Governments have set a 2015 deadline for a new global climate agreement. But after the debacle in Copenhagen four years ago, when COP15 failed to produce the binding climate change treaty that many of us expected, you would be forgiven for lacking optimism about it.
There are, however, reasons for hope, as Elliot Diringer points out in Nature this week. While there has been no formal agreement on anything, at discussions earlier this year in Bonn, Germany, governments explored a new approach--"neither as rigorous as the fading Kyoto Protocol, nor simply do-as-you-please"--that could substantially advance the global climate effort.
In the emerging model, which has been advanced by the United States among others, the efforts of countries would be tracked under agreed rules. But individual emissions-reduction goals would be set by each country on its own, without negotiation. The agreement would, in essence, stitch together a mixture of self-defined contributions. To encourage ambition, countries would scrutinize each other's initial offerings.
One of the contentious issues that this approach avoids is the stalemate between developed and developing countries. Poorer countries insist that developed nations should bear a greater responsibility for reducing emissions because they have generated so much more (both cumulatively and per capita). Wealthy nations want an end to the strict binary approach in which the developed world has binding emissions targets and the developing world does not.
This distinction would be less important in the type of agreement visualized by the United States. "Countries would have wide latitude in deciding the stringency and type of their emissions-reduction measures," writes Diringer, adding that if the agreement is binding for any country, it is binding for all of them.
We shoudn't expect a grand agreement that solves the climate challenge. But we can and should expect a creative and pragmatic approach "that lends coherence, transparency and rigour to the emerging patchwork of national efforts."
Illustration: Denis Carrier