Panel discussion: Post COP15

AGS Annual Meeting, 17 March 2010, The University of Tokyo, Japan

For some, the Climate Summit in December 2009 was a success for achieving agreement on the Copenhagen Accord; for others it was a complete failure to agree on any basis for post-Kyoto negotiations. The end of the summit left deep uncertainty as to what the basis for international negotiations towards COP-16 was. At the AGS Annual Meeting, we had a panel discussion to evaluate the COP-15 and future options for action on climate change, chaired by Akimasa Sumi, IPCC AR4 Lead-author and professor of the University of Tokyo. The panel of climate change policy researchers gave perspectives from Japan, the US, Switzerland and the European Union, and China – together responsible for 60% of global carbon emissions.

Text by Akimasa Sumi translated by Yoshie Maeda

First, Stephen Connors of MIT described the political status of climate change in the US. The US political system is complex and divided – it is still uncertain whether the US Senate will pass the Climate Bill introducing domestic carbon reduction targets. However, cities, states and regions are setting their own targets and introducing regional cap-and-trade systems, and companies, NGOs and individuals are taking action. Further he emphasized that for the US federal government, COP-15’s failure to extend the Kyoto Protocol was good news, as it would never join Kyoto or agree to reduction commitments without matching commitments from China and India.

Yasuko Kameyama from the Japan National Institute for Environmental Studies explained that before COP-15 started, countries already showed that they had very different positions on what kind of legal agreement they wanted. The negotiating process was complicated by the two clearly independent but parallel negotiating tracks – one track between the Annex I countries that have agreed to legally binding reductions under the Kyoto Protocol (not including the US and China), and another track between all UNFCC countries (including the US and China), negotiating under the terms of the Bali Action Plan, which did not include any kind of legal instrument. The non-Annex I countries were divided between the emerging economies (especially China) who strongly asserted the need for technological and financial aid in order to get the support of developing countries, and the small island countries and other developing countries who wanted to see the emerging economies commit to emissions reductions.

Japan took the position that a new legal agreement should replace the Kyoto Protocol (to include the US and the emerging economies in emissions reductions), and hoped that with its own ambitious reduction commitment it could take a lead in negotiations, both of which failed.

For the EU negotiators, COP-15 was a surprising and painful insight into the EU’s lack of weight vis-à-vis the US and China, and its failure to be a strong role model for other regions, and the EU now risks isolation. Malte Schneider of ETH Zurich emphasised that the EU must pursue its 30% target by building an improved EU emissions trading scheme, and by driving forward large-scale technology projects, demonstrating that climate action is economically competitive.

Prof.Minjun Shi of the Chinese Academy of Sciences explained China’s standpoint. For China, the most important outcome of COP-15 was the confirmation of the principle of common but differentiated responsibility of the Annex I countries and the developing countries, so that for China (and others) mitigation actions are voluntary, and Annex I countries are obliged to provide them with financial and technical support for mitigation and adaptation. China has set its’ target to 2020 based on reducing carbon emissions in relation to its economic growth, i.e. reducing energy intensity. He argues that China needs to make major efforts to improve energy technology to achieve this target without negative effects on economic growth. Constraints in energy supply and other environmental and resource constraints, especially water, are likely to have a significant influence on policy.

Kristina Sahleström, posing question to the Post COP15 panel

The speakers were challenged by two students who attended COP-15 with support from the AGS. Takako Ogimoto, a student at UT, asked how international negotiations can be effective when nothing can be decided without unanimous agreement, and countries have such unbalanced power. Kristina Sahleström, a student from Chalmers University of Technology, asked what can be done for COP-16. Will engineers and scientists be at the negotiating table? What are the steps that will lead forward?

Corresponding to these questions, panelists responded.

Kameyama made the point that though COP-16 might not reach an agreement, many activities outside the UNFCCC forum, such as the G20 or the Asia Pacific Partnership, or public-private partnerships, continue making progress in technology transfer and creation of carbon markets. All panelists agreed that action is driven by economic and political arguments for a low carbon economy, tying in issues such as increasing energy security, creating green jobs, and reducing energy poverty.

Connors pointed out that in order to meet the 2°C global target in the Copenhagen Accord, the US would have to reduce its carbon emissions by 80% (from 1990) by the year 2050. How do you actually get “substantial and sustained” GHG reductions of this magnitude? Markets are not enough: carbon trading markets may reach their limits of effectiveness well before this target is reached.

Schneider argued that developing countries need a much more comprehensive technology needs assessment, and the Clean Development Mechanism will not be sufficient to drive investments in technology in these countries. Alternative funding mechanisms are needed, together with policies that promote technology transfer. Technologies are owned by companies, not countries. Technology transfer does not mean Toyota selling more hybrid cars to China! Research institutions – especially the AGS universities – should lead the way with truly collaborative joint research and technology development projects that bring technological innovations to the market in developing countries, with viable business models.

Finally, as the convener, I would like to say that although the issue was complex and diverse, and the speakers could not give definite answers to the student’s questions, it was meaningful for the participants to see a glimpse of the diverse debates.

More information AM2010 website