Last night Evolution Markets hosted a dinner on the side of the climate talks in Copenhagen with Duke University's Nicholas Institute and the German Marshall Fund. Joining us were leaders from academia, the largest U.S. environmental organizatons (NRDC, WWF, EDF, Nature Conservancy, Evangelical Environmental Network), business, and Capitol Hill. The theme was "The U.S. Climate & Energy Debate, Copenhagen and Beyond: Outlook & Implications of COP 15 on Emerging National Climate Politics".
The night was rich, of course, in conversation about the contentious turn of the climate talks. But, much attention was paid to a fundamental and vital question framed at the beginning of the night by the Nicholas Institute's Tim Profeta… "What do we need to see from the climate talks that will get a climate bill passed by the U.S. Congress?"
The question itself highlighted one underlying dynamic of the negotiations on climate change. The U.S. stance in Copenhagen has been boldly bracketed by what is politically palatable in the U.S. Senate. The process to get a climate bill in the U.S. Senate will also be impacted greatly by the results from COP 15.
So what were the conclusions?
Targets from China
The number one result lawmakers in the Senate will be looking for from Copenhagen will be emissions reductions from China. Perhaps America’s greatest competitor, China looms large over U.S. politics. Of course, the lack of emissions reduction targets in the Kyoto Protocol by large developing countries such as China and India kept the U.S. from ratifying the treaty. This time around the issue is even more acute. Should China sign on to emissions cuts coming out of Copenhagen, the political dynamics change considerably.
Naturally, the question is what type of reduction pledge China will make. The U.S. is pushing for absolute cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The Chinese are willing to reduce emissions relative to their economic output. Is a cut a cut, or do some types of cuts hold more political weight in the U.S.? Participants in last night’s dinner were split on the issue, but we’ll soon see. It is virtually certain China will not agree this week to an absolute target.
Don’t Trust, Verify
The other key element our Senators will need to see come out of Copenhagen is a robust verification regime for China – and other nation’s taking emissions cuts. It’s simply not enough for China to agree to reduce their emissions (under a hard cap or intensity target) is the world community has no way to verify these reductions.
Not surprisingly, the Chinese value their sovereignty and are quite happy to verify on their own. Other nations would like to see some third party verification procedure for all parties to a future climate agreement. It could be verification by a UN body or use of third party actors (i.e. DOEs), but no matter what the U.S. Senate will have to have faith in the process. If the U.S. is to cut its emissions, Senators will want to be sure our largest trading partner is living up to its commitment.
There is an uncomfortably large number of issues to be resolved over the next four days, but the two above might be the most important for U.S. politics. Consequently, they should be the most important for all the negotiators here in Copenhagen.