U.S. Climate Change Envoy: Post-Kyoto Talks 'Inadequate'

A politician that tells the truth is like a dog that can talk — a very rare breed. Yet in a moment of candor, Jonathan Pershing, U.S. deputy special envoy for climate change, admitted what others have been whispering for a while: negotiations in Copenhagen at the end of year to replace the Kyoto Protocol will be disappointing. “[The talks] won’t fail, but [they] will likely be inadequate,” Pershing said on July 13.

That may come as a surprise to those hoping the Copenhagen talks will mark a sea-change in how the world tackles global warming. But with less than six months to go before the summit, Pershing’s comment is a realistic take on what has — and, more importantly, what hasn’t — been agreed since policymakers last met in Bali at the end of 2007.

Without getting bogged down in detail, here’s where things stand.

On the positive front, leading developed countries, including the U.S., have signed up to the global warming agenda. A cap-and-trade bill (granted, with many caveats) is slowly working its way through Congress. And at last week's G8 summit in Italy, politicians agreed to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 (though they didn't give a baseline for cuts and critics say the timeframe is too far out).

Yet not everything is going to plan. Emerging economies are still calling for developed countries to shoulder the lion's share of CO2 reductions. They're also asking rich nations to fork out billions of dollars in economic aid and technology transfers to help the likes of India and China (as well as poorer countries) to deal with global warming. Not surprisingly in the current economic climate, Western politicians aren't that receptive to the demands.

Even within developed countries, getting climate change policies aligned ahead of Copenhagen will be tough. Europe has set the most proactive targets (a 20% unilateral cut in carbon emissions by 2020, rising to 30% if other countries match it), but support for CO2 reductions, particularly in Eastern Europe where the recession has been hard felt, isn't as strong as it had once been. And in the U.S., as Pershing points out, the lack of a finalized climate change bill before December could weaken the U.S.' negotiating position in Copenhagen.

That doesn't mean a post-Kyoto agreement won't eventually be found. The Protocol runs out at the end of 2012, so this year's Copenhagen discussions look set to be a step towards a global carbon treaty -- not the be-all-and-end-all that many campaigners are hoping for.

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