Center for Clean Air Policy's Helme previews Doha climate meeting

With the next round of the United Nations' international climate discussions beginning in Doha, Qatar, today, what impact will President Obama's re-election have on the tone of the meeting? During today's OnPoint, Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy, discusses his expectations for the outcome of the meeting and previews who he believes the key players in the discussion will be. He also discusses the future of the Clean Development Mechanism.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy. Ned, thanks for coming back on the show.

Ned Helme: My pleasure, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Ned, let's start with politics. With the next round of U.N. international climate talks happening in Doha, Qatar, starting today, what impact are you expecting President Obama's reelection to have on these discussions?

Ned Helme: I think at the margins, it's positive. You know, I think it helps. The ironic thing is I think most Europeans and international delegates didn't realize he had a chance of losing until the very end. So, you know, I don't think they really expected a change, so I think, but on the other hand, this gives him, you know, the Americans more room to run. And so I think the expectation is it'll be more positive and it'll help.

Monica Trauzzi: So there is an expectation that the president will be perhaps a little more fluid in the negotiations heading into the next four years?

Ned Helme: Absolutely.

Monica Trauzzi: So specifically in the Doha meeting, what role is the U.S. expected to play?

Ned Helme: You know, this meeting is one of the sort of interim meetings where you have to, we've got a process to get to 2015 where we'll have a new, legally binding agreement for all countries, and this meeting's the one where we sort of set the ground rules of how that process will unfold. And I think the U.S. plays a role in that. You know, they've been pretty cautious up till now, even to Durban point, but I think now there's a little more room for them to express their views. So I think that's a hopeful sign. The other piece that's important is they're also going to start a stream that's talking about the level of ambition, how strong should the targets be in this next round. And given Hurricane Sandy, we can see that, you know, we've got a long way to go. I'm sure you saw the study released by the World Bank a couple of days ago which said at current levels, we're going to get a four degrees Fahrenheit increase in temperature, four degrees Centigrade, which is much more than we can handle.

Monica Trauzzi: Significant. Yeah. What other countries are you expecting to make the most news coming out of this conference?

Ned Helme: Well, you know, I think the key for the news here, Monica, is really what's done on finance. So I would watch the Europeans, Germany, Denmark, the UK, other players like that, Australia, because we're at a point where, you know, we had the Fast Start finance, which started with Copenhagen, 2010. It ends at the end of 2012. That was the financing to help midlevel developing countries move forward on policy actions. Lots of action out there. These countries are doing some really amazing things, and we're at a point where we need the funding to actually implement those new policies. And the key thing to watch is who steps up and says, "All right, we have new money for this. We're serious about this"? And which developing countries step up and say, "We're taking action on renewables. We're doing this in transport. We're doing this in cap and trade"? And we're already seeing a lot of that. That's the test, I think.

Monica Trauzzi: So what is the future of the Clean Development Mechanism?

Ned Helme: I think it's a lesser future. I mean, you've probably seen Clean Development Mechanism prices have dropped dramatically. They're under one euro, a dollar a ton. It's not a very good source of money anymore for developing country action. In its place, we have this Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions, NAMAs, basically policy actions by developing countries, and they're broader. They're across entire sectors, right? Just one windmill, we're saying, let's set a target for how much renewables we're going to do in the whole country. We're going to avoid coal. Chile's doing that. So those policies are what are going to be the center, and that's where the money needs to flow. So I would see CDM dropping out of the picture, to a large degree, and replaced by this opportunity for much broader action that really moves us toward what we want, which is all countries taking significant action to reduce climate emissions.

Monica Trauzzi: Is the Kyoto framework a suitable path forward? We hear all this talk about Kyoto 2.

Ned Helme: I think the, again, the key for the Kyoto piece is the standards, the fact that we set, we defined, you know, we have a good set of reporting. We know what each country's doing, what are their policies, what does that add up to. And one of the key tests of this meeting, and one very important for the U.S., is do we support international standards, an international basis for measuring everybody's performance? You want to be able to have the same measuring, the same yardstick for everyone. And the U.S. has made some noises like they weren't particularly for that, and so I think key to watch where they play. Many other countries are for it, and I think that'll be a key outcome. We have to think about keeping Kyoto in place, you know, beginning 2013. And the standards are the most part of that.

Monica Trauzzi: And we've seen many countries across the world come online with their own climate policies, and we now have this sort of patchwork of climate policies. There is talk of linkage. Are you expecting that to play a role in the discussions?

Ned Helme: I do. I do. We're going to have discussions of new market mechanisms. We'll have discussions of these NAMAs I mentioned to you, the policy actions. And I think we're looking for that, you know, connection, that kind of, and I think the E.U. becomes a central point of that, because they have the biggest market. They have the carbon trading cap and trade market. They recognize actions by developing countries, and allow them to come into their market. They're going to connect with California. They're connecting with Norway. They're connecting with New Zealand and Australia. They just announced a connection with Australia. I think you build bottom up, and that's the appropriate point to go, I think.

Monica Trauzzi: Every time we come to one of these U.N. climate meetings, the question is raised, is the process still relevant. And is it?

Ned Helme: I think it is, but I think we've changed, you know. The Kyoto days, which was 1997, we had a top down solution, you know. All these targets set by the countries and then driven onto the, below it. Now we're at the bottom up. We're at the point where more than 80 percent of the emissions from countries have made pledges, these countries have all stepped up and said, "We're going to do this. We're going to do this." And we're basically linking those. And what I think UNFCCC does now is it ratifies that. It pulls those best examples, those best policies together, and knits them into a framework, so that I think the agreement we get in 2015 will grow out of what countries are doing now, the policies they're implementing, the financing that helps them get there. So I think it's very relevant, but it's not relevant in a sense of a top down, the U.N. telling people what to do. It's, I think Kyoto was a unique moment when that happened. I think now we're in a much more practical, nuts and bolts, kick the tires, make it work on the ground, and then build that into the treaty. And I think that works. It's a good way to go.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. A lot to watch over the next couple of weeks.

Ned Helme: Absolutely.

Monica Trauzzi: You're heading there tomorrow?

Ned Helme: Yeah. Yeah.

Monica Trauzzi: Have a good trip.

Ned Helme: Well, thank you very much. A pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: Thank you for coming on the show.

Ned Helme: All right.

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

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