U.S. climate envoy, Todd Stern, is trying to set expectations on the prospects for climate negotiations. Speaking in Bonn at the climate meetings, he said, 'I don't think anybody should be thinking that the U.S. can ride in on a white horse and make it all work.'
As I have written before, President Obama has already taken steps to move away from the Bush era's almost complete lack of engagement with the climate issue. There is palpable enthusiasm among climate activists about potential U.S. leadership to drive through a global agreement in Copenhagen at the end of this year. Meanwhile, developing countries have announced measures of their own.
But here in Bonn, the first of three major sets of meetings before Copenhagen, the United States is making it clear that ambitious targets for emission reductions will not be politically or economically feasible. 'It is in no one's interest to repeat the experience of Kyoto by delivering an agreement that won't gain sufficient support at home,' says Stern. As always, the United States wants China and other major developing countries to share the burden of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Sure, the global economic crisis complicates matters (see my previous blog): climate-friendly investments are not as profitable, and the domestic political economy of distributing the costs of shifting to lower carbon trajectories is complicated further by rising unemployment.
Yet, for all the reality checks, there is still nothing concrete on offer for developing countries. They want specific commitments on financing, technology transfer and adaptation measures. The trouble is that the discussions and the rhetoric focus on targets for emission reductions and the remaining issues are treated more like 'side payments' to induce cooperation by developing countries. Unless the demands of poor countries are elevated to the same status, there is little hope for progress.