(The author is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed
are his own.)
By Gerard Wynn
LONDON, April 30 A U.S. submission to
U.N.-backed negotiations shows how a scaled-down global climate
deal which falls short of a full treaty can be agreed in 2015.
Much will depend on the United States, as the world's second
biggest carbon emitter whose present administration will be in
place beyond the deadline for agreement on a new deal.
National climate negotiators meet this week in Bonn,
Germany, in a process which has lost much steam since a debacle
in Copenhagen three years ago when countries could not agree a
successor to the Kyoto Protocol.
They are now negotiating targets beyond 2020, probably
focused on 2030, intended to avert dangerous climate change.
These are the first talks since countries agreed last
December in Doha a rather messy patchwork of limited action
The U.S. submission presents a pragmatic approach which
appears focused on agreeing moderate carbon reduction targets
and avoiding a stand-off with China on how to share the burden
of emissions cuts between developed and developing countries.
A rather weak deal such as this may be most problematic for
the European Union, whose executive European Commission has in
the past used the U.N. process as a focus for energy policy.
It would remove one lever for pressing more reluctant EU
member states - and especially Poland - to agree an ambitious
carbon cap which would invigorate the EU's carbon market and
help the bloc meet its long-term renewable energy goals.
Countries submitted their views on a new climate agreement
in March and April ahead of the Bonn conference.
In a new position, Washington ruled out agreeing national
carbon caps according to a formula (for example based on per
capita income or emissions) which analysts had supposed was one
way to allocate a "top-down" global aggregate carbon emissions
reduction target between individual countries.
"An approach that imposes contributions from without is
neither realistic nor likely to result in wide
participation/implementation," the United States said in its
March 11 submission.
"It is hard to imagine agreement on any formula or criteria
for imposition of contributions, as this would get into the most
Second, and a related point, it supported a less divisive
approach for setting targets, based on governments' inclination
and willingness, appearing to try to end a long-run battle with
top emitter China over how to share the burden of carbon cuts.
"We consider that the agreement should provide for Parties
to define their own mitigation contributions, taking into
account national circumstances, capacity, and other factors that
they consider relevant."
"Self-identification of measures would result in
self-differentiation consistent with national circumstances,
The proposals show that the United States is now firmly
committed to a "bottom-up" approach which detractors say will
fail to deliver an aggregate emissions reduction target in line
with ambition to limit global average temperature rises.
The country almost certainly favours voluntary targets,
rather than a formal protocol which a polarised Congress would
probably not ratify.
The United States may struggle to meet its present voluntary
pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005
levels by 2020, with implications for the 2030 ambition it can
U.S. carbon emissions were down 8.1 percent in 2011 compared
with 2005, according to greenhouse gas data published earlier
The drop is partly a result of a switch from coal to gas
following the shale gas boom which has since unfolded, coupled
with the financial crisis.
But carbon emissions may now flatten or rise as gas prices
stabilise and economic growth sees energy demand return, without
more ambitious action to cut carbon emissions, suggested the
Washington-based World Resources Institute in a report published
in February, "Can The U.S. Get There From Here?".
The WRI is pressing for more ambitious action which it says
would allow the United States to meet its 2020 target without
the need for additional legislation.
Meanwhile, some non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions may rise.
Hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) are extremely potent greenhouse
gases which are replacing CFCs as refrigerants, as CFCs are
phased out in line with targets under the Montreal Protocol to
repair the hole in the ozone layer of the Earth's atmosphere.
U.S. HFC emissions have risen 12 percent since 2005, more
than any other significant greenhouse gas, the U.N. data shows.
(See Chart 1)
Phasing out HFCs could be a quick way to help to secure the
Chart 1: link.reuters.com/zyj77t
Chart 2: goo.gl/036zT
The nearest the United States has previously come to
proposing a post-2020 emissions target was in failed cap and
trade legislation four years ago.
The 2009 American Clean Energy and Security Act failed to
reach the Senate, after passing the U.S. House of
It had outlined rather ambitious targets for a 42 percent
cut in greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 compared with 2005
It seems safe to assume that the United States will struggle
to offer a similar target in the present U.N. negotiations.
Any reduction beyond the present 2020 target would require a
significant shift in energy policy, as underlined by the Energy
The EIA published its 2040 energy outlook in December when
it projected U.S. carbon dioxide emissions would rise over the
next three decades, "under the assumption that current laws and
regulations remain generally unchanged throughout the projection
period". (See Chart 2)
Any significant change in energy policy would require new
congressional climate legislation which appears off the table
for now, illustrating why the United States will be looking for
voluntary pledges through 2030.
Such an approach will not please environmentalists but may
be the most the United States can deliver, while its offer of a
ceasefire on how to share the burden of global carbon cuts may
represent the best chance for a 2015 deal.
(Editing by Stephen Nisbet)