Sunday, September 09, 2007

Final word on the APEC summit

Forging an international climate change agreement that includes both China and the US was never going to be easy. And even an agreement with long-term emissions reduction targets might be ignored by future governments; just look at Canada's experience with Kyoto.

As I've been saying for in the past couple posts, there will be those that call the APEC Summit a success simply because it happened. Baby steps, right? There is some logic to that argument. Unless, that is, we are at a tipping point. Not for climate change, but for international climate policy. Then, the final word from Sydney and from the meeting in Washington later this month could push the political world down the wrong path and handcuff the efforts under the UNFCCC to set binding targets.

The text of Sydney Declaration on Climate Change and Energy is not much different from the draft leaked a few weeks ago. The APEC leaders did, however, manage to lift the already comical statement about aspirational goals to the height of absurdity.

We agree to work to achieve a common understanding on a long-term aspirational global emissions reduction goal to pave the way for an effective post-2012 international arrangement.

On the mountain of international climate policy, I'd say peak is a binding emissions target. Below the snowy, windy summit, amongst the alpine grasses and rising treeline might be a goal, which by most definitions, is a non-binding target. Further down, in the cloud forest, where el sapo dorado (the golden toad of Monteverde) teeters on the edge of extinction, you mind find an aspirational goal. At the bottom, in drying rainforest, might be a common understanding, which is somewhere short of an agreement, on an aspirational goal.

Unfortunately, this APEC statement does not even reach the level of our low-lying rainforest. If our policy mountain were a oceanic volcano, an agreement to work to achieve a common understanding on an aspirational goal would lie beneath the surface of the sea, where if nothing changes, it will be joined in several decades by the once-coastal villages.

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