NRDC's Dan Lashof previews key issues for second week of Copenhagen negotiations

As the second week of international climate negotiations in Copenhagen begins, where do the discussions stand? During today's OnPoint, Dan Lashof, director of the Climate Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council, discusses the latest developments and previews the key issues to watch this week. Lashof also explains how U.S. EPA's endangerment finding and the Senate blueprint on climate and energy have affected the talks.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Dan Lashof, director of the climate center at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Dan, thanks for coming on the show.

Dan Lashof: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Dan, we're heading into the second week of climate negotiations in Copenhagen, some interesting developments already coming out of the first week of the meeting. Early on there was controversy over a draft text that was circulated by the Danish government. Developing nations thought they were being shut out. Following that we saw the chief negotiator for 130 developing countries walk out of a meeting saying that things weren't going well. I mean is this the usual type of tension that we see during the first week of negotiations and do you think that there's enough political will to actually get some form of an agreement in the second week?

Dan Lashof: Yes, I think it's the typical positioning that governments engage in during the first week of the negotiations and that some of it is for the public show back home and with other governments. In the meantime, the high-level delegates have arrived actually early in Copenhagen and there's real engagement going on. But I think the other thing that we have to recognize is that a lot of the progress happened even before anybody arrived at Copenhagen with the United States putting forward, President Obama committing to achieving emission reductions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Followed almost immediately by China and India, for the first time ever, putting forward in the international community targets for reducing the rate of growth in their emissions. So, a lot of the buildup to Copenhagen has made progress. I think we see in the first week positioning, but I think the engagement in the second week, and as the heads of state arrive, I do expect to see a strong political agreement coming out of it.

Monica Trauzzi: And China's top negotiator actually made some negative comments about the U.S.'s proposed targets, saying that they weren't remarkable or notable. Is there a tone of competition or cooperation between the U.S. and China?

Dan Lashof: Well, I think there's both. I think there's competition. I think both countries are positioning to be seen as making a positive contribution to the effort on global warming. I think that's great actually, because China, in the past, has not had that position. The U.S. certainly hasn't been in that position for the last eight years before the Obama administration came in. So, a certain amount of competition about who's doing more to protect the climate I think is good, but I think, again, behind the scenes when the president went to China, there's much more of a sense of cooperation and a recognition that we only solve this problem if both the United States and China are providing leadership.

Monica Trauzzi: The EPA endangerment finding was released just as the Copenhagen meeting was beginning. EPA insists that it was not timed to coincide with Copenhagen. However, is the endangerment finding helping the U.S. in its position at the meeting?

Dan Lashof: Well, I think it is. I think the endangerment finding shows that the Obama administration is moving forward with the tools it already has, even while it also seeks more comprehensive legislation. I think it gives other governments some reassurance that the U.S. really is committed to move the agenda and start to reduce emissions one way or the other.

Monica Trauzzi: And back here in the U.S. Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman released their blueprint on energy and climate legislation late last week. Does that give the negotiations an extra push? It's not passed legislation, but it is a blueprint.

Dan Lashof: I think it's a sign of momentum in the Senate. I think it's a step forward in their process. It shows that there's real engagement in the Senate and real interest in getting a comprehensive bill forward. So I think it moves that process forward and, again, that will help in Copenhagen.

Monica Trauzzi: Where have we seen the biggest surprises? Have there been surprises during week one?

Dan Lashof: I can't say I'm shocked by anything that's happened. I think that the biggest surprise was probably when President Obama announced that he was changing his plans to come at the end of the meeting when the other heads of state are there rather than make it part of the trip that he just made to Norway for the Nobel ceremony.

Monica Trauzzi: It's being reported that Climategate, this e-mail controversy that's come up in the last few weeks, is causing a bit of a distraction at the meeting. How much of an impact do you think it's having?

Dan Lashof: Well, as I said in my blog, these e-mails don't change any of the facts on the ground or in the air or in the oceans or in the ice sheets, all of which are showing that global warming is continuing. The World Meteorological Organization announced at Copenhagen that this decade is the hottest on record, hotter than the 1990s, which were hotter than the 1980s. So, the reality of the science, which I think is recognized by almost all the delegations, hasn't changed. So there's some, in the side events, discussion of it. I don't think it really affects the negotiations very much. I think the only government that cited it is Saudi Arabia, which tells you something.

Monica Trauzzi: What's your take on the mainstream media's coverage of Climategate versus the Copenhagen meeting? I mean is there a fair representation of the issues?

Dan Lashof: Well, I'm hoping that the mainstream media is improving. I think there's some signs of that. I think the initial wave, which was really propagated by deniers and ideologues who are opposed to any action on climate change. I think the mainstream media kind of just took what they saw on the surface of a few e-mails and ran with that. I think now as people are actually looking at the full body of the e-mails, many of which actually show the scientists searching for the truth. They're debating with each other. There are clearly some e-mails which suggest that they exercised poor judgment, but in some cases e-mails which said, well, we should keep this out of the IPCC report. Well, if you actually look, that paper was covered by the IPCC report and reviewed. So, as we get more into the details a better understanding is here. I hope this can be a moment where, as the media covers this, we get back to what the fundamentals of the science are actually showing us and it is an opportunity actually for people to look beyond the headlines and understand what's really going on.

Monica Trauzzi: So, you'll be heading to Copenhagen for the second week of negotiations. What are the key events that you'll be watching? What do you expect will be the big news coming out?

Dan Lashof: Well, I think the key question that has to be resolved is how to reflect the targets that the United States, China, India and others have already announced in an international agreement and the agreement on financing, particularly for the poorest developing countries, to adapt to the effects of climate change and to start implementing policies and technologies to build a clean energy economy in those countries. Those are related and those are really the details that need to be worked out.

Monica Trauzzi: So, from where we sit now, does it look like Copenhagen will be considered a success or is it still too soon to tell?

Dan Lashof: Well, I'm optimistic. As I said, I think it's already had a very positive effect. Obviously, we had hoped to have a fully negotiated legal text by the end of Copenhagen initially, but given the delays in the Senate, mostly related to the healthcare debate, it wasn't possible to get there. So it is a way station on the road to Senate action and enactment of domestic legislation, as well as a complete treaty text. So I think it will move the ball forward.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it there. Have a safe trip. Thanks for coming on the show.

Dan Lashof: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thank you for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

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