Defining Success for Climate Negotiations in Copenhagen, by Robert Stavins: …[T]he fact that the White House has decided to send the President to Copenhagen for the final day, where he will assemble with some 90 other world leaders, and participate in closing statements (not to mention photo opportunities), indicates that the Administration is relatively confident that the talks will not collapse in a logjam of disagreement between the industrialized world and the developing countries, but rather that there will be a successful outcome.
The key outstanding question is whether the outcome will be one that provides a sound foundation for meaningful, long-term global action, not simply some notion of immediate, albeit highly visible triumph. …
The gloom and doom predictions we’ve been hearing about the global climate negotiations taking place in Copenhagen this week and next are fundamentally misguided. The picture is much brighter than it might seem for … coming up with a successor for the Kyoto Protocol, which essentially sunsets in 2012.
The best goal for the Copenhagen climate talks is to make real progress on a sound foundation for meaningful, long-term global action, not some notion of immediate triumph. This is because of some basic scientific and economic realities.
First, the focus of scientists (and policy makers) is and should be on stabilizing concentrations at acceptable levels by 2050 and beyond, because it is the accumulated stock of greenhouse gas emissions — not the flow of emissions in any year — that are linked with climate consequences.
Second, the cost-effective path for stabilizing concentrations involves a gradual ramp-up in target severity, to avoid rendering large parts of the capital stock prematurely obsolete.
Third, long-term technological change is the key to the needed transition from reliance on carbon-intensive fossil fuels to more climate-friendly energy sources.
Fourth, the creation of long-lasting international institutions is central to addressing this global challenge.