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Clearing the Fog: Climate Negotiations from Tianjin to Cancun

Countries should step back and look at what their leaders agreed to in Copenhagen as they prepare for Tianjin and beyond.

Since the Copenhagen meetings in December, there has been a fog hanging over the UNFCCC climate negotiations that has kept people from seeing a way forward to tackle the climate change crisis globally. The fog has played to those who would rather see a completely fragmented, ineffective system move forward. Although in Copenhagen all major economies, from the United States to China to India to Japan, put forward national-level reduction pledges and a number of the decisions were close to being finished, there was no clarity on the path forward from that set of unfinished decisions and the Copenhagen Accord.

Since then, negotiations have continued both on the Kyoto Protocol and under the separate track in the UNFCCC (LCA) with text tabled and proposals made. The process, however, seems a bit stuck, as the fog has yet to lift for countries to make some choices in the lead-up to Cancun. There is much at stake going into next week’s Tianjin meeting and later in the year at COP-16. Many people are wondering how governments are going to overcome their differences and ensure that progress is made in 2010.

A Climate Meeting in China

It should not go unnoticed that China is hosting a UNFCCC formal meeting. Ready to have the world come to China for a climate meeting and committed strongly to the UN, China is signaling a seriousness about the issue that should not be overlooked. Chinese business leaders and policymakers tend to be pragmatic problem-solvers, skills that are highly desirable right now in the UNFCCC negotiations. There are a number of decisions to make and proposed texts on the table, yet the text keeps getting longer rather than shorter, and there is not a clear process from Tianjin to Cancun. This sets up a similar dynamic as in Copenhagen where ministers are confronted with all of the issues, rather than focusing a selection of key decisions.

Prioritizing Issues

In Tianjin, government negotiators need to turn into problem-solvers and find ways forward on both specific decisions and on the larger question of legal form. In each key area-- such as adaptation, technology, REDD+, finance, accounting and transparency, and mitigation-- countries should identify the areas of consensus and set those aside in order to tee up the one or two top political issues in each area where ministers must engage.

Countries must also decide how to manage the legal form discussion and not leave this to the last moment in hopes of a solution suddenly appearing. It is much too important for many countries. Agreeing on what gets done in Cancun and what should be completed in South Africa next year is necessary.

The U.S. 17% Pledge

Of course, none of this problem-solving will be possible without some key political conditions being met, including in the United States. The world must believe that, despite the Senate’s inability to advance a comprehensive climate bill, the United States is committed to implementing its 17% Copenhagen pledge. WRI analysis shows that they can start on that path if the Obama Administration takes the issue seriously. In recent days, the President has re-asserted that climate and energy continue to be among his top priorities—and that he will continue to push forward on these fronts. The world needs to hear that directly before Cancun. His continued engagement and leadership – both at home and abroad– on these issues is vital to reassuring the world that the United States plans to stay the course.

No Time to Renegotiate

All countries should step back and again to look at what their leaders agreed to in Copenhagen as they prepare for Tianjin and beyond. There is no time to renegotiate everything and precious moments are ticking away – finding the solutions that lie in the underlying decisions and in the Accord is vital.

Tianjin must be the moment when countries begin clearing the fog. They need to demonstrate their deep willingness to find solutions and move forward in a productive manner. This will go along way to providing clarity for people around the world that Cancun—and the UN process itself— can be a success.

Read more about the UNFCCC negotiations and see WRI's key resources on our International Climate Policy page.

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