COP18: With a new process in place, it’s time for the US to lead by example

29 November 2012

In the lead-up to COP18 which takes place in Doha, Qatar, from November 26 to December 7, 2012, our international policy teams will be commenting on key regional positions.

Here, Evan Juska, Head of US Policy, The Climate Group, outlines the perspective and prospects for the US.

Ever since the US Senate unanimously rejected the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the US has approached each COP as an opportunity to push for changes to the UNFCCC process that it saw a necessary for achieving effective, long-term cooperation.

Specifically, US negotiators called for a treaty that, unlike Kyoto, would require emission reduction commitments from all major countries, and would allow countries to determine their own goals and means of meeting them.

Global pledges

The Copenhagen Accord, and subsequent agreements in Cancun and Durban, achieved this by moving away from the top-down “targets and timetables” of Kyoto, towards the more bottom-up “pledge and review” approach embodied in the Cancun Agreement – and, most importantly, by including emission reduction pledges from all major countries.

With this new paradigm in place, the US must now turn its attention away from the deficiencies in the process, towards what its own contribution to the process is going to be.

Lead by example

This is important not only because the US is the world’s second largest emitter, but also because without a sufficient contribution from the US, the new paradigm won’t lead to progress, and the changes the US worked so hard to secure will be undermined.

Signs of this can already be seen, with representatives from the “BASIC” countries (i.e. Brazil, South Africa, India, and China) reaffirming their commitment to the basic principles of the Kyoto Protocol in the lead up to Doha.

The US has made some progress. The Obama Administration has put in place a number of meaningful climate policies using the President’s limited executive authority - including new fuel economy standards and proposed regulations that would prohibit new coal-fired power plants in the US.

And, as of August 2012, national emissions were 9% below 2005 levels – putting the US more or less on track to meet its short-term goal of a 17% reduction by 2020.

Accelerate progress

But this progress is not sufficient. The recent decline in emissions is due mostly to slow economic growth – a trend that will be reversed in a better economy.

And, in any case, the policies currently in place do not put the US on track to meet its long-term goal of an 80% emission reduction by 2050.

The new negotiating process created by the Durban Platform has given the Obama administration a second opportunity to work with the US Congress to adopt sufficient national climate change policies – whether through a carbon tax, clean energy standard, regulations, increased funding for clean energy R&D, or otherwise – that will put the US on the right long-term path, and add much needed credibility to the new international process.

With the new negotiating table now set, it’s time for the US to put something on it.


Damian Ryan, Senior Policy Manager, The Climate Group, will be writing news and analysis and live-tweeting throughout COP18, and providing a more in-depth post-COP Briefing after the events. Keep up to date on our website and by following him on Twitter during COP18. 

In the run up to and during Doha we are also posting a series of articles featuring analysis from our teams in Europe, China, India and Australia on their nations' COP negotiating positions.

Read our pre-COP18 briefing paper now.

Follow a live feed from COP18 below.


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