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COP17: US will build on Cancun, but hampered by domestic constraints

Date
22 November 2011
COP17: US will build on Cancun, but hampered by domestic constraints

Evan Juska, The Climate Group’s Head of US Policy, takes a look at the US negotiating position heading into COP17 in Durban next week. This is the first in a series of articles from our international policy staff looking at the position of key countries in the UN climate talks.

The US views Durban as an opportunity to build on the agreements reached in Cancun. From the US perspective, Cancun represented a “paradigm shift” away from the top-down approach of the Kyoto Protocol (i.e. mandatory targets and timetables for developed countries) towards the bottom-up approach of the Cancun Agreements (i.e. “pledge and review” process for all countries).

Tangible progress towards building the institutions needed to implement the Cancun Agreements - like a system for transparency, mechanisms for technology deployment, adaptation and deforestation, and new climate finance bodies – would be a successful outcome for the US.

The concern for the US in Durban is that continued disagreement about the future of the Kyoto Protocol could thwart further progress on the Cancun Agreements.

BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) have stated that agreement to extend the Kyoto Protocol for a second commitment period is the “essential priority” for success.

However, many developed countries, including the US, Japan, Russia and Canada have indicated that they will not participate in a second commitment period. In Cancun, countries showed a willingness to look beyond their disagreements on Kyoto to work towards consensus on the above issues. But with the Kyoto Protocol set to expire at the end of 2012, pressure to determine its fate will be heightened in Durban.

The US’s ability to effectively negotiate its position in Durban may also be somewhat undermined by its lack of domestic action on climate change. In Copenhagen, the US committed to reduce its emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 - but does not have a comprehensive policy in place to meet this goal.

The US also committed to contribute to a $100 billion per year Green Climate Fund - but without the revenues generated from a cap and trade program, it is unclear how the US will contribute to climate finance, especially amidst the budget-cutting mood that currently prevails in Washington.

In the “pledge and review” approach to international cooperation that the US is advocating, a country’s ability to influence others depends largely on how well they are fulfilling their own commitments.

Further reading

For those interested in more analysis on the prospects for COP17, the following sources e3g.org/ and wri.org/ are recommended.

Damian Ryan, Senior Policy Manager, The Climate Group, will also be writing news and analysis throughout COP17, and providing a more in-depth post-COP Briefing after the events. Keep up to date on our website and by following him on Twitter during COP17. Read Damian's Pre-COP17 Briefing.

Our international policy teams are also commenting on key regional positions in the lead-up to Durban; read about India, Europe and China..

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