Tianjin climate talks sputter ahead of UN conference
By Juliet Eilperin
As the last round of preliminary talks for this year's United Nations climate talks wrapped up in Tianjin, China, this weekend, one thing is clear: The path toward a comprehensive climate pact remains as uncertain as ever.
Environmentalists issued a slew of dire pronouncements over the last 24 hours, suggesting international negotiators will have to work harder if they want a meaningful outcome when representatives from more than 190 countries gather in Cancun in late November and early December.
"This meeting exposed the deep structural issues of the UN climate negotiations, and it's unclear whether countries will be able to rise above these issues by Cancun," said Jennifer Haverkamp, the Environmental Defense Fund's managing director for international policy and negotiations. "Success in Cancun will be measured by adoption of a strong and balanced set of decisions, as well as a work plan for a way forward to South Africa in 2011."
Kyle Ash, Greenpeace U.S. energy policy analyst, laid the blame at the feet of American diplomats, questioning why they won't embrace the idea that global emissions must peak by 2015 and why they haven't finalized legislation cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions even if they have taken some steps to cut America's carbon footprint.
"The U.S. posture on climate negotiations continues to reflect not only a lack of leadership and political will, but a hubris that is counterproductive to accomplishing anything," Ash said. "Efforts by the U.S. to suggest that China is responsible for the stalemate in substance reflect an arrogance that is an impediment to addressing the urgency of the issue informed by scientific consensus. Fixating on issues of monitoring greenhouse gas emissions in China is merely an effort to divert attention from its own responsibility to reduce emissions and commit to a fair portion of climate financing."
Other green activists, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council's international climate policy director, Jake Schmidt, provided a more upbeat assessment of Tianjin, suggesting negotiators can make significant progress if they note what's happening in countries around the world on climate, in both the private and public sector.
"Clean energy deployment is happening all around us, but negotiators seem not to notice the economic, environmental and leadership opportunities that this reality will produce," Schmidt wrote in his blog. "Climate change is happening as we speak, but given the pace of negotiations you would think that we have all the time we need to get the agreement just right before finalizing anything."
For Angela Ledford Anderson, program director for the U.S. Climate Action Network, the negotiations amounted to "a week of contrast and contradictions," she wrote in an e-mail. "Tianjin is obviously growing at an incredible pace. There are new buildings going up everywhere and massive highway construction underway. We saw and heard evidence that China is putting clean energy projects and policies in place to deal with air pollution and greenhouse gases, but it will clearly be a big challenge."
Anderson said that while the talks were going on, largely behind closed doors, "we ventured out under smoggy skies to tour a factory making batteries for electric cars and an advanced coal plant that could capture carbon dioxide and cut down on the smog. Both facilities have American companies as partners and the technologies will be put to use in the US, demonstrating both competition for the clean energy market and encouraging signs of cooperation."
But the cooperation evident in the real world wasn't there in the diplomatic one, she said. "The US, challenged by politics and the sluggish economy, is moving slowly to invest in clean energy and enact climate policies. That reality doesn't make China or other countries very confident about the U.S. ability to live up to its Copenhagen promises."
Anderson said, "There is a strong desire by all countries to use Cancun to finalize the issues where they are very close to agreement - on forest preservation and finance for adaptation and emissions reducing technology in developing countries. They made progress on those issues this week, but they didn't get very far on the core climate issue - emissions reductions.
The talks were supposed to set the stage for Cancun to produce the outlines of an eventual climate agreement. They moved some of the building blocks forward in Tianjin, but they are still stumbling over the 'cornerstone' of emissions goals and accountability," she said.
"There was a lot of tough talk in Tianjin, but agreement in Cancun will require some greater assurances that the U.S. has a plan of action for meeting its Copenhagen commitments."
In other words, stay tuned to see if Cancun produces some modest steps forward or collapses in a massive round of recriminations.
| October 11, 2010; 11:04 AM ET
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