Vienna Climate Change Talks

The author of today’s post, Kyle Meng, is a Research Fellow at Environmental Defense.

You probably haven’t heard much about it in the news, but the fourth meeting of the U.N. working group on action to address climate change is happening this week in Vienna, Austria. Negotiators are preparing for the next major international climate agreement – what happens when the Kyoto accord’s carbon market runs out at midnight, December 31, 2012. The goal is to strengthen the carbon market framework so it does an even better job of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. The question is how best to achieve this.

The Environmental Defense International Climate Team is busy communicating with delegates from various countries to encourage broad participation. Major emitting nations must be part of the accord if we are to avoid potentially catastrophic climate change.

To avoid any gap, the new carbon market must open its doors at 12:01 a.m. on January 1, 2013. Since it will take time for governments to enact new laws to implement the accords, and for businesses to prepare for the new emission reduction requirements, agreement must be reached by the end of 2009. That doesn’t leave much time. In December, the Conference of the Parties in Bali – this year’s big climate summit – will lay out the schedule of negotiations for 2008 and 2009.

The main subjects of discussion here in Vienna are what the new accords will look like and how they will be negotiated. For the world’s industrialized nations, we’re exploring a new set of legally binding emission reduction targets – steeper than Kyoto’s. For major developing countries we’re proposing stronger incentives for reducing emissions [PDF]. Tradable credits for reducing tropical deforestation would be a powerful incentive, since deforestation in developing nations accounts for 20 percent of global emissions.

American participation is a big concern here. The European Union has decided to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent below its 1990 levels by 2020, and will increase its commitment to 30 percent if other major nations – in particular, the United States – step up to the plate. Delegates are encouraged by the building momentum in the U.S. Congress towards legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions.

But some signs from the U.S. are mixed. While President Bush has invited representatives of major emitters to Washington, D.C. in late September for talks on long-term goals, the White House has said those talks won’t finish until the end of 2008 – too late for meaningful input into the U.N. negotiations, which aim to wind up in 2009.  Consequently, governments are hesitant to participate, fearing that the White House is simply aiming to run out the clock on the climate treaty. They’d like the White House meetings to be input into the 2008 talks, but so far the Administration hasn’t indicated this intent.

In general, the goal here in Vienna is to clarify expectations for the year-end climate summit in Bali, where hard-nosed decisions will be made. With a number of Congress members closely monitoring the Bali meeting, hopefully America will be a serious part of the process.

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  1. adrianne
    Posted August 29, 2007 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    I see this season the hit remains the greenhouse gas emissions in the climate change debate, but global warming is about more than that. It is about the oceans system and about the way it can be related to the climatic changes. And history has proven us that the oceans and the climate are closely related.

  2. Posted August 30, 2007 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    In my post about the talks in Vienna, I mentioned that Environmental Defense was proposing stronger incentives to reduce emissions, and I linked to a paper we wrote on the subject – a critique of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) [PDF].

    CDM allows industrialized countries to offset their emissions by funding emission reduction projects in developing countries. As our analysis points out:

    1. The world cannot meet the emissions reduction target needed to avoid disastrous climate change unless both industrialized and developing countries reduce their emissions.
    2. CDM is currently the only way that developing countries can participate in the carbon market because they don’t have mandatory caps.
    3. Since emissions reductions from CDM in developing countries are matched with increased emissions in industrialized countries, there is no net reduction in emissions – a fundamental flaw in the structure of CDM.

    The paper goes on to suggest ways that CDM can be modified in the post-Kyoto framework to correct the structural problems.

    Tom Arnold of TerraPass (a firm that sells voluntary offsets) wrote an article praising our analysis, but reached an odd conclusion – that "the voluntary carbon market is the only carbon market that matters."

    It’s true that voluntary carbon markets are rapidly growing, and voluntary offsets can jumpstart efforts to reduce emissions, but this alone is not enough. Voluntary reductions will remain far short of what’s necessary to stop global warming. For the deeper reductions we need, only mandatory carbon markets can deliver the results. Most of the delegates here in Vienna would agree that we must extend mandatory caps and expand the carbon market to developing countries.

    Consensus around mandatory carbon markets is building in America, as well. Leading members of the U.S. Congress have announced their intent to introduce new bipartisan legislation to place mandatory caps on America’s greenhouse gas emissions. The carbon market created by this legislation – potentially the biggest in the world – will provide powerful incentive for participation by developing nations. That’s an initiative that will be welcomed around the world.

  3. Tom Arnold
    Posted August 30, 2007 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    Hi Kyle:

    My blog was meant to be a bit snarky as TerraPass has a long history of advocating for mandatory carbon markets.

    My point was to just gently point out that voluntary carbon markets, while often criticized, should be celebrated for the incremental commitments they signal, while as you point out the mandatory carbon market is a cost abatement measure.