As negotiators kick off two weeks of climate change talks in Copenhagen today, Duncan Marsh, director of international climate change policy for The Nature Conservancy, discusses in detail some of the key issues and news events that will surround the debate.

For more on Copenhagen, be sure to check out our Copenhagen 101 feature.


Cool Green Science: What will define success in Copenhagen?

Duncan Marsh: If we consider Copenhagen as a process, then by many measures it is already a success. The urgency to act in Copenhagen has caused the United States, Mexico, China, Indonesia, Norway, South Korea, Brazil and other countries to make new commitments and pledges to reduce global warming emissions.  And it has galvanized 100 heads of state to meet next week to forge a new global agreement. That is unprecedented.

A deal is within reach. We need to make sure that the momentum happening around the world is captured here and leads to a legally-binding agreement next year.

Over the next two weeks, we need to see solid commitments from world leaders on emission targets and financing. On the financing side, we need to see short-term financial commitments to help developing countries with climate change mitigation and adaptation that will reach $10 billion dollars per year between now and 2012. That must be new funding, additional to what governments are already spending on development assistance. We cannot be robbing Peter to pay Paul.

And we need to see signals from countries for the establishment of enhanced longer-term financing mechanisms that will drive tens of billions of public and private dollars in funding after 2012.

We also need to add a critical ingredient that has been missing from the current recipe for combating climate change: forest protection. It’s vital that Copenhagen deliver an agreement to include forest protection as a central element of the world’s effort to combat climate change.

Cool Green Science: What do you think about President Obama changing his plans to attend the high-level negotiations next week?

Duncan Marsh: No effective international deal to control carbon pollution can be reached without the United States at the forefront of international action. President Obama’s decision to attend the critical closing days of the negotiations is a very welcome development and will contribute to sealing an agreement among all countries.

Equally important, the president’s support for mobilizing $10 billion per year by 2012, with fair contributions from the U.S. and the other developed countries, to support adaptation and mitigation in developing countries provides a critical element in advancing a global agreement.

The president is to be commended for his deep personal engagement in working to find a global solution to climate change – one of the most pressing issues of our time.

Cool Green Science: People have referred to REDD – reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation – as an area where progress is being made.  What can we expect in Copenhagen?

Duncan Marsh: Good progress on REDD was made in Barcelona in bridging differences between countries on key issues, especially in the sections on finance and monitoring countries’ actions to reduce deforestation. Additionally, important biodiversity safeguards and language on addressing the drivers of deforestation were reinserted.

Copenhagen presents the opportunity to launch REDD as a vital component of a global agreement and give developing countries the tools and immediate financing they need to protect their forest resources and reduce emissions.

Cool Green Science: Congressional action is needed to ensure the United States can sign on to a global climate deal. But won’t it be next to impossible to pass climate legislation during the 2010 election year?

Duncan Marsh: Recent moves by Senators Lindsey Graham, John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman – a Republican, a Democrat and an Independent – show the strong potential to develop non-partisan climate legislation that can win support needed in the Senate. It’s not only possible, but it’s essential that we get legislation passed in the next year to solidify this global agreement.

The administration and Congress must work together and across party lines to present a unified commitment and restore U.S. leadership on this critical global issue.

In addition, an election year does not mean legislating stops. Many significant environmental bills have passed Congress during election years, including:

  • The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments
  • The 1970 Clean Air Act
  • The 1972 Clean Water Act
  • The 1986 and 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments
  • The 1990 Oil Pollution Act
  • The 1976 Solid Waste Disposal Act
  • Farm Bills which have included significant pieces of environmental protection were passed in 1990, 1996, 2002, and 2008

Cool Green Science: Should the Kyoto Protocol be extended into the second commitment period?

Duncan Marsh: What matters most is that both developed and developing countries, including all major emitters, participate in a new global agreement that is effective and strong enough to begin lowering global emissions as quickly as possible.

Kyoto put in place a framework and standards for greenhouse gas accounting, carbon markets and other important mechanisms. We need to ensure these elements remain in any future agreement, regardless of the legal form it takes.

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