Who’s hijacking the negotiations? - it’s really not that simple
Published 09th December 2010 - 0 comments - 801 views -
The UNFCCC has been described as the ‘most complex set of negotiations ever attempted’ and the framework convention (the founding document) now has 192 signatories. The convention was designed to have further agreements added on to it (protocols) and so in 1997 the Kyoto Protocol was signed, this was an agreement to limit the emissions of the so called group of Annex II countries (Developed Economies) to 5.2% below 1990 level. On top of this richer countries would be responsible for providing financial aid and technical advice to the developing countries.
The Kyoto protocol was ratified and this came into force in 2005. Ever since then negotiators have been implementing the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol, and most recently have been frantically trying to negotiate a new protocol (or a second commitment period) before the current one ends in 2012. The Bali roadmap set out at COP13 was supposed to map out the path to see such an agreement made by COP15 in Copenhagen, but as we all know, that spectacularly failed to materialise.
Part of the reason is that negotiations have simply become much more complicated and the need for them even more urgent. The level of ambition needed for a successful outcome to these negotiations is incomparably huge compared to that of Kyoto, a 25-40% reduction over a similar time period vs 5% for Kyoto. This means deep structural changes in all economies and worldwide transfers of many hundreds of billions of dollars. A simple clause in the negotiating text can mean huge transfers of money and industrial power. Consequently everyone, everyone is paranoid about making sure the negotiating texts represent their national interests. It is no surprise therefore that the number of party delegates in recent years has shot up by more than a factor of 2 (Figure 1).
At the same time different sides have dug themselves into intractable positions. Saudi Arabia, the keystone of OPEC has always taken a hard line in trying to stall and water down negotiations, although Wikileaks has recently revealed that this position could change, and that they realise that they have to diversify their economy. The USA has clearly failed to implement Article 6 of the convention (Public Education and Participation) effectively and consequently has an ill informed populace driving an ill informed government that is incapable of passing any climate legislation at all. This means that they cannot offer much at the negotiations. Many other countries use the USA’s inaction as an excuse not to make commitments and often their reticence isn’t noted because they don’t make it public; they know they don’t need to. The EU is progressive; perhaps the most progressive of the industrialised nations, but in many respects but their ambition is anchored by the reluctance of Eastern Europe to commit to higher targets yet this may also be a convenient excuse. Japan although extremely energy efficient is hugely dependant on imports of oil, gas and coal which it does not have much of domestically. It feels it cannot allow the cost of carbon to be high unless other countries are equally disadvantaged.
Russia is another story, after the collapse of the Soviet Union their emissions crashed. Under the Kyoto protocol they were allowed to increase their emissions greatly in line with perceived future recovery of industry. In reality they didn’t reach their former industrial output and consequently have a huge amount of surplus Assigned Allowance Units that are currently tradable and have great market value. To not let go of these assets without recompense in a second commitment period is a priority for them. However the sheer amount means that their allowance in a second commitment would cancel out many gains made by other countries and endanger any targets. The EU worries about them polluting the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EST), others see them as disastrous of targets. Russia also has a very large amount of boreal forests; therefore Russia takes a very strong position on how emissions from Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry are accounted. New Zealand and many other countries have strong interests in this part of negotiations. Each is trying for the best deal for themselves by arguing over intricate accounting rules, baselines and scientific definitions of chemistry of gases.
Countries with tropical forests have a great interest in the part of negotiations called REDD (2003), Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. This focuses on how countries may be compensated to leave forests standing. REDD+ (2007) aims to incorporate forest management and community engagement into the process. Countries strongly disagree here on the use of market mechanisms to pay for the scheme and argue about the accounting rules.
For Small Island developing states (SIDs) and least developed countries (LDCs) negotiations are about 2 things mostly. They are incredibly vulnerable and have a low capacity to adapt, therefore keeping climate change to an absolute minimum specified by science (1.5C and 350ppm) is a position they cannot deviate from. Likewise they are undeveloped and desperately need aid for development, capacity building and adaptation. These two positions lead them to take an extreme negotiating position, and by this I do not mean to say it’s wrong, just that it is much further than others are willing to go (publically and privately). Equally SIDs and LDCs cannot deviate from this negotiating position, anything else would be madness.
What I am trying to show here is that negotiations are incredibly complex subtle beasts. Not only are there many different issues being negotiated, but they coincide with national interests differently for different nation states. One country may hold up negotiations in one part and another in another depending on their interests. It is not always correct to apply blame to one party, and one party only. Like life, things are never that simple. Negotiating positions are set domestically before negotiations begin, and if the affected countries ranges of negotiating positions do not overlap then they cannot come to consensus. However, this in no way lets everyone off the hook, countries that can, should show leadership. This approach is perhaps surprisingly being taken by small island states, many of which have commitments to be zero carbon by the 2020’s. In the absence of power, they are doing their best to project moral authority here at the climate talks. I strongly believe that the only way out of this negotiating mess of for some countries who are able and willing to jump the gun and take the lead. To do this they need strong domestic pressure and support.
With this in mind, if you want talks to progress, it’s in your hands too. From whatever country you hail from, you must be a part of the populace pushing domestic policy further. Over to you ……….
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