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The Quiet Summit in London

October 20, 2009

What do you get when you mix 16 big Kyoto signatories, the host of the COP-15, and the world record holding country for most greenhouse gases emitted to date (USA)? The Major Emitters–I mean, Economies–Forum!

President Obama started the Forum–which goes by MEF for short–earlier this year to hold frank discussions on international climate solutions outside the UNFCCC process. No press, no NGOs, no Negotiator Trackers, and no AOSIS. Will that exclusivity streamline progress towards an agreement or will it promote coordinated foot-dragging?

Some, like Andrew Light and Nina Hachigian with the Center for American Progress, say that the MEF should be an opportunity for the U.S., China, and others to talk outside of the “cumbersome” negotiating blocs that can stall progress at the UNFCCC. Others worry that the U.S. may use the 17-country MEF to draw governmental attention away from the UN process, undermining the legitimacy of UN discussions in which 190 countries are given equal voices.

Under the Bush administration, the U.S. hosted similar, exclusive meetings of major economies–the MEMESCC. Through these meetings, the U.S. pushed for voluntary reduction targets as an alternative to the binding targets included in Kyoto. The MEF, on the other hand, has already led to small steps towards a climate agreement.

Over the summer, MEF leaders signed a declaration in which all countries present committed to holding the average global temperature to no more than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. That was a big step for the United States (especially since it was in metric units). The declaration also included reaffirmation of UNFCCC principles. But, as to be expected, binding targets were not included.

What happened at the meeting this week? The content of the talks are confidential, but Xinhua, a Chinese news agency, is reporting that there was significant progress made on financing options. Other online sources are reporting progress in vague terms.

All I know for sure is that Gordon Brown spoke boldly about the impending catastrophes for the UK in a climate-disrupted world and the need for a global solution. The BBC reports that he compared the costs of unchecked climate change to those of the Great Depression, World War I, and World War II combined.

UK Environment Minister Ed Milliband was encouraged by the MEF meeting. He also joined governments and environmental groups from around the world in calling for country leaders, not just delegates, to gather in Copenhagen this December. Will Obama go? Was the Nobel Peace Prize enough to bring him to Copenhagen? U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern said the President has not yet decided if he will attend the summit.

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