UN climate negotiations held in the northeast Chinese city of Tianjin ended today with warnings from multiple countries that talks are not on track toward a strong agreement at the Conference of Parties (COP-16) in Cancun in December. The difficult talks on reducing greenhouse gas emissions demonstrated that countries have made minimal progress in resolving differences since last year’s Copenhagen Accord was carved out by heads of state after a breakdown in negotiations. In order to get a balanced agreement that puts the world back on track on climate change cooperation, all countries must show greater willingness to compromise.
As a starting point for the Cancun outcome, it is essential that governments participating in the Copenhagen Accord honor what has already been agreed upon last year. Following through on financing to developing countries and a commitment to transparency by all countries, as well as making decisions in Cancun that are consistent with the Accord, are crucial to building international goodwill and trust.
Before sending US diplomats off to Cancun, President Obama should reaffirm the commitment he made in Copenhagen to a 17 percent target below 2005 levels. Given the failure of Congress to act on comprehensive legislation, it is also imperative that the President explain the emissions-reducing programs that will put the US on a pathway to achieve that target.
The slowness of the negotiations stands in stark contrast to the dynamism in the sustainable development industries that one feels in China. As negotiators inside the conference center argued over minute details of the decision text, hundreds of entrepreneurs gathered elsewhere in Tianjin to consider clean energy opportunities that can emerge under the carbon markets being contemplated by the Chinese government. While China, now the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, faces enormous challenges in reducing emissions, this entrepreneurial spirit — combined with aggressive policies to promote clean energy and transportation — will be essential to meeting the challenges.
Here in rapidly growing China, and in many of the most ecologically valuable places around the world, we are already observing the real and disturbing impacts of climate change. The urgency to deal with the climate change threat is clear. At the same time, nature based solutions, including the protection of the world’s tropical forests, can help significantly reduce global emissions. Adapting to climate change will also rely on the safeguards provided by healthy ecosystems, which must be enhanced through an increase in protection of coastlines, watersheds and mountainous forests. Action on climate change must both protect and utilize these ecosystems for the valuable services they provide.
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