Pew's Diringer discusses progress at Poznan talks, previews Copenhagen negotiations

With the United Nations' annual climate change conference in Poznan, Poland, wrapping up last week, all eyes are now on the United States and how the transition to the Obama administration will affect the road to a new climate treaty. During today's OnPoint, Elliot Diringer, vice president of international strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, gives highlights of the Poznan meeting and looks ahead to next year's climate talks. Diringer also explains what the United States must do in 2009 to effectively engage in next year's climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With us today is Elliot Diringer, vice president of International Strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Elliott, great to have you back on the show.

Elliot Diringer: Glad to be here.

Monica Trauzzi: Elliot, you just returned from the UNFCCC's climate summit in Poland. Expectations weren't all that high going into these talks, but how would you assess the meeting as a whole? What were some of the major outcomes that you think should be highlighted?

Elliot Diringer: Well, I think the most important outcome is that the negotiators from governments around the world have resolved to shift into full negotiating mode, as they put it in 2009, to hopefully deliver a good, strong, comprehensive climate change agreement next year in Copenhagen. Really, the negotiations have been in what you might describe as a prolonged pre-negotiating mode up until now. So, this hopefully was the last stage of that and very high expectations with a new incoming administration in the United States, which puts us in a position to get down to some real negotiating. So this was really sort of a transition moment.

Monica Trauzzi: And we'll get to all of that in the moment. One of the things that sort of was expected to come out of the meeting was relating to an adaptation fund for developing nations. And many developing countries sort of walked away unhappy with what was decided there. They were unhappy with the amount of money that was put into the fund. Talk about that situation and what that fund is there to do and if this can be revisited in Copenhagen.

Elliot Diringer: Sure, there were a couple of issues related to the adaptation fund. One was resolved and one wasn't. And I think both of them, in a way, were kind of a preview of some of the difficult issues that lie ahead. The adaptation fund exists. It was created under the Kyoto Protocol and there is money accumulating in it through a levy on CDM projects, projects under the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism. And last year, in Bali, there was a major decision on how to govern that fund. They created a new adaptation board that would be managing the fund, but there was still one outstanding issue on who actually would be dispersing the funds, whether that would be through the World Bank or directly from the adaptation board. It was very important to developing countries that it be through the adaptation board, direct access as it was called, and that was the decision of governments, to in fact vest that responsibility with the newly created adaptation board. But the second issue, which wasn't resolved, was whether to extend that levy, that tax if you will, which is right now only on the Clean Development Mechanism to the other trading mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol. And that was something that the developing countries were pushing very hard on. The developed countries, really, were not ready to take on that issue outside the context of a package agreement that will be taken up in Copenhagen. They thought it's more appropriate to come back to this issue later in Copenhagen. And that left many of the developing countries, frankly, very bitter and disappointed.

Monica Trauzzi: And you mentioned that expectations are very high for next year, especially with the new administration coming in. Is the U.S.'s ability to engage in the Copenhagen negotiations dependent on whether we get climate legislation passed next year? Or can the U.S. go to Copenhagen with maybe some targets, some firm targets and still be able to negotiate with the rest of the world?

Elliot Diringer: Well, I think the administration will be in a position to engage right from the start. The question is how far can we get by Copenhagen and what type of agreement can we achieve in Copenhagen? Ultimately, what we really need is a new ratifiable treaty setting binding, effective commitments for all the major economies and it's really essential that we get as far toward that goal in Copenhagen as possible. And that will depend on a couple of things. As you suggested, how quickly Congress gets on with the job of enacting mandatory limits in the United States. But also how prepared other countries are to scale up their efforts and turn those into international commitments. If we see substantial progress in Congress toward enactment of legislation, even if we haven't gotten all the way there by Copenhagen, then I think there really is a good chance that we could work out, if not the final agreement in Copenhagen, then at least a strong intermediary agreement that puts us within striking distance of a ratifiable treaty.

Monica Trauzzi: And that's something that Yvo de Boer was calling for in the Poland meeting, saying that we don't need the treaty, but at least the structure of it would be an important thing to have in Copenhagen.

Elliot Diringer: Yeah, I mean in our view, if you had agreement on the basic architecture of your post-2012 agreement, post-2012 framework, if you had some agreement by developed countries on the range of their emissions targets, if you had some indication from the developed countries of the level of support that they'd be prepared to offer developing countries for their mitigation actions, and if you could define the nature of developing country mitigation actions, then you have a very solid package, which as I say, puts you in striking distance of that ratifiable treaty. But there are three main issues there, the targets of developed countries, the actions of developing countries, and, really, that's a whole new realm of negotiation at this point, and the support that will be provided to them, because under the Bali action plan, the actions of developing countries are very much contingent on there being significant support from developing countries.

Monica Trauzzi: So, walk us through the next year of talks, because there are several different meetings that are happening in 2009. What's the road to Copenhagen going to look like and where has the Poznan meeting put us in terms of next steps in Copenhagen?

Elliot Diringer: Well, one thing that you saw over the course of this year was governments actually coming forward with some concrete proposals that they put on the table. And those were compiled in this assembly document, which I guess is the real output from this year's talks. Next year, first there will be at least four meetings over the course of the year, including Copenhagen and the possibility of the fifth, so several weeks of negotiations through the year. And the first step will be taking this vast array of proposals and identifying the areas of convergence. The chair of the negotiations basically has been tasked with coming up with a new document that shows where countries are more or less in agreement and then the areas of divergence. That will be the focus of the first meeting, which is late March, early April. And the chair has also been authorized then to put a draft negotiating text on the table at the second meeting in June. And that will be the first attempt to actually put into legal text the possible outcome in Copenhagen.

Monica Trauzzi: So, what were people saying about President-elect Obama at the meeting? What were people murmuring about behind the scenes?

Elliot Diringer: Well, a lot of them were saying, "Are any of his representatives here?" And there were no representatives of the transition team. Obviously, there were many other voices from the U.S. There was the U.S. negotiating team, Senator Kerry was there. Al Gore spoke and people took a lot of encouragement from many of the things they heard. And you heard a lot of the ministers when they spoke expressing great enthusiasm for President-elect Obama's coming into office and welcoming the things that he has had to say in recent weeks on this issue.

Monica Trauzzi: What was the meeting like for the lame-duck U.S. delegation? What was the mood around them?

Elliot Diringer: Well, I mean it's a somewhat awkward moment. They are a lame-duck team, but I think they were trying their best to really represent U.S. interests and to keep options open for the incoming administration. I think they reminded other governments of some of the political realities that will hold true even under a new administration. For instance, that for the U.S. to enter into a binding new agreement we will need to see some form of commitments from the major emerging economies as well. So in the past, the U.S. negotiating team, under the Bush administration, has played more of an obstructionist role if you will, but we didn't see that in Poznan. I think by and large they were playing a more constructive role.

Monica Trauzzi: Final question here. Where do the discussions on revamping the CDM stand now? I mean there are some people that it should be scrapped entirely. Was there any movement on that front?

Elliot Diringer: Well, there wasn't much progress on that. That's been a focus on going through the year. I mean there are a range of proposals for reforming, if you will, the CDM as it exists today. But there are also other proposals for reinventing it in a more fundamental way, moving it from a project-by-project mechanism to something that can encourage emission reductions across an entire sector. And those are issues that are still on the table and will have to be taken up between now and Copenhagen.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it there. Thanks for coming on the show.

Elliot Diringer: Always a pleasure.

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

[End of Audio]



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