Major Economies Forum: a roundup

Guest post by Angel Hsu, a doctoral student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Representatives from each of the 17 countries in the Major Economies Forum (MEF) met behind closed doors April 18-19 in Washington, D.C. to further climate and energy discussions. The meeting was touted as an attempt to try to hammer out some lingering issues from the Copenhagen negotiations last December.

Unfortunately, relatively few details could be gleaned from the fairly sparse media coverage on the meetings. U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern, who led the discussions, said that there was movement on six of the major issues covered in the Copenhagen Accord, including mitigation, transparency, financing, technology, forests and adaptation. Another major objective of the meetings was to attempt to bridge the persistent impasse between developed and developing countries in the interim leading up to the next big round of climate talks in Cancun this November.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said before the talks began that, “Clearly, there is still a gap between the views of the developing and developed world, and we’re going to see if we can, through the course of this discussion, narrow that down.” One of the divisive issues stemming from a lack of trust between developing and developed countries involves financial commitments by developed countries to support mitigation and adaptation efforts by developing countries.

Developed countries at the MEF meeting reaffirmed their commitments made at Copenhagen and gave presentations on their plans to provide $30 billion a year of "quick-start" financing from 2010 to 2012. "There is an appreciation by everybody in the room that it is important to make good on that commitment," Stern said in a press conference on Monday after the conclusion of the meetings.

Stern also indicated that another aim of the meetings were to manage expectations for Cancun amongst the MEF countries. According to Reuters, Stern forewarned that "hopes for progress can at times be too high," saying that there was "a good appreciation and a sound appreciation that we don’t want to let expectations far outstrip what can be done" in Cancun. This statement was most likely made to dampen the hope for a binding agreement in Cancun, particularly in light of a further delay in energy and climate legislation in the United States, in which Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed this week to first tackle an immigration bill. And so the United States’ hands will most likely be again tied to the conservative, non-binding 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, compared with 2005 levels — a pledge that falls short of many developing countries’ demands for developed countries.

The MEF has been discussed as a possible alternative arena to at least secure consensus amongst the major economies, particularly after last July, when the MEF leaders — whose countries collectively represent 75 percent of global emissions — met in Italy and declared to "respond vigorously" to climate change by calling for emissions to peak as soon as possible and for global temperatures to not exceed 2 degrees Celsius. However, developing countries, notably China and India, insist that these discussions are no replacement for negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Lead Chinese negotiator, Su Wei, reassured domestic Chinese audiences in an article by Xinhua (in Chinese):

“只有在公约及其议定书下的谈判才是最具合法性、最具有广泛参与性的机制,其结果也能够体现全世界最根本的利益,在今后谈判中应当继续坚持。” (Roughly translated as: "Only the negotiations under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol are the most legitimate, with the most wide participatory mechanisms and whose results can reflect the world’s most fundamental interests and to which future negotiations should adhere.")

Indian Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh reiterated Su Wei’s sentiments, emphasizing the importance of "reducing the huge ‘trust deficit’ that prevails in the climate change negotiating community." Sticking to the two-track negotiating process pertaining to the Kyoto Protocol and Long-term Cooperative Action working groups is a key element, so that "Cancun does not repeat Copenhagen." These attitudes, in which the importance of the Copenhagen Accord are downplayed, were also reiterated at the most recent meeting of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) April 16 in Brasilia. At this meeting, there was also no mention of the Copenhagen Accord, which sits uneasy with those worried that the major emerging economies might try to back away from the Accord, given half the chance and despite their reiteration of support and submissions of pledges earlier this year.

All of this suggests that perhaps the gulf between developing and developed countries may be widening and not narrowing, despite what may have transpired behind closed doors at the MEF discussions earlier this week.

An official summary statement from the Chair of the meetings is available here.