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Slow Progress in Poland Climate Negotiations…but Some Key Issues Emerging

The first week of the Poland Climate Negotiations has ended and progress is slow. This isn't a surprising outcome at this stage in negotiations. Without the new US leadership in place and with many of the key pieces of the post-2012 international agreement likely only woven together in the "final deal" this was the anticipation as "no major breakthroughs were expected".

But, some emerging debates have arisen that will be central to the negotiations next year as the world leads-in to an international agreement in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009).

Timeline for an international agreement and will it be a "final" detailed agreement in Copenhagen? Recent news stories coming out of Poland have contained mixed messages from key players on whether an agreement can be reached in Copenhagen and how much detail will be in that agreement (see Greenwire (subs. req.), Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse). There is a lot of soul searching about what the Copenhagen agreement will actually have in it. Will the agreement coming out of Copenhagen contain enough of the key details to be ratified or otherwise implemented right afterwards (e.g. with enough details that countries will know exactly what they are getting into) or will it be an agreement on the main framework with the details to be worked out later?

Clearly the U.S. Congress and the new Administration will need to move hand in glove and only commit the U.S. internationally to what it can actually implement in domestic law. So, NRDC and 17 other major US environmental and faith groups submitted a letter to all delegates in Poznan saying that:

We all will be devoting our efforts and resources over the next year to help President-elect Obama resurrect America's lost leadership on global warming and the environment. With diligent efforts by all countries and a renewed spirit of American international cooperation, we are confident that an agreement on climate change can be reached by the end of next year.

Emissions Reduction targets and "shared vision". There is an extensive debate on developed countries committing to reduce their emissions 25-40% below 1990 levels in 2020 and developing countries undertaking a 15-30% cut below what their emissions would have been otherwise in 2020 (so-called business as usual cut). The EU is pushing the 15-30% range for developing countries and the developed countries are pushing to get agreement that developed countries as a whole will reduce their emissions 25-40% below 1990 levels in 2020.

This won't get resolved here in Poland, but it is a "coming attraction" for the year to come. This back and forth between what level of reductions developed countries will undertake and how much action developing countries take will be one of the main points of debate in the lead-in to Copenhagen.

Technology, finance, and developing country actions. There has been back and forth this week on how much emissions reduction action developing countries should undertake (i.e., the 15-30% reduction from BAU being pushed by the EU), what form that action will take in the international agreement (e.g., sectoral commitments), and how developed countries will provide incentives for developing countries to go further. There is some emerging consensus that the agreement will be formed around "differentiation of action". That is different countries will be expected to undertake different types and stringency of target (e.g., emerging economies will be expected to do more than the least developing countries). But how will that actually unfold in the agreement?

I've spoken a lot about the emerging framework that will drive developing country emissions reductions, the hints that key countries (e.g., South Africa, China, and Brazil) are providing about what they could do, and some key approaches that are emerging (e.g., sectoral and deforestation incentives), so I won't discuss in particular how those debates are unfolding here (except deforestation later in the post).

Instead there is a modest debate here in Poland around how much money needs to be provided as incentives for developing countries and how developed countries should best support wide-scale deployment of technology in developing countries.

Melanie Nakagawa and I co-hosted a side-event (with E3G) last Thursday where we discussed some initial thoughts we have on this piece of the puzzle. We discussed how we could have a loan program for emissions reductions that "pay for themselves" and a different approach that pays for advanced technologies (e.g., those technologies that make a sector less competitive). We then discussed some key principles that should guide how funding should be distributed in the international agreement building upon some lessons from existing multilateral funds.

It is clear from this debate that large amounts of funding are needed -- e.g., similar or greater than the scale being put forward to solve the financial crisis. And, these incentives will need to be properly designed and performance-based to incentivize actions in developing countries to further cut their emissions.

The negotiation over how much emissions reduction action developing countries will undertake on their own and how much finance is provided for further emissions reductions will probably be about 2/3 of the main negotiation next year so stay tuned.

EU climate package being adopted. As I discussed (here and here), there is a big undercurrent story here about the status of the EU's climate package. It sounds like they'll still deliver their target to reduce emissions 20 and 30% below 1990 levels in 2020, but they will weaken some of the implementation details. And, it seems that they are not going to provide a detailed package of financing incentives to support technology deployment incentives, deforestation reductions, and adaptation activities in developing countries...a setback that will definitely need to be correct next year. More details on how this package will unfold will emerge this week, so hopefully the EU will step up and show that it is still a leader on global warming.

Deforestation and forest degradation emissions. While the most difficult and controversial elements of the agreement on how best to provide incentives to countries that reduce their deforestation emissions will occur next year -- likely in the final push in Copenhagen -- there is a sense that some elements can be agreed in Poland this week. There is a general sense that agreement might be reached on:

  • Protecting rights of indigenous and native groups;
  • Protecting biodiversity; and
  • Not allowing countries to make up some of the emissions lost from deforestation of native forests with replanting (more on this later as this one is proving to be very difficult to get resolved here).

There is also a growing push to try to ensure that early next year countries begin to debate the best mechanism to deliver financing incentives to countries that effectively reduce their deforestation emissions. A group of major environmental NGOs (including NRDC) signed on to a statement here in Poland:

calling on Parties now to build upon the methodological progress and begin serious discussions on the types of mechanisms for supporting reduced deforestation and forest degradation emissions (REDD). Poznan must lay the groundwork for both methodological and policy approaches to come together in Copenhagen so that a post-2012 deal will include REDD as a key mitigation building block.

We are a long way from agreement and there are still many important details to work out. But we felt that if we didn't start negotiating on the "big picture" issues soon (e.g., where does the finance come from, which countries get it, etc.), properly designed incentives for deforestation reductions would be lost in the final agreement in Copenhagen (see Associated Press story).

The pace and seriousness of the negotiations will need to significantly pick up the rest of the week if we are going to lay the groundwork for a good agreement in Copenhagen that puts the world on the right path. And more importantly, we'll need to produce a detailed mandate to start negotiating the key deals next year and a plan to get that accomplished.

Cross-posted from the Natural Resources Defense Council Switchboard.

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Jake Schmidt is the International Climate Policy Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council where he helps to develop the post-2012 international response to climate change (for more information see his blog).

,Poznan, UNFCCC