Climate agreement in Copenhagen? Prospects dimming rapidly

September’s UN Climate change summit convened by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appears not to have succeeded. It was a good try and could have worked if national leaders had stepped up to accept the challenge. But most of them haven’t. The regular conferencing to prepare the Copenhagen summit in December has resumed in Bangkok and the acrimony is at an unprecedented level.

Everything suggests we should give up on expecting leadership from the Obama administration on climate for the rest of this year. Following the remark by US Senate majority leader Harry Reid that the Senate  probably won’t pass a climate law this year, President Obama’s energy adviser Carol Browner has been reported as saying the White House accepts that political reality.

So that’s that for some solidly grounded  leadership from the US in time for Copenhagen. That’s not the only problem, however. The acrimony in Bangkok is because the US is charged with pushing for a change in the basic approach to reducing carbon emissions, replacing the current effort to get a legally binding agreement by a series of individual national pledges.

The US negotiating team in Bangkok hasn’t responded to the charge at the time of writing, so it is not clear if this is really an accurate depiction of the position. But at this point, two months before Copenhagen, lack of clarity is as big a problem as actual open opoosition to agreement.

The issue remains: who leads? Certainly not the US for the moment at least. And through Ban the UN has done what it can at summit level. Apart from that, the UN – through the secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – the UN can only provide a forum and technical back-up.

The EU has yet to get it together, the UK’s Gordon Brown has done his bit (see my post of 26 June), so what about President Hu of China?

China, which has coordinated its critique of the US position with the views of the G-77 group of developing countries. The beginnings of strategic leadership on the issue or just tactical political manoeuvring? The next two months may tell us.

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