Frozen at gateway
Two weeks of intense negotiations at the UN climate talks in Doha concluded within minutes on December 8. Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, president of the 18th Conference of Parties (COP), gavelled through the draft decisions of three negotiating tracks and adopted them. In what seemed a premeditated attempt, every strike of the gavel was accompanied by a deafening applause which ensured dissenting voices did not reach the podium.
Any objection to a draft decision must be raised before the president adopts it, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Al-Attiyah, through several hours of huddles with groups of countries, ensured the dissenting voices were few. Except for the Russian Federation, Al-Attiyah had convinced all countries not to let the talks collapse. It did not matter, of course, whether the outcome was in favour of arresting catastrophic global climate change or not.
COP-18 should have closed on December 7, but till 4 am on December 8, three different draft texts were on the table and the negotiating countries, or Parties, did not see eye to eye on any of them. These texts pertained to the three negotiating tracks, called ad hoc working groups, on Kyoto Protocol, Long-Term Cooperative Action (LCA) and Durban Platform (ADP). Over the two weeks since talks began on November 26, countries had put forth their proposals and each group wanted its interests reflected in the draft texts. But this was not possible because interests of developing countries are considerably different and they wanted different outcomes from the talks at Doha.
Through the second week, negotiations went into a tizzy, with negotiators working 20-hour shifts to ensure their countries’ interests were taken care of. Talks seemed set for a collapse because of extremely divergent views. But the COP president changed this in four hours.
Early December 8 morning, Al-Attiyah introduced new draft texts, claiming everyone’s interests had been accommodated. He gave Parties 90 minutes to read the texts, but the break stretched to well over 10 hours. It remains a mystery how he convinced countries not to object before he adopted the decisions. Unconfirmed reports note the COP president and the UNFCCC secretariat met several key parties behind closed doors, convincing them that to open the “package of texts” at the late juncture to make further adjustments would cause utter chaos.
Drama unravelled soon after. The Russian Federation found it “unbelievable that the decisions were passed so unforgivingly”. Not happy with the decision to disallow transfer of surplus carbon credits to the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the Russian negotiator said: “It is difficult to believe that you did not hear the nameplate that I banged (to bring to the president’s attention the country’s wish to intervene before he adopted the decision), which is against the nature of Russian diplomacy.” To this the president replied, “I value the warm relations between my country and the Russian Federation. It was my sense that the decision reflects the will of the party as a whole to resolve Doha.”
Then, the US sprung its card. It made clear that it would not be part of any new global deal that was guided by the principles of UNFCCC. In other words, even though the talks were being held under the Convention, it did not want any future climate regimes to be under the Convention’s principles. Early signs of this had been visible during the wrangling between developed and developing countries on the use of the phrase ‘guided by the principles’ in the draft decision under ADP. Developing countries insisted that it should be explicitly written that ADP would be guided by the principles of UNFCCC and that it would operate on the principles of equity and CBDR, or common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR). But the final text omitted reference to these two ideas. The US and other developed countries even put their foot down at the mention of a passing reference to the June 2012 Rio+20 summit, which endorsed the principles of equity and CBDR in its decision, in the ADP draft text.
Responding to the US’ statement post adoption, India made it equally clear that future negotiations would be difficult if they are not based on the principles of the Convention. “We have heard arguments that equity cannot be the basis of our work. That our work will be anchored in the principles of the Convention was a clear understanding when we agreed to the Durban Platform. The phrase ‘under the Convention’ was coined to give comfort to all parties who did not want an explicit reference to equity and CBDR,” said lead Indian negotiator Mira Mehrishi.
India also made it clear that it was not happy with most parts of the text. “These are serious issues that affect the interests of all developing countries. There is no framework for sectoral measures in the decision. The unilateral measures have been dealt with almost as an afterthought. And, there is a weak reference to technology-related intellectual property rights issues. Most important, there is no concrete commitment on financing,” Mehrishi said.
Reiterating the focus on equity and CBDR in the context of shared vision, India reserved its right to be party to the Doha decisions only if others accepted all the elements and provisions enshrined in the decisions. “The entire package must be treated as a composite one and not violated either in spirit or letter,” Mehrishi warned, setting the tone for the next three years of talks.
See also: Doha: inaction in the face of urgency