Next week this time, The Nature Conservancy’s climate change team will be in Copenhagen for the long-awaited international climate negotiations. It’s been a long road, with many but not all milestones being passed.

Last week, we saw an announcement that President Obama will go to Copenhagen, with proposed emissions reductions targets from the United States in hand; and we saw China come forth with a specific goal to reduce their carbon intensity. Almost every day we have seen new efforts from governments as they prepare for this global event.

Here at the Conservancy, we have been doing our own preparations with many conversations about the potential in Copenhagen, and the risks. Read on for a snapshot of views from our policy leads – from our global climate team and US, Europe and Latin America policy teams – on what to watch for.

Duncan Marsh (Director of International Climate Policy): There is still work to do to get a political deal. It will be important to build understanding in all the different countries of what is going on in other countries. A deal will only be possible if it reflects that many nations are already moving constructively on climate change.

Jorge Gastelumendi (Senior Policy Advisor): Copenhagen is the moment to make the deal, a political deal, with a framework that is strong enough to finalize quickly in 2010. It will all come down to trust, and the signals that countries are seeing in order to get a binding and legal agreement. If all countries are willing to put actions on the table, and to trust each other, we should be able to get something out of Copenhagen.

Irene Suarez (Senior Policy Advisor – Latin America): Developing countries are interested in getting as much legally agreed as possible. The “two-step” process that was proposed by some leaders would have a political agreement followed by the legal agreement. The comfort level of developing countries, who have already been frustrated with years of delays and under-delivering by developed countries, might be much higher if there are elements of a legal agreement in Copenhagen, perhaps an interim legal agreement now that would be finalized next year.

Duncan: Getting more substance is desirable. To reduce the frustration, countries should get as much on the table as possible and defer as little as possible.

Eric Haxthausen (Director of U.S. Climate Policy): The joint statement from the United States and China talks agreed to “strive for” a legally binding agreement that would include emissions reductions targets, appropriate actions by developing countries, scaled-up financing and technology cooperation, support for vulnerable people, and inclusion of forests and reducing deforestation emissions.

Jorge: We now see that the United States will put targets on the table. And we’ve seen a lot of statements outside the negotiations by developing countries – from China to Brazil to Indonesia to South Korea – but will they commit to track and report on those activities in a similar way to developed countries? For the United States in particular, this “MRV” (measuring, reporting, verifying) is an important issue.

Irene: Many countries are putting their numbers on the table because of their own domestic pressure and international pressure. They don’t want to be the ones to receive the blame. Brazil, India and China have made significant shifts. Many other developing countries that aren’t significant in terms of their overall emissions – like Costa Rica and Maldives – are still taking actions and potentially would put specific emissions targets out. All of this would be positive for the United States and make it easier for their delegation to continue along the path they have started.

Duncan: We are seeing somewhat of a domino effect in terms of how countries are positioning themselves. The question now becomes: How does the United States respond to this? One concern is that the U.S. delegation goes out too far in front of what the Senate is comfortable with.

Eric: It doesn’t seem like the United States would go out with an emissions reductions number unless they were pretty comfortable based on conversations with key senators. There is still a lot of ground to cover before and after Copenhagen.

Sascha Muller-Kraenner (European Policy Representative): The United States does need to get other countries comfortable that they are committed. The US targets announcement is a step in the first direction. Now other steps have to follow to get the United States’ commitment in line with the steep emission cuts that science urgently recommends. There needs to be support not only from the administration, but also from key leaders in the Senate, to give a public indication of where this is going. And we need a global legal agreement that builds on the Kyoto Protocol and that gets the whole world on a low emission pathway.

Andrew Deutz (Director of International Government Relations): The United States has made substantial progress domestically, moving legislation forward in both chambers of Congress, and is far ahead of where we were this time last year. But it’s true, we do need signals from key Senators, particularly Republicans, that this is a priority. The administration has also ramped up spending on international climate funding in their FY10 budget proposal — $1.2 billion dollars which is a major increase over FY09.

Eric: Getting FY11 and FY12 funding commitments for appropriations would be useful to build trust among developing countries, and support anything that the United States proposes as far as emissions reduction targets.

Duncan: If we have that trust, then a Copenhagen outcome should be able to reflect that many nations are constructively moving on climate change. The international agreement should bind those efforts into a collective action and reinforce the sense of comfort that politicians need to go forth and continue on this multi-lateral approach. We need more than just individual actions to really change the course of climate change.

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  1. It’s an exciting time. I know everybody’s a little worried and tentative and bracing themselves against expecting too much or hoping or pushing for the impossible but it’s an amazingly exciting time we are living in. Young people in all walks of life are springing to life with a gazillion new ideas and a million new things no has ever thought of before. I feel quite blessed to be alive right now! I’ll be keeping all of us – all around the world – in my thoughts and prayers as we move forward on this. I pray good sense and courage will rule the day and a vision of tomorrow will sustain us all! God bless us all and the beautiful world he has planted us on!

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