CCAP's Ned Helme previews Copenhagen meeting

Ahead of next week's climate meeting in Copenhagen, both the United States and China recently announced details about each country's emissions targets. Are the plans comprehensive enough? Do they help bring more certainty to the international discussions? During today's OnPoint, Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy, previews next week's meeting and discusses expectations. He explains what must be accomplished in Copenhagen in order to produce a binding agreement in 2010.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. 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, a lot happening ahead of next week's climate meeting in Copenhagen. Both China and the U.S. have released more details on emissions targets. Let's focus on the Chinese plan. Is the plan comprehensive enough? Do we know enough going into the Copenhagen negotiations about what the Chinese want and what kind of impact do you think this is actually going to have at the meeting?

Ned Helme: I think it is. I think it is quite comprehensive because they've announced a number of measures within that larger framework at a -40 percent that are quite substantial and by 2010 China will cut their emissions by 1.6 billion tons. That's the equivalent to 25 percent of their emissions, 25 percent of our emissions, very significant. And in that is included a very intensive reduction in energy intensity, you know, conservation program, extensive renewables program. They were the number one country in terms of construction of wind plants last year. And a very aggressive program on car standards, you know, things that we haven't been able to do for many years they've been able to tackle very quickly.

Monica Trauzzi: Will the announcements change the dynamic of the meeting?

Ned Helme: I think so. I think what you've got now is you have all the key players stepping up and signaling that they're in the tent and I think one of the key things in this kind of a negotiation is that you get all of the leaders in the circle stepping up and saying I'm going to take a target. And I think that really changes the dynamic, because the fear is always that somebody will hold out and they will get an advantage over the rest. And now, with President Obama's decision, every major country in the last two weeks has signaled a very substantial effort and I think that's critical to the deal.

Monica Trauzzi: There's been talk that the Danish government will press countries to make a 15 percent cut in emissions by 2050. Why would they seek to be so aggressive? I mean wouldn't that sort of hurt the negotiations more than help?

Ned Helme: I think part of that is everybody sort of agrees on the -50. We had a session with the major economies forum that President Obama hosts and there was even agreement from India and some of the others that this general direction was the right way to go. So I think they're trying to set the tone, set the big picture and then we'll get down to the details. So I think it's the right overall arch picture, but I think then you've got to go to the details and that's what we'll see in the next two weeks.

Monica Trauzzi: President Obama is going to speak at the meeting on the ninth, which is during the first week of the meeting and since the U.S. has already announced their own targets, there's no final agreement expected in Copenhagen, what impact will his speech actually have on the negotiations? Will it be significant?

Ned Helme: Well, I think his speech is important and the timing is actually useful because the first week is often the week where the negotiators are down in the weeds working on the detailed text and that sort of thing and often stuck at this point in the negotiations. And I think him coming in and raising the bar and sort of reminding negotiators of the big picture really is a helpful move. And I think you see in the plan from the administration they're basically going to have cabinet secretaries making announcements every day after the president does his opening piece. So it's clearly an orchestrated strategy from the U.S. to really say we're serious about this. We're going to play in every aspect of this. There's a new game in town. It's very different than where the U.S. has been in the past, so I think it's actually quite useful that the he does this in the first week.

Monica Trauzzi: What potential news could come out of this meeting that sort of throws attendees for a loop? I mean are you looking to any specific countries that could be making news at this meeting?

Ned Helme: That's interesting. I'm not sure there's a breakthrough piece. My test for this meeting would be not just the question about the targets and the financing, but really, do we get an agreement on a fast start to this whole program of financing for developing country actions? What's new about this? What makes Copenhagen not Kyoto is the fact that we're really talking about developing countries taking nationally appropriate mitigation actions that are monitorable, reportable, and verifiable in return for financing. And that core element, you know, we'll see that tested by this question is there a fast start? Is there $10 billion put aside by all these countries to fund between now and 2012 to get this started? It's sort of the earnest money of the deal and so when I look at this I say, yes, the big picture is important, but this piece about is there a fast start, is there a commitment for real money to get started tomorrow, that's the real test of whether we've made the progress we need to make.

Monica Trauzzi: And will that put us on the right track heading into the Mexico City meeting next year? Will that put us on the right track to have a treaty next year?

Ned Helme: Absolutely, absolutely, because you need to get the architecture right and I think what's very clever about what the Danes have done with their strategy is they've said let's leave the legal form for later. Let's focus on the substance. Let's get some guidance to the negotiators from the ministers that settle some of these key issues so that negotiators can work out the rest of the details. We saw this back in 2001, in the meeting in Bonn in the summer of 2001, COP-6 Bis it's called. The ministers wrote paragraphs on key issues and then the negotiators, six months later in Marrakesh, were able to hammer out the whole package and I think that's what we're looking for here, some guidance from the ministers on some of these key big issues that makes it possible for the negotiators to get the rest of the deal done.

Monica Trauzzi: The leak of thousands of private e-mails from climate researchers recently made news and it sort of raised questions in the research community. Will this have any impact on the negotiations? I mean is this story going to have any permanence?

Ned Helme: No, I really think this is a tempest in a teapot. This issue, and I've worked on climate and environmental issues for 35 years, there is more congruence, more agreement in the scientific community on this issue than there has been on any of the air pollution standards we set over the last 30 years. There's a loud set of minority views that's out there, but I think on this one there is real, widespread agreement and I think we're past that. The science issue is behind us and you can see it. Every country stepped up and said, "We're taking a target." We see developing countries - I think the shift that's really fundamental here, Monica, is developing countries now see climate change as part of their problem. They see this as a threat to them. You know, 12 years ago in Kyoto they were on the sidelines, oh, let's have some credits and this is an annex one developed nations' issue. This time they're right in front and they're saying this effects us more than it does you, United States, more than it does Europeans, and we want to see action. So I think we're at a very different place. This is not any more a debate between Europe and the U.S. This is really a debate from the developing countries saying this is real. We're going to play. We're going to do our part, but you have to carry a big part of this burden. So, that's what that argument is going to be about next week.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it right there. Thanks for coming on the show. Good luck at the meeting.

Ned Helme: My pleasure, thank you.

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

[End of Audio]



Latest Selected Headlines

More headlinesMore headlines

More headlinesMore headlines

More headlinesMore headlines

More headlinesMore headlines