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|Most of those concerned with climate
have had their eyes on Barcelona this week, where delegates from 192
countries plus hundreds of observers, campaigners, lobbyists - and
journalists - convened for the final session of preparatory talks
before the UN climate summit in Copenhagen.
there's been a deal of tension between rich and poor - with the
developing world accusing the developed world of forgetting about
its needs, as rich nations refuse to cut greenhouse gas emissions
enough to stave off "dangerous" climate change (their view).
How much of the rancour turns out to be real and how much
synthesized as a political bargaining tool we will find out in
Copenhagen - although perhaps not until the last few days of that
What's certain is that unless the US comes forward with a pledge on
reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, there will be no deal of any
kind, legally binding or politically binding (whatever those phrases
may mean precisely).
If the US does produce a figure, it can realistically be in no other
ballpark than a 17-20% reduction from 2005 levels by 2020 - that's
roughly what President Obama pledged before the election, and
roughly what the Boxer-Kerry bill now going through the Senate would
In a news conference here, US negotiator Jonathan Pershing reckoned
this would put the US way ahead of the EU on ambition - the US would
cut emissions faster that Europe over the next 11 years.
The reason is that the EU has already cut emissions markedly between
1990 - the baseline that everyone else uses - and today.
And against that baseline, the US pledge will only be about 4% -
paltry beside the EU's 20-30% and Japan's 25%.
Mr Pershing may not want the administration to which he belongs to
shoulder the burden of making cuts that the Bush government did
not... but from the perspective of a developing country many miles
away, the US is the US is the US, whoever is in charge at various
Is there a formula that everyone could live with? Will the EU
consider 4% "comparable" to its own efforts?
Would developing countries accept a US pledge as binding in the
absence of Senate legislation - given that on the Kyoto Protocol,
the US first signed, then declined to ratify, then withdrew?
Could money and technology bridge the gap?
Is it, indeed, bridgeable?
Mr Pershing said it's not yet been decided whether the US will put
forward a target in Copenhagen and one reason for the non-decision -
if non-decision it is, rather than a decision that's been taken and
is being kept under wraps - is presumably the sticky passage
envisaged for the Boxer-Kerry bill.
Republican senators on the influential Environment and Public Works
Committee decided to boycott discussions on the bill this week,
saying that a full analysis of its financial costs and benefits was
So committee chair - and bill sponsor - Barbara Boxer pushed it
through the committee without debate - a procedure that's apparently
However, in a sign that not everything is going swimmingly well,
senators John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham started
working on a "parallel track" towards a bill that can get the 60
votes necessary to pass legislation in the full Senate.
It's likely to include more support for nuclear power and perhaps
for the oil and gas industry, while maintaining the cap-and-trade
programme that is the current bill's centerpiece.
What this means for prospects of passing climate legislation isn't
clear - perhaps not to anyone. But it doesn't exactly sound like a
fast track - particularly as the further legislation evolves from
the text that the House of Representatives passed in June, the
harder it will be to reconcile the two.
A high-level European delegation was in Washington this week and
although German Chancellor Angela Merkel's address to Congress
asking for more action on climate change was received with applause
on the Democrat side, there was reportedly silence on the other side
of the house - another indication that not all US lawmakers are
convinced that their president is on the right track on climate
Other potentially significant moves this week include the meeting of
G20 finance ministers - a meeting expressly charged at the last G20
summit in Pittsburgh with putting a new offer of climate finance on
Campaigners are urging them to phase out fossil fuel subsidies as
soon as possible. To do so was a pledge made by governments at the
G20 summit - it's also an agreed aim under the UN climate
convention, which dates all the way back to 1992.
At the time of writing, the finance ministers' meeting is under way
but nothing has yet emerged - you can follow my colleague Andrew
Walker's reports on the BBC News website and we'll look at it again
A conference will open in the Maldives next week of countries
considered especially vulnerable to climate change. Governments
invited include Bangladesh, Costa Rica, and a number of Caribbean
and Pacific island states.
What they'll come up with is likely to include demands for reducing
greenhouse gas emissions further and faster than is currently
envisaged under the UN process.
The UN texts, the advice from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC) and some of the developed country targets are loosely
aimed at keeping the rise in global average temperatures within 2C
since pre-industrial times.
The equations are inexact but that may roughly translate to keeping
greenhouse gas concentrations below the equivalent of 450 parts per
million (ppm) of carbon dioxide.
For the small island developing states (SIDS), that's too much. They
want a maximum of 350ppm adopted as the benchmark.
Although on the surface politicians - especially from Europe - are
trimming expectations for Copenhagen, behind the scenes they are
also encouraging campaigners to step up the pressure in the
This week, we've had aliens wandering round asking "Where are the
leaders?" and barrages of alarm clocks indicating the shortness of
time before the summit... and we also have what are probably the
first climate hunger strikers.
Anna Keenan and Sara Svensson have vowed to go without food until
the Copenhagen summit at least - perhaps beyond, if there is no
agreement that meets their satisfaction.
"We're undertaking the hunger strike because we're not seeing much
action from governments and we really need it," she told me.
Can their action affect governments and persuade them to amend their
positions in the four weeks between now and the start of the
Copenhagen talks? Should it?