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UN-Speak Lesson #1: KP and LCA “Tracks”

December 9, 2009

Some of us waiting for the meeting to start

Today I went to my first “US Youth” meeting at the Climate Consortium, a large, open, well-lit area for reporters to interview important people. The lights were hot and the background noise loud, but we did benefit from media coverage. Interested photographers took pictures of the gathering as a veteran youth from COP conferences gave a rundown of the negotiations.

As Matt Maiorana explained, one of the most important questions facing delegates is whether to keep a two-track negotiating process through Copenhagen. Don’t know what that means? That’s ok, no one else does either. Take a deep breath and dive with me into the confusing, acronym-rich sea of UN processes.

After the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in 1997,  the countries who signed the Protocol–AKA almost everyone besides the US—met regularly to discuss proper implementation of the Protocol’s goals and programs. Since the US didn’t ratify Kyoto, they didn’t participate, which made the talks analogous to holding an anti-bullying meeting on the playground without the six-foot-tall ten-year-old with pockets full of crinkled lunch money and Gameboys.

At Bali in 2007, the delegates tried to remedy the problem.  The “Ad Hoc Working Group for Long-Term Cooperative Action” (AWG-LCA) was created to compliment the Kyoto Protocol (KP). Now everyone but the US could talk about implementing the KP, while everyone including the US could envision future goals through the LCA.

Come up for air, take a deep breath, and back under we go.

Fast forward to 2009. Developed countries, especially the US, are looking to scrap the KP track, and replace it with a Copenhagen Protocol of sorts. They argue, convincingly, that the Kyoto Protocol is not popular in the US and it does not include binding commitments from China and India, the fastest growing emitters, therefore, all focus should be put in one, new track with low-carbon development plans from developing countries. That way, there won’t be two sets of negotiations at one time.

However, the countries most vulnerable to climate change aren’t buying it. They look to the failure of developed world leadership in the past and cling to the Kyoto Protocol as their only hope. If it took eight years just to ratify Kyoto, starting over will result in more delays for actively fighting against climate change.

Which side will win? What compromises will be made? Whatever the case, perhaps you’ll be able to swim through the UN bureaucracy and understand what the announcements actually mean!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Nicholas Johnson permalink
    December 9, 2009 10:18 am

    Hey bros,
    I was wondering what kind of reaction the EPA’s formal announcement on Monday about GHG is receiving over there? Have you heard any murmurs by your peer youth activists, or was any mention of it made in the official proceedings?
    Is the consensus that this is a token gesture by an administration that wants too appear proactive and progressive, or do people think this signals a real commitment on behalf of the US to seek a tangible goal from COP15 that the US will actually ratify, and not a repeat of KP?

    A mighty thanks for getting out there and representing the best DPU has to offer. Keep tweeting, it’s the easiest way for me to follow y’all in real-time!

    • Taylor Cantril - Kansas City, KS permalink*
      December 9, 2009 2:54 pm

      The EPA announcement echoed through the youth and other NGO groups. I’m not sure about delegate reactions though. Some countries may laugh at how long it has taken for the U.S. to “decide” that greenhouse gas emissions are leading to negative health and environmental consequences. Seeing that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change clearly stated this fact in 1992, the U.S. is about 15 years behind.

      The more interesting part of the conversation around the EPA announcement pertains to how greenhouse gases will be regulated in the US. Lisa Jackson says she’s “all about legislation.” Obama supports legislative solutions over administrative ones. But the new announcement gives the EPA the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In the EPA Press Conference, Lisa Jackson said she didn’t have a timeline for developing the framework. That’s unusual. In the past, endangerment findings have come at the same time as the new regulations were announced.

      The Obama Administration is betting the state of our climate system that Congress will pass something fair and effective soon. If it’s not fair and effective, then this bet will backfire because climate legislation may strip EPA power to regulate the gases in the future. If Congress fails to pass anything this Spring, then they probably won’t during the campaign season, and nothing will be done until at least next year. Then the administration will have to re-evaluate whether or not to regulate through the EPA. Actually, I’m watching Todd Stern in a US Press Briefing right now and he just called regulation a possible “backstop.”

      Any U.S. delay on the order of months would significantly undermine the success of a needed international agreement. I hope the EPA is developing provisional regulations ASAP in the case that Congress fails. I think Greenpeace,, and possibly other have just started petitioning the EPA to regulate ASAP in front of Congress. See Bill McKibben’s most recent essay on

      (I’ll put some links in here later.)

      More later.


  1. Suspense and Suspensions « The Copenhagen Questions

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