

Developing countries want 0.5 – 1 per cent of world GDP, but apart from the UK and the wider European Union, the developed world has been fairly quiet on just how much they will provide. But it’s not quite as bad as it might seem: quite a lot of financing can be transferred through UN-approved carbon offsets, which allow wealthy nations to pay for emissions reduction efforts in poor countries (where, incidentally, it is usually cheaper to reduce emissions).

Whether the US can take a number to Copenhagen

This is perhaps the more difficult task: Can the US take to Copenhagen a genuine target for emissions reduction that has been given full congressional approval? The House has agreed on one bill, with a 17 per cent commitment, and the Senate has produced another, with 20 per cent – but although the latter got a boost from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham last week, it will probably need still more Republican support to overcome opposition from Rust Belt Democrats.


There are other niggles around, of course, such as border taxes (developed countries are threatening them) and codifying India’s and China’s promises of curbing their emissions growth trajectory (which so far they have skirted around). But if the financing and US issues are resolved in time, these are likely to fall away.

Related links:

Climate deal hopes boosted (FT, 15/10/09)