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International climate talks wrapped up last week in Qatar. Harvard Professor Robert Stavins attended and characterized the gathering as a qualified success, representing another step in a long process of reaching a workable international agreement.
Gazette staff writer Al Powell talked with Stavins about the work of international delegates and the prospects for a meaningful agreement going forward.
Q: Can you explain the purpose of these talks?
Stavins: In 1992, at a United Nations conference in Rio de Janeiro, a major outcome was the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Among other things, that convention provided for annual conferences at which representatives of countries would get together to discuss and negotiate how to address the threat of climate change. These annual negotiations go by the name of a “Conference of the Parties,” commonly abbreviated as a “COP.” COP-1 took place in Berlin in 1995, and COP-18 just took place in Doha, Qatar, in December 2012.
Q: What is your role at these conferences?
Stavins: My role is typically on behalf of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements. Our purpose is to help the various national negotiating teams identify modes of international cooperation that will address climate change in ways that are scientifically sound, economically rational, and politically pragmatic.
Q: How do you feel the conference went?
Stavins: My view is that these international negotiations need to be viewed not as a sprint, in which you win or lose, but as a very long distance relay race, and the Qataris succeeded in handing off the baton.
The Qataris invited us to Doha last summer to help them begin to think about what success at the December conference would look like and how they could achieve it. There were three aspects to what we identified in advance as success, and they achieved all three, though maybe not to the degree or in the way that every country in the world would have preferred.
Q: What were those three?
Stavins: First, they successfully brought to a close negotiations on a second commitment of the Kyoto Protocol, that is, extending the protocol beyond its first commitment period, which expires at the end of 2012. The second commitment period is now set. It will run to 2020. Second, they also brought to a successful close negotiations in what was called the Long Term Cooperative Action track, which included a set of issues that were put on the table at COP-13 in Bali in December 2007. Third, they began to make some progress on the one remaining negotiating track, which is the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. They initiated discussions about establishing, by 2015, a comprehensive new international agreement, for implementation by 2020, that will include all key countries in the world, including the major emerging economies of China, India, Brazil, Korea, South Africa, and Mexico. That itself is a departure from the Kyoto Protocol, which is focused exclusively on a subset of countries of what used to be characterized as the industrialized world.
The negotiators from around the world did not make as much progress on the Durban platform as I would have hoped. But at a very minimum they did no harm, and that’s very important. That is, they did not introduce any problematic text into the negotiations that will later cause problems. In general, my view of these annual Conferences of the Parties is similar to the physician’s Hippocratic Oath: Do no harm, and keep things moving ahead. read more
Robert Stavins, Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government Environment and Natural Resources Program, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
"Our purpose is to help the various national negotiating teams identify modes of international cooperation that will address climate change in ways that are scientifically sound, economically rational, and politically pragmatic," said Stavins.