Climate Change


  After two large plenary meetings, informal Ministerial meetings take over

Published: Monday 07 December 2009

Two big plenaries today, at the halfway point in the Copenhagen climate talks, were a chance to, in the Chair's words, "take stock".

Countries nominally framed their statements in response to the AWG-KP (Download) and AWG-LCA (Download) draft texts, which outline one way of structuring an overall Copenhagen agreement. In reality, most were just seizing an opportunity to restate their positions and red lines at a critical juncture in the negotiations.

Here's what we learned:

Kyoto unequivocally in the crosshairs

Canada and Japan came right out and said it: they have no intention of joining a second phase of the Kyoto protocol; they want it eliminated and replaced with a new agreement that binds "most" of the world's countries to commitments. The US, the EU and Australia used more circumspect language, but essentially said the same thing.

Among developed countries, only Norway indicated that it's open to a two-track solution whereby: (a) countries that have Kyoto targets today take on new targets under the Protocol; and (b) the US and developing countries take on targets and actions under a new treaty.

Developing countries, including India, China, South Africa, Brazil, Kuwait, Venezuela, the Gambia, the Marshall Islands and many others emphatically rejected any agreement that doesn't include a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol. The Bolivian delegate was especially blunt, chiding industrialised countries for attempting to change the terms of the Bali Action Plan two years after they signed it, and just four days before leaders arrive to (perhaps) sign a deal.

Chicken and egg

The impasse is easy to understand. One set of negotiations is supposed to decide on the "big three" issues - targets, funding commitments, and enforcement measures - for developed countries minus the US; a different set of negotiations is supposed to do the same for the US and developing countries. In this context, everyone says they can't agree to anything in their negotiations without knowing the outcome of the other track.

However, for developed countries to take this position is entirely absurd. Parties under the Kyoto Protocol are legally required to set new targets irrespective of what any other countries are doing. Moreover, according to the principles of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, developed countries should be taking leadership in making commitments first, given their historical responsibility for causing climate change.

Principles, meet politics Be that as it may, politics is about to take over. Most delegates implied that the current rift could only be bridged by Ministers and heads of state, and looked forward to the Ministerial consultations which begin this afternoon: Connie Hedegaard will be hosting a carefully selected group of thirty to forty Ministers from countries considered key to the negotiations. These include the US, India, China, Canada, Australia, the EU, Brazil, Indonesia, Mali, Korea and others. They will meet from today until tomorrow evening.

Heads of state begin arriving by the middle of next week.

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