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Major Economies Meet on Global Warming – What should they decide?

Ministers from 17 developed and developing countries will be coming to Washington, DC next week (April 27-28) for the Major Economies Forum (MEF). This will be the first of three reported meetings of this “forum” through June of this year -- the next one is scheduled for Mexico -- culminating in a “Leaders meeting” around the G8 meeting in July (or maybe later). Coming out of the recent climate negotiations in Bonn, this forum has become even more important in helping “move from rhetoric to agreement” in Copenhagen later this year.

This forum will bring together countries representing:

  • Over 80% of the world’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion;
  • 94% of the greenhouse gas emissions from all developed countries;
  • Over 60% of developing country greenhouse gas emissions; and
  • Almost 60% of the world’s economic output (all values from the World Resources Climate Analysis Indicator Tool).

So to say that these countries are crucial to solving global warming is a huge understatement.

Significant actions taken by these countries on global warming can together prevent the worst impacts from occurring. So whether or not it is in this forum or other venues, we need these countries to come together for strong actions if we are to solve global warming.

While these same countries met under a similar initiative started by President Bush, this forum has much greater promise of helping to move these key countries closer to agreement than its predecessor:

  1. US is serious about clean energy and global warming. The US side leading this initiative is committed to moving forward with solving global warming. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you how different this situation is than when President Bush’s team was leading it. It is impossible to overstate how much a difference this will make. All the countries that I’ve talked to that participated in this venue found it useful in helping to get closer to agreement on some sticky issues, but the official progress was limited by the lack of seriousness by the Bush Administration on global warming. You can tell how much the world was craving the US to be serious by the loud applause that Special Climate Envoy Todd Stern received with the simple statement: “we are back”.
  2. The clock is ticking even faster. Copenhagen is now only 8 months away so getting an agreement as world leaders have continued to stress, will require focused attention from all these countries. In my experience, climate negotiators can work out an agreement on a very tricky issue in a short timeframe if they have a fixed deadline and the political will. So this forum brings together some of the major countries at a crucial moment.
  3. There is a huge opportunity for all countries to “regrow” their economies with a clean energy strategy. A number of countries participating in this forum have used their economic stimulus packages as a “down payment” on clean energy and global warming solutions. So they have mobilized strong political support in a short timeframe once…now we just need them to bring this focus towards another crisis (global warming).
    The elements of the agreement have emerged with some clarity. While there is still a lot of detail to work out (and even more political will to gather), the main elements of that agreement are generally known by climate negotiators (as I’ve discussed 
    here). This type of small, frank conversation can prove very helpful in getting past the rhetoric.

So how do these key countries use this unique window to secure a strong agreement in Copenhagen? Here are my three thoughts on the aspects of the Copenhagen agreement that these 17 countries could help to get agreement on in this forum.

  1. Pathway of developed country emissions reductions. There will be a lot of discussion of how deep a cut in global warming pollution developed countries make by 2020, but it is also crucial to begin to discuss what binding steps countries will take in say 2025 and what else they are bring to the table before 2020 (e.g., technology assistance).
  2. The structure of developing country emissions reductions. Starting with the Bali agreement, the world agreed to a structure that essentially said developing countries would take some action on their own and would be provided with incentives to go further (as I’ve discussed here and here).
  3. The outlines of the finance, technology, and capacity building support that developed countries will provide to enhance developing country action. Structuring this package is one of the key “tools” to securing a strong emissions reduction commitment from major emerging economies. Some of the elements of this package are included in the Waxman-Markey discussion draft that is under debate in the US right now. Providing significant funding to support “clean energy exports” as a part of this package will be crucial component of the US climate debate, as we have proposedhere). One key to resolving this issue will be to figure out what it would take to scale-up deployment of a number of key targeted technologies in developing countries (e.g., carbon capture and storage).

These aren’t easy issues for these 17 countries to agree, but if you can get these countries to shape the outlines of an agreement on these pieces then many other essential elements will fall into place. And this will greatly increase the likelihood of getting all 180 plus countries to agree to a strong commitment in Copenhagen that puts the world on a path to solving global warming.

All eyes in this forum will be focused on what the US will ultimately be able to commit to. So delegates will also be closely watching the debate that is happening at the other end of town (in Congress where the House is currently debating the 
American Clean Energy and Security Act).

So while the delegates coming to DC recognize that the US is serious about addressing global warming for the first time, the key message that many countries will be bringing to Washington, DC is: “the more the US is able to do, the more we will be able to do."

Now is the time for the US to lead…and in this case the US needs to lead by example!

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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 Councilwhere he helps to develop the post-2012 international response to climate change (for more information see his blog).


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