Climate Change: Prospects for Copenhagen

Climate Change: Prospects for Copenhagen

The U.N. climate change negotiations currently underway and set to conclude in Copenhagen late in 2009 seek to establish new arrangements in anticipation of the termination of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012. According to our current understanding of the science, a successful outcome to these negotiations is critical to maintaining a stable climate, even if the estimates of the costs of damage from inaction vary widely.

The negotiations are currently beset by a series of obstacles. But if these are overcome, the resulting agreement will change the global landscape in terms of trade, politics and the entire international system. The negotiations focus on four areas -- mitigation, adaptation, innovation and trade & finance -- and involve significant contributions to accompanying funds, primarily in adaptation. They also increasingly center on securing the participation of rapidly growing, low-wage greenhouse gas emitters -- principally China and India -- who did not make commitments in the earlier Kyoto arrangements.

The primary issues and obstacles standing in the path of a successful conclusion in Copenhagen relate to: disagreements over whether or not there will be high levels of damage resulting from inaction on climate change; the imprecision of the negotiating mandate and the lack of concrete definitions for some of the key concepts involved; the size and administration of the funds involved for implementing plans; the likely lack of compliance with earlier Kyoto commitments; and the desire by various parties to link the negotiation to other key areas, such as trade.

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