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My Rather Late Stocktaking

Posted by NYCA Blogger on October 8, 2009

Rishi, blogging from Bangkok

After eight full days of negotiations, I also wanted to do a little stock taking exercise similar to what the Parties did at the mid session plenaries except mine are rather informal and remarks are not made in the same area.

What’s in a name?

A lot. One of the mandates of the LCA ad hoc working group is to come up with a shared vision. Some classify it as a building block under the Bali Action plan, some don’t. And, here’s why.

What exactly should the shared vision be? Operational, aspirational or inspirational? What’s the difference? Well, the Americans wanted the shared vision to be aspirational, something we all aspire to and hope to achieve. That is also a short way of saying we don’t want a commitment clause in the shared vision. Pretty much the same goes for inspirational too. Now operational would mean that the shared vision becomes a part of a legally binding COP decision.

Since most of text has been undergoing major changes, primarily streamlining and consolidation, placement of proposals (bracketed in the negotiating text) has turned into a major issue. What do we call a country trying to move the enhanced action on mitigation to the shared vision section and proposing that the shared vision should just be a declaration of political will and not something that will be legally enforced through a COP decision.

“Sorry, the text is only in English”

Overheard at the document distribution desk, this statement reveals a lot about high paced negotiations. The ‘non papers’ that the facilitators or chairs of the contact groups issue as streamlined/consolidated/revised versions of sections of the negotiating text are only immediately available in English. While this might not be a problem for countries that have large delegations, this can be particularly crushing for non English speaking delegations with small teams. My sympathies particularly go out to the francophone LDCs. How can we expect these countries to form a well thought out position when they spend most of their time translating the text with some elements inevitably getting lost in translation.

Inter alia, one more time

The Latin phrase for ‘among other things’ has been one of the most used phrases in the negotiating text. I think this signals two major things:

  1. Negotiators want to give themselves leeway and insert inter alia to take into account situations or issues that they have not thought out
  2. Weak commitment and lack of mandate; by tagging inter alia with almost all of the issue, one basically gets a text that hesitates to take a clear stand on anything.

Perhaps something that capped this all together was during the mountain action this morning. The text of the pledge that we have been trying to get countries to sign has something in the line of: mountains must be made a priority in climate change negotiations. One lady, before she signed, took out her pen and wrote ‘inter alia’ after mountains. That says it all.

The Kyoto

The two negotiation tracks that the COP13 created have allowed countries to chug away separately. The corridor talk here has been that the US is trying to kill the Kyoto Protocol by merging the two negotiating tracks and coming up with a severely watered down deal that is palatable to American interests. The general conception is that Kyoto Protocol automatically gets defunct after 2012. This is a gross misrepresentation of the situation. The first commitment period ends in 2012 and the Kyoto Protocol will stay alive unless it’s explicitly killed by merging LCA and KP.

Furthermore, proposals by Australia and some members of the Umbrella group only blur the distinction between developed and developing. Why should developing countries also make national schedules, along with everyone else, and commit to reducing emissions in that manner? This violates two major principles: common but differentiated responsibilities and historical responsibility.

Going around in circles

Make no mistake, private finance needs to be mobilized. The CDM and offset mechanisms generated a major cash flow of towards emission reducing projects in developing countries. Any climate deal in Copenhagen will need to get the private sector on board and based on the strong inclination of the EU and the USA along with South Americans (for REDD), a market is going to be created/extended.

The fundamental issue here is will the markets generate offsets that are additional to mitigation targets adopted by developed countries or will they be able to add the carbon offsets to their compliance obligations? And, what mechanisms will generate offsets? Can NAMA generated offsets (if they can generate offsets) be sold to meet compliance targets? What about REDD? Will the credits be fungible?

Norway for example is committing to a 40% reduction in emissions. Now, what they won’t clarify is what fraction of these reductions will take place from offsets and from domestic sources. Pushing the Kyoto Protocol to expand the use of flexibility mechanisms and declaring that one will undertake an ambitious target (with offsets) is exactly what the section title says, it’s going around in circles.

Signing off,

Negotiators had been asked to come in a ‘full negotiating mode’ but it was easy to see that whatever impetus they carried was easily dampened by the complex negotiating text that required an extreme amount of effort just to be streamlined. World leaders had declared their support for a Copenhagen deal but the momentum did not seem to carry through.

As far as the non papers go, it looks like one of the achievements of Bangkok will be a substantial reduction in the volume of the text. This reduction has made it much easier to see exactly where and what the debates are and where countries have drawn their lines. This was all too difficult in the INF documents.

Because the options are starting to get pretty clearly defined, I hope that there is enough political capital to make the decisions. Barcelona probably will be only an exercise that will help to fine tune the shortened negotiating text. Copenhagen has a series of major political decisions to make.

I’ll be tweeting from the LCA plenary tomorrow ( and will be updating the blog more often while the plenary is in session for updates.


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