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Klima 5-2009

An agreement on emission reductions must be reached

The entire world has high hopes for the UN’s climate change conference in Copenhagen. The goal is to reach an international agreement that all countries can approve and that will lead to actual cuts in CO2 emissions.

Global CO2 emissions must be reduced dramatically, and international climate talks must lead to an agreement that ensures this happens. But before then, the negotiators need to know that an agreement can actually be implemented, and wealthy nations and developing countries must agree on a fair distribution of the burden. 
 
Klima has asked Pål Prestrud, Director of CICERO – Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo, and Tora Skodvin, Research Director at CICERO, to talk about their expectations for the climate negotiations to be held in Copenhagen in December. In his position as the centre’s director, Prestrud has closely followed the climate negotiations long before formal talks began in connection with the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change. Skodvin is a political scientist whose areas of specialization include negotiation theory and the USA’s climate policy.

DIRECTOR PÅL PRESTRUD, CICERO – CENTRE FOR INTERNATIONAL CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH – OSLO:

What outcome can we hope for when the signatories to the climate convention meet in Copenhagen in December?
 
“We must hope we reach an agreement that replaces the Kyoto Protocol and gives us an international instrument which will unite nations throughout the world on reducing global emissions of greenhouse gases in the long term. Even though a new agreement may not result in the large cuts in emissions needed to reduce the risk of dangerous climate change, an agreement on binding cooperation, with the possibility of imposing obligations in future negotiations, is preferable to the alternatives.”
 
What will be the decisive factor in whether we reach a new global climate agreement that can be ratified by as many countries as possible?
 
“The USA still holds the key to a solution. It appears that the positions of the main participants in the negotiations are deadlocked at the moment. Formally the USA has not made major changes to its position. Any significant changes will come after the USA has clarified its national climate policy in the Congress. This will not happen before the Copenhagen conference.”
 
Is the UN the best arena for solving the world’s climate challenges or are there other arenas you have more faith in?
 
“There is no doubt about the importance of establishing a global network of agreements. No other institution or cooperative scheme can replace the UN in this area. But the UN alone cannot solve the world’s climate problems. Direct cooperation between the countries with the highest emission levels, such as the G2 (China and the USA) and the G17/G20 (the countries which account for more than 80 percent of emissions) will certainly also be able to make a difference. However, any results from cooperative efforts such as these should be given global expression through the UN. If these countries walk the path alone, harmful conflicts could occur. Regional cooperation, as we have seen in Europe, the Pacific and other places as well as in institutions other than the UN, will also make an important contribution to international cooperation.” 
 
What will be the consequences if a new agreement – or a draft of a new agreement – is not reached in Copenhagen in December?
 
“The consequence will be that we no longer have binding international cooperation on emission reductions. In the worst case, we will find ourselves in a situation where countries and regions take the climate problem with varying degrees of seriousness, stand on opposite sides of the fence and introduce trade restrictions between countries to protect their own economies.”
 
To what extent do the negotiators base their positions on research results when they are negotiating a new climate regime? Is it your impression that the negotiators recognize that emission cuts must begin immediately in order to avoid damaging climate change?
 
“My impression is the many negotiators are well apprised of the natural scientific aspects of the climate problem, and they have a good understanding of the challenges we face with regard to the relationship between the size of emission cuts, the world’s energy needs and emission paths. Surprisingly, it seems that the negotiators are less well informed about the research being conducted on international cooperation, international politics and policy instruments.” 

RESEARCH DIRECTOR TORA SKODVIN, CICERO – CENTRE FOR INTERNATIONAL CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH – OSLO:

What outcome can we hope for when the signatories to the climate convention meet in Copenhagen in December?
 
“I don’t think we will get an agreement that is ready to be ratified after the Copenhagen conference. It is important to understand that there are major differences between the key participants and that the latitude to negotiate is very limited. Therefore, we must assume that regardless of what is achieved in Copenhagen, it will be far from the researchers’ estimates of the emission reductions that are needed to prevent dangerous, man-made disruptions to the climate system. From this perspective, the negotiations in Copenhagen should be seen as a beginning rather than the end of a complicated process of negotiation.”
 
What will be the decisive factor in whether we reach a new global climate agreement that can be ratified by as many countries as possible?
 
“As of today there is a huge gap in the largest countries’ positions on critical issues, such as mid-term emission targets (by the year 2020) and financing schemes for measures in developing countries. Reaching an agreement on these differences will require compromise and flexible solutions. This will take time and it may mean that the high aspirations for the agreement may not be realized.”
  
Is the UN the best arena for solving the world’s climate challenges or are there other arenas you have more faith in?
 
“Climate change is a problem of such magnitude that the UN must be involved. But the UN must also be adept at utilizing input from other arenas. Obama’s Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, which is a meeting place for the world’s 17 largest economies, is one example of an arena where the climate problem is discussed. The climate problem has also been discussed among the G8 and G20.”
 
What will be the consequences if a new agreement – or a draft of a new agreement – is not reached in Copenhagen in December?
 
“It need not be viewed as dramatic if an agreement is not reached in December. We must be prepared for this to take time, and we need to try to get the most out of the Copenhagen conference so that future negotiations will be as effective as possible.”
 
How crucial is the USA’s role in the international climate negotiations and can we expect any surprises from the Obama administration?
 
“The USA plays a very important role in the international climate negotiations. The US delegation’s negotiating mandate ultimately comes from the US Congress, and for this reason we cannot expect big surprises in Copenhagen. If the Obama administration did make a surprise announcement during COP 15, such as in the direction of more ambitious obligations than the Congress has approved, this would actually be cause for concern because it could make it more difficult for the Senate to ratify a climate agreement in the future.”
 
Translation by Connie J. Stultz

Last updated: 20.11.2009

CICERO Director Pål Prestrud. CICERO Director Pål Prestrud.
CICERO Research Director Tora Skodvin.CICERO Research Director Tora Skodvin.
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