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Monday, July 06, 2009

Road to Copenhagen: The Need for a New Framework

By Johanna Peace with Devon Swezey and Leigh Ewbank. Originally posted at Breakthrough Generation

It's official: India won't accept binding caps on its emissions of greenhouse gases. Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh made the case clear last Thursday:

“India will not accept any emission-reduction target--period,” Ramesh said. “This is a non-negotiable stand.”

India's announcement is the latest frustrating news for those following the efforts of climate negotiators as they struggle to eke out an international agreement by this December's UN summit in Copenhagen. It's frustrating because the fundamental dissonance between what developed countries demand and what developing countries are willing to give appears to be the single most intractable roadblock standing in the way of a successful treaty. In fact, this very problem has impeded progress on international climate negotiations for decades.

China is also predictably inflexible when it comes to emissions reduction targets. Its May 20 position paper on the Copenhagen conference makes no mention of reduction targets, and instead demands that industrialized nations cut their emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2020. Chinese officials have repeatedly stated that China will not adopt binding targets because it does not bear the same responsibility as the developed world for historic greenhouse gas emissions.

The EU and the US favor domestic cap and trade systems and seek to expand them into a global carbon market. But in the developed world, this model hasn't worked. Under Kyoto, participating nations promised to reduce emissions below 1990 levels by 2012--instead, their emissions have been rising steadily. From 1990-2006, emissions increased in Japan by over 5 percent; in the US by 14 percent; in Canada by 20 percent; and in Australia by 30 percent.

The cap and trade model isn't likely to start working, either. Though supporters of ACES (the latest attempt to establish a domestic cap-and-trade system in the US) claim it will reduce emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, analyses by the EPA and the Breakthrough Institute reveal that the bill will not require any emissions reductions below projected business-as-usual growth for at least another decade.

Meanwhile, the developing world is looking on, and not surprisingly, they're opting out of the failed cap-and-trade model. China, for instance, has consistently argued that such a system would be incompatible with its institutions.

They might not be jumping on the emissions reduction bandwagon, but major developing countries are not dragging their feet either. Recent weeks have seen China and India sharpen their focus on another approach to addressing climate change: investment. The Indian government plans to invest $100 billion in solar energy production over the next decade, with a target of 20 GW by 2020. In China, officials will soon unveil a massive ten-year renewable energy investment plan on the order of $440-660 billion. This new stimulus spending will dramatically expand China's renewable energy capacity, and could triple the nation's 2020 targets for wind and solar power.

China is pulling ahead as the world's first renewable energy superpower, and India is poised to join it. This means they'll come to Copenhagen with major leverage over finger-wagging Western countries that press for emission cuts from developing nations but do little to invest in renewable energy at home. If China and India can point to substantial domestic renewable energy investment, they'll bolster their case for continuing to reject emissions reduction targets.

So surely it's time to stop fighting a battle we're not going to win. Instead, hope for achieving a successful agreement in Copenhagen lies in adopting an alternative framework that eschews emissions targets in favor of something more workable.

Fortunately, there are already indications that the outlines of such a framework may be emerging, at least for developing countries. China appears open to the idea of carbon intensity targets--essentially slowing the growth of emissions--and India has proposed creating global innovation centers for the rapid development and diffusion of zero-carbon technologies. Both nations have called on developed countries to share clean technologies to foster low-carbon development.

This alternative framework could focus on targets for clean energy investment and deployment. The greenhouse gas emissions displaced by new energy technologies could be calculated relative to a projected business-as-usual trend. By pushing for emissions reduction through targets for clean technology investment, such an approach would mollify developing country leaders wary of setting binding emissions targets, and also result in real emissions reductions in the short term.

Senior U.S. climate negotiator Jonathan Pershing hinted that negotiations could move in that direction when he proposed that, instead of emissions targets, developing countries like China could be asked to commit to actions such as energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment:

"We're saying that the actions of developing countries should be binding, not the outcomes of those actions."

This week in L'Aquila, Italy, the Major Economies Forum on Climate Change will bring together the world's largest emitters to continue climate policy negotiations. The meeting will foreshadow the likelihood of achieving a global agreement in December. If US negotiators put forth an alternative framework based on investment rather than emissions targets, there's still hope of aligning the interests of developed and developing nations in a binding agreement in Copenhagen. But if they stick to the failed framework of the past 20 years, prospects for achieving a global treaty will remain exceedingly grim.

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