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Dan Baxter on the UN Climate Conference in Durban

Dan Baxter

My colleague Dan Baxter, who toils away in Brussels for Fleishman Hillard, agreed to a quick interview on the issues confronting the delegates at the Climate Conference in Durban.  Typically pithy and insightful.

Q: How will Durban be different from previous UN Climate Change Summits?

Baxter: After Copenhagen, the world’s political elite really backed away from the COP summits – it seems they felt they had over-promised, or at least failed to manage expectations – and since that time, there has been little appetite for bold political statements in this area. COP conferences have now been handed back to the ‘environmental elite’ – and as such, this conference is likely to be as technical as it is political.

It is also special timing vis-à-vis the end of the Kyoto Protocol, which in effect ends in 2012. There will be quite a lot of talk in Durban about what, if anything, replaces it; while it is generally viewed as an outdated tool for managing global climate change, there seems to be little consensus about how to update and replace it. So this will undoubtedly be a focus, and that will, I suspect, only add to the political nature of the talks.

Q: What are the two greatest obstacles to progress in addressing climate change?

Baxter: I would say that the first obstacle, broadly, is ideological agreement. Put crudely, there are many different versions of climate change – whether it exists, what its impacts are/will be, and the extent to which it is controllable – and history has shown that it is very difficult to get international agreement in the absence of a common definition of the problem. Added to that, the ‘who pays for what’ card, which pits developed against developing countries and climate change ‘winners’ against those who will bear the harshest effects, is something that may need to be resolved before we can move on.

Secondly, I have always said that the key to global climate negotiations is a deal between the US and China. The two biggest polluters in the world need to agree politically that this is a problem and that they need to take steps to address it. Without these two countries, no initiative will have credibility, regardless of its intentions. But it is far from clear to me that either country has the ambition or political will to come to such an agreement. At least we’ll know quite soon…

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