Copenhagen’s Many Agendas
from Global Economy in Crisis

Copenhagen’s Many Agendas

The UN conference on climate change that begins December 7 in Copenhagen is supposed to produce new targets for emissions reductions, but experts say major countries are at odds on the ultimate goal of a new framework. This backgrounder looks at some of their positions.

December 4, 2009 3:59 pm (EST)

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The UN’s December 2009 meeting in Copenhagen is supposed to be the final negotiations on a new set of targets for international cooperation on climate change. Some countries view these negotiations as an update of the Kyoto Protocol’s original emissions reductions, set to expire in 2012. However, the framework of legally binding emissions targets for developed countries and none for developing nations is opposed by the United States, which continues to refuse ratification. As a consequence, many developed countries now are looking to create an entirely new framework. The two most controversial elements of the Copenhagen meeting will be whether the Kyoto framework continues and whether developing countries will agree to specific binding commitments. The consensus among experts is that, at best, Copenhagen will provide a framework for further negotiations going into 2010 and beyond, though some are optimistic that the conference will produce agreements on important issues such as financing and deforestation. Senior Fellow Michael Levi writes in Foreign Affairs that one of the "biggest prizes" from Copenhagen could be an international agreement on a process for measuring, reporting, and verifying (MRV) greenhouse gas reductions.

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Here are some negotiating positions of countries crucial to the process:

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United States

United StatesPresident Obama has said climate change remains a policy priority for the United States--a close second to China in greenhouse gas emissions--but a host of other issues have competed for the administration’s attention. With legislation passed by the House but still pending in the Senate that would cut emissions by about 17 percent to 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, some analysts are concerned about what the United States could commit to in Copenhagen. In late November, the White House announced it was "prepared to put on the table" a provisional target of 17 percent emissions reductions by 2020 and hopes to commit to an 83 percent reduction by 2050, in line with what is currently being discussed in Congress. One thing is clear: The United States is "not even thinking about how to adapt Kyoto," says CFR’s Levi. Instead, U.S. negotiators are pushing for a new framework that would include legally binding commitments from developing countries, such as making domestic-action plans internationally mandatory. "It can’t be that the developed countries say, ’We’ll stand behind what we’re doing,’ and the developing countries say, ’We’ll tell you what we’re doing, but we won’t stand behind it,’" said U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern in October 2009. Rob Bradley, international policy director for the World Resources Institute (WRI), says the United States may impede an agreement on international MRV standards because of resistance to international scrutiny.


ChinaChinese officials continue to argue that China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, must be allowed to develop unhampered. CFR’s Director of Asia Studies Elizabeth Economy says although China is still a developing country, it should be put "into its own category" in the climate debate and decoupled from the rest of the developing world. China continues to align itself with other developing countries, echoing a call for developed nations to reduce emissions up to 40 percent by 2020. It rejects U.S. calls for internationally binding emissions targets. China is pushing for greater climate-control financing; early in 2009, it requested developed nations to each provide 1 percent of its gross domestic product GDP for climate financing to developing nations. China has indicated that it may be willing to commit to monitoring, reporting, and verification of actions that have resulted from international funding. On the domestic front, China is replacing less efficient coal plants with higher performing ones. It has also enacted strong fuel efficiency standards, ended fuel subsidies, and has begun increasing the share of renewable energy sources to 15 percent by 2020. In late November 2009, the Chinese government announced it would take the "voluntary action" of reducing carbon emissions intensity per unit of GDP by 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. CFR’s Levi notes that China’s insistence that any binding action be linked to internationally provided financing and technology may meet with resistance.

European Union

EUEU officials have joined the calls for a new legal framework to replace Kyoto. "We have to find the right point of balance, of course ... but everybody has to contribute," said EU Commission President Jose Barroso at the Council on Foreign Relations in September. "If not ... I don’t see our public in Europe accepting to make these efforts if other parts of the world don’t do it." WRI’s Bradley says what the Europeans hope to arrange is a Kyoto-like agreement where developed countries continue to have absolute targets but developing countries have specified actions that would be legally binding as well. The EU has committed to providing about $150 billion per year (NYT) in mitigation financing to developing nations through 2020. However, it has had difficulty apportioning this amount internally among EU countries. In 2008, the European Union adopted a domestic emissions reduction plan that would reduce emissions by 20 percent by 2020 (EurActiv), and up those reductions another 10 percent should the United States and other countries adopt strong emissions targets. The EU has also pushed for a 50 percent reduction of greenhouse gas (Reuters) by 2050.

