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Dickinson to Durban » Climate Change, Key COP17 Issues » USA, China, EU not on the same page for Long Term Action

USA, China, EU not on the same page for Long Term Action

By Timothy Damon ’12

The AWG-LCA meets to discuss implementation

Earlier today I sat in on the open meeting of the Ad hoc Working Group for Long Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA), a body tasked with looking ahead and considering the future trajectory of activities under the UNFCCC process. There I had the opportunity to witness a brief exchange between several major players, including the USA, EU, and China. I will recount this episode and provide some analysis.

Shortly after I entered the room, the US representative took the floor to state that America’s expectations for the COP are centered on settling implementation issues left over from Cancun. This is at the expense of action on the bigger political question of what might follow the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (KP), which is perfectly in line with the US position of not wanting to join in a second period or other binding agreements. She also stated that action to address the so called “giga-ton gap” announced in a 2010 United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report should wait until a further scientific review is completed in 2013-15. Such a stance reflects the lack of US ambition in spite of mounting evidence that the current track of voluntary commitments from Copenhagen will not deliver enough GHG reductions to keep the planet at less than 2 degrees of warming.

Several speakers later, China stated that it would not permit the group to enter into discussions about commitments for developing countries because it would exceed the body’s mandate – such discussions should occur elsewhere. This was clearly an excuse to block progress, as commitments for developing countries must be on the table in order to have any reasonable discussion about the Long Term.

Finally, the EU broke into the dialogue to speak a second time specifically to respond to the above points. The representative called into question the credibility of the United States for suggesting “no need to talk” about giga-ton gap until 2013-15 in spite of the UNEP report, while also criticizing China for blocking progress. The USA responded later to this point by saying the previous agreement had been to hold “workshops” about ambition and that such workshops had been held. The EU went on more generally to comment on the insufficient ambition parties are taking. Yet the EU itself has started to show signs this week of backing away from the KP – not very ambitious if you ask me.

What this episode tells us is that the major players are currently expending energy in negotiations that are not fully sincere and aimed at genuine progress. The USA is seeking to frame the discussion in a way that limits the possibility of increasing global ambition, while China shamelessly blocks a critical issue in order to avoid taking personal commitments for action. This is clearly disheartening for those who wish to see a significant result from Durban. Time remains before the final outcome is determined, but the present course is less than encouraging.

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