Climate Change

Things go North

Outside, there are demonstrations; registered observers are being refused admission without much explanation; and some metro stations are said to have been shut down.

Published: Monday 07 December 2009

After delegates spent the whole night negotiating draft texts, the Danish presidency casually mentioned it would be tabling alternatives later today
Wednesday has started off tumultously at the Bella Centre in Copenhagen.

Outside, there are demonstrations; registered observers are being refused admission without much explanation; and some metro stations are said to have been shut down.

Inside, the Danish COP Presidency dropped a (figurative) bomb by announcing, in passing, that it had prepared two draft texts for a "Copenhagen outcome", to be released later today.

Recall that the most difficult negotiations in Copenhagen have been around architectural texts that would structure the overall agreement and decide on key issues like targets, funding, accountability and the fate of the Kyoto Protocol.

In ad hoc working groups set up by the Bali Action Plan, the AWG-LCA and AWG-KP, negotiators have been trying to agree on two such architectural texts. Progress has been slow and every draft has generated controversy (see, for example, the previous post).

Alternatives to these negotiated texts have been advanced before. Early in the meeting, a Danish proposal for architectural texts, which would have eliminated the Kyoto Protocol, was leaked; rumours about a proposal put together by India, Brazil, China and South Africa were confirmed; the Alliance of Small Island States publicly released their own proposal on Saturday.

Still, all formal, transparent negotiations have so far focused on the AWG-KP and AWG-LCA drafts. In fact, negotiations on the AWG-LCA text continued all night and into the early hours of this morning.

Things took a turn when, at around 11:30, just before opening the high-level plenary where Ministers and heads of state from all over the world will make statements, COP President Connie Hedegaard ceded her chair's role to Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen. And just before she left the dais, she mentioned that the Danish COP presidency had prepared two draft texts for the Copenhagen outcome which would be passed out later in the day.

Brazil, China, India and a number of other G77 countries immediately raised objections. They asked why a new, hitherto secret, text was being parachuted in, when delegates had put in so much effort in negotiating the AWG texts through the night.

Prime Minister Rasumussen responded with a variety of what certainly seemed like excuses, such as the fact that there were two texts not one (implying that Denmark was at least not trying to kill the Kyoto Protocol with its latest proposal); and later, that no-one had actually seen the texts, so why were parties getting so upset? He also urged G77 countries not to block progress on "procedural matters", saying that the world expects a deal, and that time is running out.

Brazil, China, India and the others all emphasised that process and content are inseparable in UN negotiations, that transparency is a core principle, and that announcing new text at this stage of the game is unacceptable, especially when formal drafts already exist. (Evidently, it's also feared that the Danish chair will reflect a greater emphasis on interests of industrialised countries.)

After about half an hour of dispute, the issue was dropped, presumably pending discussion later this afternoon in a COP/CMP plenary. However, it's unlikely to be off the agenda for long. Many, including negotiators, are starting to feel at this COP that formal discussions are just for show, while selected heads of state are cooking up a deal behind the scenes. This morning's events are lending some weight to that narrative, as are the access restrictions for NGOs.

Two further notes:
(a) There are rumours that the Danish drafts were only mentioned this morning to preempt a leak; otherwise, they would have been kept secret until tomorrow.
(b) In an intervention, the Maldives sided with the Danish presidency, arguing that matters of process shouldn't delay the day's program. The position of other island nations is as yet unclear.

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.