Washington University Students for International Collaboration on the Environment

Treading Water as the U.S. goes into Cancun

Building on Richard’s post about China’s expectations going into the upcoming climate talks in Cancun, I wanted to add a post on the U.S. position.

This morning’s Washington Post article does a great job of outlining the difficult bargaining position the U.S. will have in Cancun.  Although President Obama made a pledge to climate action, the failure of the U.S. climate bill in the Senate and the lack of political support for legislation makes his promise hollow.  Interest in the climate bill has been eclipsed by the fiscal stimulus and health care bills. Rather than legislation, U.S. negotiators will only be able to point to recent regulations to prove their commitment to reducing greenhouse gases.

At recent climate talks in Tianjin, China, Chinese negotiators questioned whether the U.S. and other developed countries will hold true to their commitment at Copenhagen to provide $100 billion in international climate aid to developing countries.  In response, UN advisers are looking beyond governments to the private sector to help raise money.  A Reuters report calls the goal “feasible,” and lists a variety of funding sources:

between $2bn and $27bn could be raised from financial transaction taxes on foreign exchange, $4bn to $9bn from shipping, $2bn to $3bn from aviation, $3bn to $8bn from removal of fossil fuel subsidies and $8bn to $38bn from auctioning carbon allowances.

The U.S. has reaffirmed its commitment to give aid, and the E.U. appears to be the only party actually intent on following the Kyoto Protocol, so it seems that making substantial commitments is not the problem.

The biggest challenge in Cancun will not be in making commitments, but in agreeing over the terms.  In Richard’s post, Su Wei writes:

the world should take responsibility for their historical cumulative emissions and current high per capita emissions to change their unsustainable way of life and to substantially reduce their emissions and, at the same time, provide financial support and transfer technology to developing countries.

This statement poses problems to U.S. negotiators, since the U.S. is the top producer of cumulative emissions at 29% (China is 4th at 7.6%).  If we look at current emissions, the U.S. and China are on more equitable grounds.  Furthermore, a particularly important point of contention at Copenhagen was whether or not China is a developing country.

To get even more nit-picky, one could argue that a portion of Chinese emissions are really outsourced U.S. emissions.  On the other hand, the looming currency war highlights China’s undervalued currency as a driver of the ongoing trade imbalance between China and the U.S.

Again, going into Cancun (and WUSICE!) we need to focus on the terms, not the commitments.

Nadav Rindler

Washington University in St. Louis

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