CCAP's Helme discusses progress in international climate discussions

Following the latest round of international climate discussions in Bonn, Germany, where do the U.N. negotiations stand? During today's OnPoint, Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy, discusses the progress made at the Bonn meeting and previews the timetable for a new international treaty. Helme also weighs in on the United Nations' search for a successor to U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer.


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 Trauzzi: Ned, you just returned from the latest round of U.N. climate talks in Bonn, Germany, and the purpose of this meeting was really to determine a path forward for the U.N. negotiations. Was that achieved and what is the timetable that we're looking at for the next year or so?

Ned Helme: Yes, Monaco we did agree on a timetable and I think we did solve a lot at the process issues. So, we'll basically have another session in June and two more shorter sessions in the fall leading up to Cancún in December.

Monica Trauzzi: After the Copenhagen meeting many people felt uneasy about the U.N. process. Has some of that confidence been restored, especially after this meeting in Bonn?

Ned Helme: Well, you know, it's funny, your first reaction Sunday night was, oh, the acrimony, venting by delegates. You know, I think a lot of people felt sort of unhappy with it. It sort of didn't feel very comfortable, but you know now that the smoke has cleared, it's a couple days later and you look at the text and you talk to delegates and I think we actually made some significant progress. We really solved this process issue; whereas, before we had an agreement among the presidents, the Copenhagen Accord, with key elements to go forward and it wasn't included in the official negotiating text. We were debating how to get that done. This meeting over the weekend basically solved that. By April 26, each country can submit their proposals and the new chair of this big negotiating group must come up with her own text within two weeks of the meeting in June. What that means is the Copenhagen Accord, which has three key pieces, it has the targets, it has the money, significant finance, both 30 billion right now, fast start, next three years and 100 billion later per year, and transparency of the rules. Those three pieces now can be introduced as a package by any or all of the 110 countries that supported it. In addition, for Bolivia, Venezuela, the countries who hate this accord ...

Monica Trauzzi: Right.

Ned Helme: They have the chance to put their piece on the table as well by April 26. So it basically solves the problem of both sides and gets it all in the legal process.

Monica Trauzzi: So, you mentioned the countries that hate this accord. I mean, is there real movement on moving away from the Copenhagen Accord and preventing that from becoming the basis for the next international treaty?

Ned Helme: Well, I think actually this agreement moves us in the other direction, because it allows the chair, which is a big fight, to draft a text and I can't believe that she won't draft a text that includes the heart of the Copenhagen Accord. It might also include some of the Bolivian alternatives, but we'll have this on the table in June, would be my prediction, and that's where we want to be.

Monica Trauzzi: And recently a memo was leaked indicating that the U.S. was planning on trying to push through the entire Copenhagen Accord rather than negotiate with developing countries. What have you heard on that and is that really ...

Ned Helme: Well, I kind of thought that story was kind of a tempest in a teapot to be honest with you.

Monica Trauzzi: OK.

Ned Helme: I mean, of course, the U.S. wants to have the Copenhagen Accord move forward. I mean you had 110 countries in support of it, all the key presidents, so it makes sense and I think that will happen. And the fact that they're going to work with the press to sell it, well, I would hope they would, that's not surprising. So, I didn't think much of that story and I think the key though is this deal that I talked to you about came from G-77. It came from the group of developing countries, so they reached agreement and they brought this to the package. And I think that's really telling, that we're seeing, as we did in Copenhagen, four developing country presidents with Obama. The developing countries are playing a much bigger role going forward and I think it's very positive. This is a G-77 initiative and we're going to solve some of those process problems so we can get to the political will question.

Monica Trauzzi: So, from where we're sitting now, what's the outlook for Cancún? I mean is it going to be another contentious meeting as Copenhagen was? What's the outlook?

Ned Helme: I think that Cancún will get some of these agreements firmed up, so the Copenhagen Accord key issues will be on the table. We won't get a treaty and they're not shooting for a treaty and that doesn't bother me, because I think, Monica, that one of the keys here is we're starting this fast start, this three year period, $30 billion for actual projects and actions in developing countries. Historically, we've had $2 billion over 17 years. We have 10 times as much money, a chance to really do concrete things, and we're talking about real actions in these countries in the next year or two. So, it doesn't bother me if we don't get it all done in Cancún. I think actually the learning by doing, the actual doing it in Bolivia, doing it in Korea, doing it in Indonesia will help us move the process forward. So I think you learn by the concrete action. Instead of just talking about it, we're now going to get to a point where we're actually building renewable wind plants, passing laws that encourage energy efficiency, those kinds of things.

Monica Trauzzi: Yvo de Boer, the head of the UNFCCC, has recently come out sort of seemingly paring back expectations for the Cancún meeting and when we might actually see a treaty. Good, bad, or is he just really talking in reality?

Ned Helme: I think it's reality.

Monica Trauzzi: Yeah.

Ned Helme: I think the truth is that I think everybody agrees on that reality. We know we've got a lot of the ideas on the table. We've got to get the political will done. We got many countries to agree in Copenhagen. We now have to translate that into the specifics and, as I say, this learning by doing on the ground will help us do that, so that doesn't trouble me. I think it's the appropriate thing.

Monica Trauzzi: So, the U.N. is now beginning to consider candidates to succeed Yvo de Boer. Who do you think would be a good fit and be able to deliver a treaty?

Ned Helme: Well, it's interesting, there's a lot of candidates and the process hasn't been very transparent. Many of us thought there were six; now over the weekend we heard there are 11 candidates. But I think the critical piece here is we need a developing country person and there are at least six very strong developing country candidates, three very strong ones, Vijai Sharma of India, Marthinus van Schalkwyk from South Africa, and Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica. Each one has a lot of experience in the process. They bring different strengths. I think, at this point, we need a developing country person, as I said, because the developing countries are really driving this and they're making the decisions and we need somebody who can build consensus. And so if you look at those candidates, clearly the Minister van Schalkwyk has done some good things before Bali. He's a more high profile, political candidate. He does come from the big countries. Christiana Figueres, on the other hand, is an insider. She was on the CDM executive board that decides these projects. She's been on the bureau. She has support from the AOSIS countries; she has support of the small island states. She has support from a broad set of countries, so you need a consensus builder at this point. I think we had the substance on the table, the trick is the political will and I think it's very important. You know, Ban Ki-moon is also considering one of his own staff, Janos Pasztor. In another period you'd say, absolutely, pick an inside candidate, brings Ban and New York closer together, a desirable thing. But I think at this point the developing countries would be very disappointed if one of these three or one of their other candidates isn't the lead candidate to move this ball forward.

Monica Trauzzi: Were there any discussions in Bonn about what's happening in the Senate here at home? What were sort of the reactions and discussions that were happening about the U.S. negotiations?

Ned Helme: There is some focus on that. I think one of the most important pieces is will the U.S. be able to deliver its share of the money for this $30 billion fast start and in the longer term? And I think one of the keys on this legislation is will it include a key portion for some of the international finance? But I think in the broader context what you see is these developing country presidents have decided their targets. They decided the actions they're going to take. I don't think they're going to back down on that. I don't think the U.S. not acting will mean China saying, well, I'm not going to do this anymore because the U.S. failed. I think you can count on these developing countries to move forward. We need the U.S., absolutely, but I don't think it's quite as critical as it once was.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we're going to end it there. Thank you for coming on the show.

Ned Helme: OK. My pleasure.

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

[End of Audio]



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