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RussiaRussia, the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter, says it will support a new agreement on climate change under two conditions: All major powers must sign on, and any agreement must recognize the role of Russia’s forests-the largest in the world. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stated that "everyone without exception must sign this [new agreement] otherwise it would be deprived of all sense (Xinhua)." Despite this pledge, Russia faces criticism over its approach to climate change. Russia insists its huge cache of carbon credits, amassed because of an emissions rate that is more than 35 percent below its Kyoto target, are carried over into a new agreement. However, analysts say Russia’s emissions reductions are a result of the economic collapse of the Soviet Union (WashPost) rather than proactive emissions policies-and worry that this large cache of carryover credits would be sold on the carbon market, depressing the value of credits generated from new emissions reductions. In addition, Russia’s greenhouse gas emissions targets for 2020, announced by President Dmitry Medvedev in June 2009, would allow the country to emit about 30 percent more than it does now. In a report issued last year with the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank determined that Russia has the potential to save up to 45 percent (PDF) of total energy consumption by scaling back energy spent on heating, electricity production, and industry.


IndonesiaIndonesia’s deforestation rate is the most rapid in the world, putting the country near the top of the world’s greenhouse gas emitters. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 26 percent by 2020 through emissions reductions in the energy and forestry sectors. Laying out his agenda at the 2009 G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, Yudhoyono expressed confidence that Indonesia would be able to cut emissions by as much as 41 percent (Reuters) with international financial assistance, asserting that such a target "is entirely achievable because most of our emissions come from forest-related issues, such as forest fires and deforestation." Japan has already offered Indonesia a $400 million loan (Reuters) for financial and technical assistance. Indonesia’s environmental minister, Gusti Muhammad Hatta, is nonetheless skeptical that an agreement will be made in Copenhagen, stating: "It seems to me that Copenhagen will not be a success (Xinhua). Each party is maintaining its position very strongly."


IndiaIndian officials emphasize that developed nations have the primary roles in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and that India will accept no binding caps. "It’s really surprising to me how the international community is trying to paint India as a recalcitrant or an intransigent player when it accounts for 16 percent of the world’s population and accounts for less than 5 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions," India’s Environmental Minister Jairam Ramesh told in September. But in October 2009, Ramesh sent a confidential letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arguing that the country should consider accepting a proposal for national schedules in which countries attach their domestic climate actions to an international agreement. Arvind Panagariya, professor of economics at Columbia University, says, "India doesn’t want to be seen as obstructionist," but that any attempts by Indian officials to move toward binding international commitments will be met with strong domestic opposition. India released its National Action Plan on climate change in 2008, which calls for eight core missions to be achieved by 2017, including improving water efficiency by 20 percent, expanding forest cover up to 33 percent, increasing use of solar power about 1,000 MW per year, and developing "climate resistant crops." On December 3, India pledged to voluntarily reduce its emissions intensity up to 25 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 (FT).


CanadaCanada says it wants to balance its role as a defender of the UN climate talks with concerns (AFP) about its industry-heavy economy. The country is on a path to exceed its Kyoto target of emissions cuts by roughly 30 percent (NYT). Failing to make a dent in those targets means "anything Canada says at Copenhagen will have less weight," says Christine Schuh, who leads the Climate Change Services group at Pricewaterhouse Coopers in Calgary. Still, Canada wants China and India to agree to binding caps on their carbon emissions and has argued that its emissions target should be lower (GlobeandMail) than Europe’s or Japan’s since its population is growing faster and its economy is based on energy-intensive industries. Schuh says the country may also push for emissions caps to be measured by energy intensity, which targets emissions per unit of economic activity rather than emissions alone, as a way to avoid restricting economic growth. It also hopes to align its cap and trade plans with the country’s biggest trading partner, the United States, to pave the way for a North American emissions trading system (Reuters).


JapanIn September 2009, Japan’s new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, pledged to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by the year 2020, which is the largest commitment the country has made so far and is steeper than most other rich countries. However, Japan’s Environment Minister Sakihito Ozawa has since stressed that the commitment is premised on other major emitters like China and the United States putting forth similarly ambitious goals at Copenhagen. Though Japan, the world’s fifth-biggest emitter, has traditionally strived for energy efficiency, last year its greenhouse emissions rose 16 percent (The Guardian) above its Kyoto target. Japan needs the Obama administration to act on U.S. emissions cuts, says Peter Goldmark, director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate and Air program, since Japanese businesses increasingly feel the government has "tried to stretch the envelope" on commitments.


AustraliaAustralian officials have floated the idea of using a "schedule of actions" as a framework for international cooperation, rather than the binding commitments that characterize the Kyoto Protocol. The schedule would tally voluntary commitments from each country, rather than requiring country-by-country commitments based on a pre-determined global goal. The problem with that methodology, says the Environmental Defense Fund’s Goldmark, is that it could end up "soft and squishy," especially if the framework lacks Kyoto’s international monitoring, sanctions, and procedures. A schedule of actions could also make it harder for the United States to pass a domestic climate change bill, he says, since softer emissions pledges by other countries could deter U.S. legislators from strong commitments at home. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had hoped to have domestic climate policy passed (Reuters), which he said is critical to showing leadership at the summit. But in early December, Australia’s Senate voted down the bill. The legislation would have aimed to reduce carbon emissions by 5 percent to 25 percent by the year 2020, or reduce emissions by 5 percent to 15 percent from their 2000 level within ten years, if there are big emissions reductions targets from other countries in Copenhagen.


