, September 15, 2009 (ENS) - "Two countries, the United States and China, are really going to set the tone for the climate change dialogue," U.S. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts told reporters today ahead of an accelerating schedule of negotiations leading to the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen in December.
There, in less than three months, the leaders of 192 nations are expected to forge an agreement governing greenhouse gas emissions to kick in when the first commitment phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires at the end of 2012.
For Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has been deeply involved in climate negotiations for years, the question is "Can the United States and China forge a partnership to prevent climate change catastrophe?"
"We, as the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the developed world and China as the largest emitter in the world, must speed up discussions," said Kerry.
This eight-unit coal-fired power plant is the largest in northern China. (Photo courtesy North China Power Engineering Co Ltd)
"China needs to understand that we cannot enter into a global treaty without meaningful commitment from China," he said. "This is a critical moment for the climate change debate in the Senate, in the country as a whole and globally."
China's President Hu Jintao will outline China's plans for addressing global warming at the United Nations Summit on climate change next week, the country's senior negotiator said today.
The UN summit is just one of many important climate meetings on the calendar during the next few weeks.
On Wednesday, global investors representing trillions of dollars will meet at an international forum on climate change in New York. The gathering is sponsored by Ceres’ U.S. Investor Network on Climate Risk, the European Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative, the New York State Comptroller’s Office, and the P8 Group.
On Thursday and Friday, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern will lead U.S. participation in the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate at the U.S. State Department in Washington.
The forum is intended to facilitate a candid dialogue among major developed and developing economies, help generate the political leadership necessary to achieve a successful outcome in Copenhagen, and advance the exploration of concrete initiatives and joint ventures that increase clean energy supplies while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
The 17 economies participating in the forum are: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
On Tuesday, September 22, at UN Headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will convene world leaders at a Climate Summit intended to provide political momentum at the highest level to accelerate progress toward a deal in Copenhagen.
At the one-day event, heads of state and government will chair round-table discussions on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating a climate resilient global economy.
Following his visit to the Arctic Circle earlier this month to observe what he called the “sobering reality” of climate change, Ban exhorted nations to not waste time and "seal the deal" in Copenhagen.
Then, on September 24 and 25 more than 20 heads of government will attend the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an economic and financial forum consisting of 19 of the world's largest national economies, plus the European Union.
A coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania (Photo by Mark Morey)
Senator Kerry today expressed his disappointment that the question of climate change financing is not on the agenda in Pittsburgh and said he hopes that will change.
Protesters from environmental, peace, labor and social justice organizations are expected to demonstrate in Pittsburgh calling for action to control global warming, among other concerns. Alternate events will include a Peoples' Summit at the beginning of the week.
There will be an alternative conference on Tuesday called Freedom Conference 2009 that stresses grassroots solutions and free-market approaches. On the first day of the summit, the Pittsburgh G-20 Resistance Project will hold a march and a day of direct action. On the second day there will be Peoples' March and rally in downtown Pittsburgh.
The last official round of pre-Copenhagen climate negotiations will be held in Bangkok from September 28 through October 9. At this set of talks, some of the most difficult points will be addressed, such as how much mitigating climate change and adapting to it will cost, and which countries will agree to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and how deep those cuts will be.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate is crafting climate change legislation to match the bill passed by the House in June. Originally expected to emerge from committee this month, the bill has been delayed by Congressional focus on health care, and by Senator Edward Kennedy's death and Senator Kerry's hip surgery in August.
Kerry said today that the Senate bill is only "marginally delayed" and that the Senate is on track to meet the schedule set by Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid. "We will markup in October and the bill will come to the floor," Kerry said.
Environmental groups are exhorting their supporters to make their voices heard on Capitol Hill in favor of strong climate and energy legislation.
At noon on Monday, September 21, WWF is asking Americans to "sound the alarm" on climate change by telephoning their state's Senators urging them to approve the Clean Energy and Security Act they are scheduled to vote on this fall and to support "a new global treaty that lowers our collective carbon emissions."
Other groups will be touring the country before the December 7 opening of the Copenhagen conference, raising awareness and rousing public suppport for urgent greenhouse gas emissions cuts.
Senator Kerry said today that developing countries will have to do their part to control rising temperatures.
"While developing countries do not have to meet the same levels as developed countries," he told reporters, "they do have to contribute, measurable, reportable, verifiable reductions that set us all on a glide path where we meet."
"We accept that," said Kerry, "they've got a huge proportion of their population that lives below a $1 a day and they need access to energy supplies."
Kerry said he wants to see China and the United States affirm with some specifics what they are willing to do. "The question of financing is critical, that arena is ripe for joint cooperative efforts," he said. Financial commitments "can lead to an atmosphere in which everyone realizes this is the moment, the two largest emitters are serious about an agreement," said Kerry.
Timothy Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation, told reporters today that he would consider language on climate adaptation and finance from the G20 meeting to be a positive sign that a meaningful agreement could be signed in Copenhagen.
Wirth said agreements on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries are crucial to progress. "If that doesn't happen, there will be a lot of rhetorical discussion in Copenhagen," he warned.
In any case, he said, "we will not get a total cap and trade program globally. "That is two to five years down the line."
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.
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