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Copenhagen: Obama In, UN Climate Chief Says No Plan B

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Sometimes a week in the fickle world of international climate change politics can deliver a whole new ball game. Last week politicians and pundits were decrying that the Copenhagen climate talks, which are now 12 days away, would not include a formal pact given the U.S. Senate had failed to pass its climate bill. Without a decision on the bill many worried that the U.S. would not commit to specific greenhouse gas emission reductions. But this week, the Obama administration announced that it will set a provisional emissions target in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels and President Obama will attend the Copenhagen event on December 9th.

Both are relatively small steps considering the U.S. is the only industrialized country that has yet to commit to binding emissions targets, and the Obama administration will still be awaiting support from Congress to finalize the commitment. But Obama had previous only said he would attend the event “if his presence would help produce a meaningful result.” For Yves de Boer, the UN climate treaty chief, the attendance of Obama at the conference “is critical for a good outcome,” he said at a press conference in Bonn, Germany this morning.

At the Bonn event, de Boer said “There is no Plan B for Copenhagen, there is only Plan A and that stands for action.” When asked to explain his remarks now that many observers and participating countries say a legally binding agreement might not be reached at the event, de Boer said that “action” meant that the conference would deliver a set of decisions, lists, and commitments “recorded in black and white.” Even if a political deal is not reached, these decisions will lead to a legally-binding document next year, said de Boer. In other words, de Boer sees no risk in postponing a formal pact to 2010 if the important decisions are made at Copenhagen in the coming weeks. “The stakes are too high for any one country to focus on national agendas,” said de Boer.

So what actually needs to be decided at the event? De Boer said for success to be achieved in Copenhagen, countries need to provide clarity on these points:

1). Countries must record in black and white their sets of commitments to reduce emissions, including industrialized nations (which need “ambitious leadership”) and developing nations, which appear “keen to honor their part,” said de Boer. He also said the recent comments from the Obama administration to offer emissions targets have made him hopeful that these decisions will be reached.

2). Industrialized countries need to provide clarity on short and long term financial commitments to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to carbon emissions. Rich countries need to give $10 billion per year through 2012 to kick-start this process, and provide a list of what they will give and how this funding will be deployed, said de Boer. More than 100 of the least developed nations are dependent on these funds, he said.

3). Copenhagen must deliver an agreement that launches immediate action to put developing countries on the clean energy path, which includes a getting the right technology, and building skills to work with this technology.

(On a side note, I’m planning to attend the Copenhagen event and will be looking to meet up with greentech entrepreneurs and innovators there. If you’re planning to attend reach out at info at

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