BrazilPresident Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva ramped up his commitments to curb deforestation in October 2009, pledging an 80 percent cut in Amazonian deforestation by 2020, reducing emissions by an estimated 38 to 42 percent (Bloomberg). Reuters reports Brazil will push for the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) scheme in Copenhagen. REDD would allow deforestation to receive credit as a carbon offset by industrialized countries. Although Brazil has been a model for renewable energy, CFR Latin America Fellow Shannon O’Neil says the country may increasingly rely on fossil fuels due to new oil finds off the Brazilian coast, possibly the largest in the Western hemisphere. As one of the largest exporters of ethanol, O’Neil added, Brazil will also likely be vocal about lowering ethanol import tariffs.


MexicoMexican President Felipe Calderón has made climate change a priority and hopes to set an example for other emerging economies in Copenhagen. Calderon announced Mexico’s voluntary cut in emissions by 50 percent from 2002 levels by 2050. The government adopted a comprehensive climate-change mitigation strategy that includes a renewed focus on wind energy, reducing deforestation, and possible participation in a cap-and-trade scheme. While its plans are aggressive, the 2009 National Assessment Report by independent climate research group Climatico says that "whether the economic or political capital necessary for such a reduction exists currently is doubtful." CFR’s O’Neil says Mexico sees clean energy as an important opportunity for cooperation, and will focus on bilateral relationships with the United States in Copenhagen. Mexico will also push the Global Fund to Fight Climate Change, or "Green Fund," into which all countries would invest and from which any country could take a loan. If accepted, climate change funding would no longer come from the same few wealthy nations, but rather from a global financial framework.

South Africa

South AfricaSouth Africa has established itself as a major voice for the developing world and the Africa group on climate change. Romy Chevalier of the South African Institute for International Affairs says South Africa plans to push developed countries on commitments to adaptation financing and technology transfers. It also will push for the United States to adopt legally binding emission reductions targets. In addition, South Africa wants to place carbon capture and storage (CCS) on the agenda at Copenhagen since the CCS processes are not yet recognized under the current international climate framework as a means of attaining carbon credits. South Africa’s efforts domestically to combat climate change are largely in the planning stages. In July 2008, the Cabinet produced the National Climate Change Response Strategy that formulated general mitigation policies including a "peak, stabilization, and then decline" plan for emissions over 60 years; carbon taxes; tradable permits; vehicle taxes; a levy on coal-generated electricity; business incentives; research and development; and development of alternative energies.

South Korea

South KoreaSouth Korea says it plans to voluntarily cut its carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2020 (Bloomberg), citing a lack of confidence that a binding global agreement will be reached in Copenhagen. The government previously signaled (Korea Times) it will work toward achieving this reduction through the promotion of bio- and nuclear energy, energy efficient technologies, and possibly through the introduction of daylight savings. Despite this pledge, Seoul is facing opposition by the business community, which is concerned such a cut would be detrimental to their competitiveness. Instead, they favor a minimum increase of 8 percent based on 2005 levels. South Korea, the world’s ninth largest emitter (Energy Information Agency) of carbon dioxide and OECD’s fastest-growing carbon emitter (Reuters), is not subject to mandatory emissions cuts due to the country’s categorization as a developing nation under the Kyoto Protocol.


G77The Group of 77 is comprised of 130 developing nations and is the largest negotiating bloc of states in the United Nations. Due to its size and aggregate leverage, the bloc has become a vocal player in the climate debate. The G77 has rejected draft proposals that would alter Kyoto promises (Reuters), with G77 Chairman Stanislaus Lumumba calling upon nations (Irish Times) to "stop the mindset that the only way to achieve success is to waste more time creating new legal agreements." The bloc insists that all parties to the Kyoto Protocol be held to those pledges for the second commitment period set to begin in 2012. At Copenhagen, the bloc will seek monetary pledges from the developed countries for the development and purchase of clean energy technology. Arguing that the World Bank is institutionally biased against poor nations (Guardian), the G77 has also rejected plans from the United States and European Union to establish a World Bank fund for such technology.


OPECThe Organization of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC) will be seeking a "win-win solution" (Reuters) at Copenhagen for developed and developing nations, according to OPEC Secretary General Abdullah al-Badri. OPEC has underscored the dependency of its member nations on energy exports, which could be severely limited by emission-reduction requirements. OPEC members at Copenhagen will lobby for CCS projects, such as those already being pursued (Trade Arabia) by Saudi Arabia, that would remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere. Top OPEC producer Saudi Arabia also insists that the international community compensate oil producers (National) for the decreased oil demand, which would result from emission cuts in any new agreement, because oil producers like Saudi Arabia are "economically vulnerable." OPEC nations will work with other G77 nations to pursue Kyoto pledges at Copenhagen; at the 2009 Bangkok climate summit, OPEC nations and China walked out (Reuters) on early negotiation sessions, with their delegates declaring that they would not discuss any climate policy that abandons the Kyoto Protocol.

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Jamal Afridi, Rhonda Shafei, Roya Wolverson, and Julie Cohn contributed to this report.


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