Lost in the rush to disown the so-called "Danish text" is one pretty important fact: It's a decent proposal. It's too bad it wasn't leaked a few months ago; it could have sparked some productive discussions. It differentiates between rich and poor by forcing developed countries to take on economy-wide emissions caps while letting developing countries contribute with suites of emissions-cutting policies and measures. It takes important steps toward establishing a solid scheme for measurement, reporting, and verification of emissions-cutting efforts. And it acknowledges that channeling large sums of money through a new central body isn't going to fly.
Most of the elements in the text that are being attacked are probably non-negotiable. Campaigners have decried the fact that the trajectory outlined in the proposal foresees developed countries having higher per-capita emissions in 2050 than developing countries. But anything else, unfortunately, is impractical. In any case, the climate deal will inevitably be renegotiated sometime in the next forty one years. Our time would be better spent on more important near-term issues. Ditto with the fight over financing, in which developed countries have been accused of grabbing control over large amounts of money. Here's a reality check: that money doesn't exist. It will only exist if developed countries, which would need to provide it, decide to do so. States will need to decide whether they'd rather see no money but with no strings attached or a significant sum that comes with some rules.
The text is also enlightening for the areas it leaves to be filled in. There is no deadline in it for finalizing a deal. Funding numbers and country targets are left blank. So are the guidelines for reforming carbon trading systems. It's an important reminder that, even as the split between rich and poor persists, we still don't have agreement among the developed countries themselves about what they want from a deal.
Michael A. Levi writes from the UN conference on climate change in Copenhagen.
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