Thursday, December 4, 2008

Talks Begin in Poznan; Can Asia Change the Game?

After several weeks of inactivity, due to a short trip to the US, China Greenspace is back, spurred on by the opening of the 14th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Poznan, Poland. The Conference is arguably the most important event in the annual international climate policy calendar, particularly since the Parties are trying to fashion a new global climate deal by next year's Conference in Copenhagen.

China Greenspace has previously expressed scepticism that developing nations, led by China, would offer any major concessions, a predicament that threatens progress on a global deal. This sadly appears to be the consensus, as Green Leap Forward reports.

The deadlock, needless to say, must be broken, and quickly. This past week, China Greenspace paid a visit to Hong Kong's Civic Exchange, a think tank which has just released a new book, entitled Climate Change Negotiations: Can Asia Change the Game?, that examines the role of Asian nations in making possible an effective global climate change treaty.

The book offers a fairly comprehensive framework for breaking the climate deadlock, including recommending that mitigation initiatives in Asian countries focus on those with "co-benefits" for economic development and air pollution control, emphasizing forest preservation and land use management, and the framing of current climate negotiations as a "development round" that aims to integrate climate sustainability and economic development goals. All of this aims at getting past a basic predicament: America, and to a lesser extent Europe, argues it's pointless to act on climate unless big developing-country emitters like China also commit to reducing emissions, while these same developing nations accuse the rich world of causing the vast majority of global emissions (true).

Apart from these, two suggestions in particular struck China Greenspace. First was the suggestion that mitigation efforts target more developed Asian cities and regions where capacity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is greater, and the relative costs are lower. This approach has much to recommend it, particularly since political will to take concrete steps to reduce emissions appears to be significantly higher at the local than the national level. Second, the book offered Japan's energy efficiency efforts as being worthy of emulation by other Asian nations. This suggestion, and associated efforts by Japan's government to launch an "Eco-Action Partnership for Asia," is compelling, to which China Greenspace intends to devote some serious future attention.

In the meantime, CGS feels compelled to reiterate its fundamental contention that the most important impediment to a global climate deal remains American intransigence. Word from the incoming Obama Administration is encouraging regarding its commitment to environmental issues, but diplomatic leadership will be crucial. Unfortunately, it looks like most of America's foreign policy attention will be focused on Iraq/Afghanistan and the financial crisis. CGS humbly submits that President-elect Obama should round out his impeccable Cabinet choices with the appointment of a Cabinet-level climate and climate envoy, preferably of Al Gore stature.

Asian commitment to the climate negotiation process will be crucial, but, for better or worse, everyone still awaits word from Washington on this one.

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