Yesterday, US Energy Secretary Stephen Chu made a brief appearance at the conference. The Nobel physicist spoke to a packed conference room and said that human activities, not natural processes, are responsible for climate change. “It has our fingerprints all over it,” he said.
Chu then discussed US federal funding for research and development and highlighted President Obama’s success in forging a deal to increase fuel efficiency requirements for cars and trucks. But Chu did not mention what most conference delegates care about – how President Obama plans to fulfil his promise at last year’s UN summit in Copenhagen, that would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 17% by 2020. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley are set to arrive at the conference later this week.
There are thousands of conversation’s going on in Cancun. But if I tried to sum them all up, what is going on can be summarized like this: Expectations were too high in Copenhagen in 2009. In Cancun, there is optimistically a reasonable shot at some tangible progress, particularly on increasing support to developing countries and increasing the transparency of the agreement. The main goals for the US are quite pragmatic. The US would like to build a robust funding regime to help developing countries.
It is also important to develop proposals for concrete operational issues including financial support, adaptation and forestry. There is also a big discussion about what type of agreement will succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. These complex issues are unlikely to be resolved here in Cancun this week. But there is a considerable desire on the part of most countries to make progress.
“That’s really where the rub is” said Eliott Diringer in an interview with Climatewire. Diringer said that there was a need to break the deadlock on the legal issues. Diringer did not expect big progress on the Clean Development Mechanism but said that “most parties want to keep this process intact.” He said that it could be a number of years before a binding international agreement is concluded.
So at the international level, governments are looking for compromises in Cancun and to map out a way forward for the negotiations. The future of the Kyoto Protocol is probably the biggest issue on the table that needs to be addressed in Cancun in some way. According to UN climate chief Christina Figueras, there is “no magical surprise.” Countries simply need to compromise and find some common ground. Speaking to journalists, Figueras said that it was unlikely that agreement could be reached in Cancun. Instead, countries will need to continue negotiations in 2011 in South Africa.
And finally, the US Center for American Progress has issued a report on the side of the climate negotiations arguing that the United States can and should take a leadership role in international efforts to tackle climate change. The report outlines why spending more money on helping other countries adapt to climate change and boost their green technology sectors is important for the US.
“This report shows that the United States can lead a global partnership on international climate finance despite the current economic and political conditions, and that doing so is in America’s vital national interest,” said John Podesta, CAP’s President.
This is the first in a series of blogs by Bellona USA’s director, Jonathan Temple. His next dispatches from Cancun will appear under his Washington View blog in our blog section.