Trends by Martin Khor
12 April 2010
Climate talks resume, future uncertain
After the chaotic ending of the Copenhagen
conference, the United Nations' climate negotiations resumed in Bonn
last week, with differences over how to proceed towards a global deal.
Governments have begun picking up the pieces from
the chaotic conclusion of the Copenhagen conference last December and to re-ignite
negotiations towards a global climate deal. But it is not an easy task.
Negotiations started again at the United Nations Framework Convention
on Climate Change last week in Bonn.
It was the first meeting since Copenhagen, and the three days in Bonn (9-11 April) was spent discussing how to
proceed this year.
The new deadline for completing the talks is supposed to be this December,
at the next conference of the UNFCCC in Cancun,
Strangely, it is the developing countries that are pressing to hold
as many meetings as possible before Cancun,
so that a global deal can be completed in December but the developed
countries have been reluctant and have signalled that a deal cannot
be done by then.
This is a reversal from the latter's position last year when they were
adamant that there must be a deal by the end of 2009, otherwise there
will be grave consequences for the world's survival.
It is hard to find anyone who can properly explain this great turnaround
on deadlines from deadly urgency to laid-back complacency. Most likely
it is the “elephant in the room”, the gloomy fact that the United States
Congress is unlikely to pass a bill this year that commits the country
to targets to cut its Greenhouse Gas emissions.
President Barrack Obama and the US Congress have just gone through a
bruising battle to adopt a domestic health bill. They are now focusing
on financial re-regulation. It will take time before the politicians
go through another painful process to consider a climate-related bill.
And without the US
on board, other developed countries do not want to make final commitments
at the UNFCCC on how much they themselves will cut their emissions.
So in reality the world is “waiting for America”,
and it can be a long wait, as at the World Trade Organisation's Doha
negotiations, at which the rest of the world is waiting for the US to
get its act together.
At the Bonn meeting last week, the issue
of the US did not surface
in the open but was part of the corridor talk. It may explain why
the developed countries are dragging their feet.
The meeting of the UNFCCC's group on long-term cooperative action (LCA)
saw tensions between the developed countries led by the United States
which wanted to give a prominent role to the Copenhagen Accord, and
many developing countries that wanted the future negotiations to be
based on the text that had been worked on by the group for the past
The Accord, a three-page document, was the result of a side meeting
in Copenhagen between about 25 political leaders that had not been announced
to the Convention's membership, and was not adopted but only taken note
of. The Convention however did adopt the text of the LCA that contains
points of agreement as well as options to choose from in areas where
there is not yet agreement.
in particular wants the Accord to be given at least equal prominence
to the LCA text when countries negotiate the global deal. They are
supported by other developed countries and some developing countries.
However most developing countries, even some that had associated with
the Accord (like China,
India, Brazil), want the LCA text to be the
basis for negotiations. They argued that this was the text formally
adopted by all in Copenhagen and must therefore be worked on, and those
advocating the Accord are free to propose the injection of parts of
that document into the relevant sections of the LCA text as options
to be considered by the group.
This may seem to be wrangling over procedures, but in fact it is a fight
over the contents of what will be in a final climate deal.
made a case that the Accord resulted from an amazing effort by heads
of states and contained many new elements that had eluded the negotiators.
It wanted the Chairman of the group to write up a new text based on
this Accord as well as the LCA text.
Many developing countries objected, pointing out that the Accord had
not been agreed to by all members at Copenhagen, and that those who
wanted to do so could themselves point out how they wanted to incorporate
elements of the Accord into the LCA text.
Many countries also criticised the undemocratic
process in which only a few selected political leaders had been selected
to take part in a secretive meeting that produced the Accord. This
was not in accordance with the open and democratic procedures of the
The Africa Group, represented by Democratic Republic of Congo, told
the Bonn meeting: “We saw the sidelining of the
multilateral process, the emergence of a secret text put together by
a selected few that later became known as the Copenhagen Accord and
the blatant attempt to discard the Kyoto Protocol. These mistakes fundamentally
broke the trust that is very necessary for any partnership that aspires
to be successful and enduring to work.”
For the developing countries, it was the deviation from the UN procedures
that caused the failure of Copenhagen,
and not the UN procedures themselves. And the group affirmed that the
transparent, participatory and legitimate UN procedures should continue
to be used in the future.
Ambassador Pablo Solon also pointed out that the crisis in the present
talks is caused by the very low commitments to cut emissions by developed
countries. It said that after the Copenhagen Accord, the developed countries
pledged to reduce their emissions by only 13-17 per cent by 2020 from
1990 levels, when what is required is a cut of over 40%.
Solon, citing a European Commission report, said the pledges are even
worse than 13-17% reduction if loopholes are taken into account. In
that case, the pledges would constitute a rise in emissions by 2.6%
(in the worst scenario) or a cut by 2% (in the best scenario). Thus
the Copenhagen Accord would not leave us in a better situation.
The Bolivian statement in effect put in the open the other big “elephant
in the room” -- the dismal pledges under the Accord. Some scientists
tracking the pledges have concluded that they are pointing towards a
temperature rise of 3 to 4 degrees celsius, when the world needs to
limit global warming to below 1.5 or 2 degrees to avoid catastrophic
The UNFCCC's working groups will meet again at the end of May.
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