COP17
24 November, 2011

The key to Durban

Sergio Abranches

COP17 in Durban is braced to start dealing with a deadlocked agenda. Negotiators will have to find a middle ground to prevent the talks to collapse and wreck the United Nation’s architecture for climate change policy and politics.

The central focus will be the second period of commitment of the Kyoto Protocol. Developed countries will arrive at Durban with diverging positions among themselves on this issue. U.S. negotiators simply say that Kyoto is not on their agenda because the U.S. Congress chose not to ratify the Protocol.  Some parties to the Protocol are saying they will not adhere to a second period of commitment. Their priority is a new international binding agreement that reaches all large emitters, including the U.S. and the major developing economies. According to Bloomberg’s Kim Chapman, Todd Stern, U.S.’s lead negotiator, told reporters during a Nov. 18 briefing in Arlington, Virginia that “it’s premature to decide on what the ultimate legal form [of a new international agreement] might be until you have a much better sense of what the content would be”. Stern said that any binding accord in which the U.S. participates must be “highly symmetrical” and require mandatory action from all major emitters, such as China, and not only from industrialized economies.

The European Union is open to commit to a second phase for the Kyoto Protocol, but wouldn’t risk to be alone, as the other parties maintain their decision to stay out of it. European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard said that the EU won’t commit to a new set of targets under Kyoto unless countries including the U.S., China and other big emitters agree on a pathway to a new binding treaty.

There is a clear and present risk that developed countries fail to reach a consensus on a second period of commitment. In other words it is not only a divide between developed and developing countries that is preventing parties to break the logjam on the Kyoto Protocol.

This divide does exist though. Developing countries say they will not start talking about a new international deal before there is a second period of commitment. There appears to be a strong consensus among them regarding the centrality of a second period of commitment of the Kyoto Protocol, as a sine qua non for the continuation of the talks. All the relevant groups representing developing countries have decided on their preparatory meetings that their priority, and imperative condition, in Durban would be the approval of a second period of commitment.

But this consensus is one of the few points that hold together the sum total of developing countries. These countries under the umbrella of G77+China comprise a very heterogeneous group. Whenever the G77+China speaks for them all it will defend only a few broad points that are able to reconcile very different clusters of interests, diverse needs, a wide spectrum of financial, technical, economic, and political capabilities, and contrasting levels of vulnerability to climate change. One can expect a more coherent framing of  substantive negotiating positions, that could better represent these contrasting domestic realities, when these groups break into more compatible representations such as the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), the AOSIS (small island states), the African Union, and the LDC (least developed countries) during negotiations.

There is a growing uneasiness with the idea that developed countries are negotiating among themselves a new climate change agreement to become operational in 2020. This behind the scenes negotiation risks to create a grave crisis of confidence that could further endanger the Durban talks. It was the realization that a Copenhagen agreement was negotiated within a small group of developed countries through an initiative of Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Denmark’s prime-minister at the time, that triggered a crisis of confidence that ultimately led Copenhagen to fail.

The solution to this logjam has a double path. One to take steps to ensure all parties that no deal previously closed within closed doors among a few parties will be tabled. The other to set a new roadmap having on its design both a transition period for the Kyoto Protocol and a frame of reference for a future all-encompassing binding protocol or treaty.

South Africa’s Environment Minister Edna Molewa recognized “that a comprehensive legal agreement will not be reached,” in Durban. That said, “South Africa envisages that” negotiations “pave the way for a comprehensive multilateral, rules-based climate regime.”

This is a tricky move. There already is a roadmap, drawn in Bali, which has not been completed, and it is unlikely it will ever be. A new roadmap would have to somehow be stronger, more doable, and substantive than the Bali’s work plan to gain credibility.

Two operational points could help to wrap up the new roadmap on a satisfying, though meager, package deal. Some progress on the transparency issue – monitoring, reporting, and verifying mechanisms – that has started to be negotiated in Copenhagen, was rediscussed in Cancun, but still has a long way to go. Both were an important part of the Copenhagen Agreement , and further reinforced by the Cancun Agreements. They are: the full operationalization of the Climate Technology Centre and Network, and the  Green Climate Fund. Finishing the job on both would represent an important step forward, and could help the parties to agree on a frame of reference and a time frame for a new climate change accord.

The Green Climate Fund is additionaly related to a crucial issue regarding global climate change policies: that of adaptation. Channelling public, multilateral, and private long-term financing towards developing countries for greenhouse gas emission reductions, and new clean technologies (mitigation) is not really difficult. Finance for adaptation, that is to deal with the effects present and future of climate change has been lacking. There is a permanent complaint from developing countries that negotiations have been giving far more weight to mitigation than to adaptation. And the poorer or more vulnerable countries desperately need money and technology for adaptation.

Mitigation is an issue for the big players, developed and developing. To put it simply it is an issue for the G20 or Major Economies Forum (MEF). Adaptation is a critical issue for the long-term well being of the majority of the developing countries.

The roadmap, as well as the financial and technological mechanisms, would have to be more clear and direct in addressing adaptation needs for a new deal to become possible.


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