US eyes mix of legally-binding & handshake deals in global climate talks.

Guardian: “Barack Obama’s negotiating position for a global deal to fight climate change is beginning to look like a big buffet.”
“In speeches this week, Obama’s lead climate negotiator, Todd Stern, has given the clearest indication to date that America is pushing for an agreement with some elements of a full-scale, legally binding international treaty. But other key components of a global agreement would be more in line with a handshake deal among leaders.”
The combo deal would allow America to join other countries in cutting carbon dioxide emissions but avoid having to obtain Senate ratification, which is generally acknowledged as politically impossible. The buffet option will be put on the table in Lima in December when negotiations enter the final stretch aimed at reaching an international climate deal by the end of 2015.
As outlined this week by Stern, countries would be required to make a public pledge on cutting their greenhouse gas emissions to reach a 2025 target. Countries would also be required to report on progress they have made towards reaching those targets.
However, the countries would be left to determine the scale of their own cuts, and critics point out there are no guarantees that all of the actions taken by individual countries would be enough to avoid crossing the 2C threshold that scientists say would result in catastrophic climate change.
In a speech at Yale, Stern said the buffet option, which was first suggested by New Zealand, had a number of benefits over the legally binding treaty that had been the stated purpose of the last 20-plus years of climate talks. It would ensure that big polluters sign on to a deal late next year, Stern said.
It is generally conceded that Obama would never win two-thirds support in the Senate for a climate treaty so long as Republicans remain a dominant force. The Senate never ratified the Kyoto protocol and George Bush pulled America out of the treaty. In the end, Kyoto covered less than 30% of global emissions, Stern said.
“Many countries, including major ones, won’t be willing to make their mitigation commitment legally binding at the international level, and once some balk, the premise of a legal form applicable to all unravels,” he said.
“Second, many countries, if forced to put forward a legally binding commitment, might low-ball that commitment out of anxiety about what legally binding might mean in this context. Third, the accountability provisions that are legally binding in the New Zealand approach do most of what is needed in any event – allowing others to understand clearly what the mitigation commitment is and to track whether it is being implemented.”
It is still far from clear, however, how the American formulation will go down in the rest of the world, especially among some of the developing countries that have resisted any deal short of an international treaty.
Those countries will also be watching to see how much money America puts into a near-empty fund to help poor countries cope with climate change in the runup to Lima. So far, only Germany and France have made major contributions. A fund that was supposed to mobilise $100bn a year by 2020 so far raised less than $3bn. Stern in his two public appearances this week gave no indication of the scale of US contributions.
The approach spelled out by Stern this week is broadly similar to that which Obama and other officials have been promoting in the international arena since the ruinous Copenhagen summit five years ago. In the interim, Obama has used his executive powers as president to cut carbon pollution from cars and power plants and direct government agencies to plan for future climate change.
Meanwhile, Obama and other US officials have been steadily working with the big new carbon polluters, such as China and India, to get them to sign on to curbing their own emissions – from carbon dioxide to super-polluting HFCs. Those actions at home and abroad may now be enough to convince developing countries.
….Robert Stavins, the director of Harvard University’s environmental economics programme, said he was cautiously optimistic. “Although many people say this is a step in the wrong direction or not as ambitious, I feel more confident now than I have in the last 15 years that we are on the right track in international negotiations,” he said. “I don’t think there will be a walkout over this.”