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Now is the time to get all bets on the table

In poker, there is a saying: Trust everyone, but cut the cards. The same saying could apply to financing and monitoring and verification battles that are part of the international climate change negotiations taking place in Copenhagen this week.

In order to measure whether or not the U.S. and its global partners are meeting their emission reduction goals and financial commitments within any future international agreement, it is important to create a transparent structure to monitor, report and verify each country’s actions. Such a structure would ensure every country is in fact living up to what they said they would do under a new global accord.

But negotiators are currently at an impasse. Several key developing countries have said as a matter of principle they cannot accept any international verification of their unilateral actions, which are not supported through financing from developed countries.  The U.S. negotiating team says it cannot accept any deal – and the U.S. Senate would not pass domestic climate change legislation – if it does not include a system for international review of China’s actions. In a positive development, Minister Ramesh of India yesterday told the Indian press that India would meet international standards for monitoring and reporting emissions related to both supported and unsupported actions through the existing UNFCCC “national communications” process, but still questioned the idea of third-party international teams verifying their performance on unilateral actions.

India may be on to something. Monitoring, reporting and verifying is the glue that will hold the international community together in carrying out the provisions of an agreement. Having developing countries report through national communications that are reported to the UNFCCC could avoid anyone losing the current “mano a mano” fight on whether unsupported actions are verified by third parties. Furthermore, negotiators here in Copenhagen could as part of the agreement include a requirement that each country, in a biennial communication, provide estimates of the aggregate emissions reduction projected to result from a country’s whole package of policy actions, both those receiving financial support and those that they do on their own.  And those overall emissions reductions need to appear in print somewhere in Friday’s agreement among the 115 heads of state gathered here.  But to enable this, the US must also step up and be clear that it too will support and follow international standards and show that our reduction efforts are comparable to everyone else’s.

Despite all the theatrics emanating from Copenhagen in recent days, negotiators are making progress, albeit more slowly than anyone would like. But the stakes are high and now is not the time to be on tilt. Each nation must demonstrate leadership by not only taking bold actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but setting the bar high for accurate, transparent reporting and review. Now is the time to get all bets on the table.

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