Climate Change

The Danish Proposal Surfaces

A secret negotiating text is leaked to the media, and the day goes from dull to anything but.

Published: Monday 07 December 2009

Today's late-breaking headline news at COP-15 is the leak of the so-called "Danish Proposal", which has been circulating behind closed doors over the last few weeks.

It's essentially a draft text for a new agreement that could come out of Copenhagen.

Why is it such a big deal? First, because draft texts are the actual field on which negotiations play out. As they talk, countries modify a proposed text: they start with brackets around contentious words (which indicate a lack of consensus); search for alternatives; and engage in horse-trading (I'll accept this clause you like if you stop opposing this other one that's important to me). When there are no more brackets left, you have an agreement.

Thus, an entirely new text, written from scratch, also reframes the negotiations from scratch. And, were the Danish text to be tabled in Copenhagen, this is precisely what it would do. But that's not what happened today; instead the draft was leaked to the press before Denmark or another country had the chance to table it officially.

For now, there's a lot we don't know about the leak. Is this draft a recent version of the Danish Proposal (which has been constantly evolving for several weeks) or an older one? Who leaked it? When were the Danes (or another delegation) planning to table it?

It's also not yet clear what the fall-out will be. For example, there's no comment yet from the G77 and China; a press conference is supposed to happen tonight, but journalists are still waiting for officials to show up.

In the meantime, Equitywatch brings you a first analysis of what kind of new climate regime the Danish Proposal would create.

The big red flags
1. There's been a lot of talk that Annex I countries would like a political agreement rather than a legally-binding one.

The draft Danish text would establish a "political agreement" at Copenhagen "with a view to agreeing on a comprehensive legal framework under the Convention no later than COPXX". In other words, a legally binding agreement would have to wait for a future COP, such as next year's meeting in Mexico City.

The question of whether or not developing countries take on legally-binding targets would also have to wait. The Danish text, which is just a "political agreement" says that countries will "commit to targets for 2020", but the deal would be far from sealed.

2. The draft jettisons the principle that industrialised countries are responsible for the lion's share of climate change to date, while all developing countries, regardless of their current size, have generated minimal emissions in the past.

Instead, the new draft replaces two categories with three: developed countries, developing countries (like India, Brazil or Malaysia) and least-developing countries. Developed countries have greater economic "capability".

The rest of the Danish Proposal picks up on this distinction by having different mitigation, adaptation and financing provisions for three categories of nations.

This is of course problematic because it dilutes the notion of historical responsibility and, perversely, rewards industrialised countries for inaction (i.e. delaying their own actions until developing countries' economies grew stronger).

But the text also goes further. It says:
"The developing country parties [shall]...contribute to nationally appropriate mitigation actions...[which] could in aggregate yield a Y percent deviation below business as usual in 2020".

Could this open the door to binding commitments for developing countries?
3. Further, as had been widely reported, the Danish text proposes to define years in which emissions should peak.

To date, developing countries have been trenchantly opposed to any notion of limiting their development through defined "peaking years".

The Danish text calls for this directly: it says there should be a global peaking of emissions no later than 2020, that "developed countries collectively have peaked and that the timeframe for peaking will be longer in developing countries."

But "longer" is a loose term, and the space available to developing countries will depend entirely on how fast developed countries start cutting emissions after they peak, an issue that the draft doesn't consider.

And there's more
The leaked draft calls for several other potentially problematic measures: setting targets on deforestation in developing countries; international guidelines for monitoring, reporting and verification of voluntary domestic measures in developing countries; and a contract and convergence approach to per capita emissions, rather than equal entitlements.

Update: the Danish government has just issued a press release denying that the Danish Proposal exists.

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