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US policy wonk in “lower your expectations” shocker

September 1, 2009

Last few months have seen people moving from cautious to frantic massaging of expectations downwards. John Prescott recently, f. ex. The Bonn meeting in August was a bit of a wake-up call for some of the more (publicly) optimistic types.
Anyhow, a US policy wonk called Michael Levi has written an article in the next issue of “Foreign Affairs,” the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations. Here’s a bit from the end (the whole piece is currently behind a firewall- if it comes loose, I’ll link).

The best Copenhagen can do on mitigation, finance, and technology is to establish a longer-term bargaining process in which the goal is getting the major developing countries to agree to specific emissions-cutting measures and getting wealthy countries to agree to provide assistance to poorer ones while also cutting their own emissions. This “Copenhagen Round” would be much more like an extended trade negotiation than like a typical environmental-treaty process. It may take many years before this results in a meaningful, legally binding agreement–and even that outcome is far from assured.

Indeed, many forget that the last climate deal took over eight years to finish. The world agreed on a lengthy legal text in Kyoto in 1997, but the content was still sketchy; it was not until 2001 that the final details were hammered out in Marrakech, and it took a series of side deals to bring the treaty into force in 2005. Serious pre-Copenhagen negotiations are less than a year old, and ambitions are much higher this time around. Eight years is too long to wait for action–but a bit of patience would be wise.

This makes it even more important for the United States to ensure that deals on adaptation, a long-term vision, and verification are not held hostage to what may be a very long stalemate. Washington should aim to have a deal on those fronts outlined in principle at Copenhagen and ironed out over the next year, even as work continues on the other parts of the agenda. Most important, the United States should make sure that aggressive bottom-up efforts to actually start cutting emissions, such as a U.S. cap-and-trade system and a sophisticated Brazilian effort to curb deforestation, do not wait for agreement on a comprehensive global deal. That is where the real action is, and there is no time to waste.

Copenhagen’s Inconvenient Truth. By: Levi, Michael A., Foreign
Affairs, Sep/Oct2009, Vol. 88, Issue 5

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