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A Little Perspective On Copenhagen

There are literally thousands of reporters in Copenhagen right now, so every dramatic loop and whorl in the climate talks is, naturally, getting inflated to epic proportions and analyzed accordingly. But if you haven't been following every last twist, Dave Roberts lets you know how little you're actually missing:

Despite the drama, however, at the end of week one we are, in substantive terms, roughly where we’ve been for a while now. Developing countries want $100 billion a year in climate assistance from developed nations, who are offering around $10 billion a year, much of it repurposed foreign aid, and they’re not keen on any of that money going to fast-growing competitors like China. Developing nations want an extension of Kyoto, which puts no emission reduction obligations on them, while developed nations want a new treaty that loops in all the big emitters. (Africa is currently threatening to walk out over this—yet more drama.) Everyone wants the U.S. to put a more ambitious 2020 target on the table. The U.S. wants China to make its emission reductions measurable, reportable, and verifiable (MRV), while China doesn’t want any such thing.

These are serious disputes, and many of them will end up going all the way up the chain to national leaders, who are arriving later this week. But they are basically the same serious disputes that have plagued the process for years. On many of them, nations appear no closer to agreement than they were two years ago, but that has quite a bit to do with the game-theoretical imperative no play one’s cards close to one’s chest. There is likely quite a bit happening behind the scenes, which the public won’t see until the last day or two of negotiations.

Great example of this: As Dave mentioned, all the wires and papers this morning were engorged with the news that African delegates had stormed out of the talks. But a few hours later? They'd all returned and discussions are picking back up again. So it's probably healthiest just to follow the broad outlines and wait until the last few days of the summit before having any heart palpitations. (That said, some of the broader trends are pretty interesting—the success, for instance, that the movement and small island nations like Tuvalu have had in calling attention to more ambitious temperature/carbon limits has been notable. See Bill McKibben's TNR piece for background on this.)

(Flickr photo credit: Matthew McDermott)