Climate Change

Small island states make a stand

COP plenary suspended

Published: Monday 07 December 2009

This morning, heated debate ensued when Tuvalu asked the Chair of the COP to green light discussions on its proposal for a new protocol under the UNFCCC. Over an hour later, the parties couldn't reach consensus, and the COP was suspended.

What does it all mean?
Understanding Tuvalu's proposal In Bali, all countries agreed to negotiate on two tracks: one to set additional targets for Annex I countries under the Kyoto protocol (i.e. the industrialised countries minus the US); and a second to set targets for the US and establish nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) for developing countries. Negotiations under both tracks are underway at Copenhagen.

But the UNFCCC has a clause, Article 17, that allows any party to propose a new protocol at a COP, so long as they submit a draft six months earlier. This is precisely what five countries elected to do in June: Tuvalu, Japan, Costa Rica, the U.S. and Australia.

Such a protocol could be about anything. It could, like Kyoto, be about setting targets for emissions cuts; or it could take on other issues. But to date, countries have preferred to use the Bali Road Map, rather than Article 17, as the primary basis for negotiating a climate agreement for 2013 and beyond.

Reaction on the plenary floor
This morning, Tuvalu asked the COP chair to set up a contact group - a working session, open to observers - to consider its June draft.

Then, one by one, small islands states spoke to endorse the move: Grenada, the Cook Islands, Jamaica, the Solomon Islands, the Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Barbados, Fiji, Palau, Cape Verde, Samoa; many African LDCs also joined: Sierra Leone, Senegal, Rwanda, Togo, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger.

Other developing countries: India, followed by China, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Algeria and others opposed the islands states. They essentially argued that further consideration of Tuvalu's text would distract from (if not undermine) efforts to preserve the Kyoto Protocol under the Bali Road Map.

At first, the COP Chair, Danish Minister Connie Hedegaard, granted Tuvalu's request. As more countries spoke to oppose the idea, she reconsidered, and said that informal (read: closed door) negotiations would be held to evaluate the proposal. Tuvalu and other islands states objected strongly, leading to a stand-off. After well over an hour, the session was suspended. It will resume at 3 p.m. Copenhagen time.

What comes next? Often, in COP sessions, disagreement over small matters of procedure serves a proxy for more significant differences of opinion. That's probably the case here, though the roots of the rift are not entirely clear.

The Tuvalu proposal does not appear to imply scrapping the Kyoto Protocol, as many of the larger developing countries alleged in voicing their opposition. On the other hand, with only a few days of negotiations before Ministers begin to arrive, there's no question that time is scarce: if discussions are launched on the Tuvalu proposal, they could take some of the focus away from Bali Road Map processes.

When the COP plenary resumes in just a few minutes, we'll know more. Check back later today for the latest.

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