Going to penalties in Bangkok


Guest post by Stephen Minas

Indications of how difficult climate diplomacy can be don’t come any clearer than this: At the Bangkok UNFCCC session, efforts to draft an agenda agreeable to all parties for the Long-term Cooperative Action working group (AWG LCA) went to penalties, after extra time, after a period of injury time generous even by standards at Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium.

The LCA outcome

Agreement on the agenda proved impossible at the first LCA plenary on Tuesday evening (reasons may be found in the previous post). A series of consultations were held in which parties attempted to agree on a new agenda.

This was a difficult and drawn-out process. Many delegates left the negotiations at midnight on Thursday, though UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres later told reporters that some delegates kept to the task until 1am.

On Friday it became apparent that the gap between contending proposals was narrowing. Speaking for AOSIS, Grenada delegate Dessima Williams said the G77 and China’s latest draft was firming as the basis for a compromise. Jonathan Pershing began a much-delayed US press conference by telling reporters that a new agenda had been agreed.

Said Pershing: ‘This is a funny agenda because it’s not all that specific … It has taken directly the headings, the titles of the sections from the Cancun Agreement.’ Instead of ‘iterating with detail a whole set of issues’, Pershing said it addressed the issues ‘indirectly’ by referring to Cancun sections. ‘The entirety of Cancun is in’. And so the agenda proved, closely following the sections and structure of Cancun.

The US ‘would have liked more specificity’, Pershing said. The next session would have been easier with ‘particular tasks to devote our attention to’.

The agenda was adopted by consensus when the AWG LCA met, after a three-day abeyance, on Friday night, and now forms the work programme for talks to reach a comprehensive global climate deal. After national statements expressing both relief at the outcome and disappointment at the process, chair Daniel Reifsnyder closed the meeting. Perhaps his thoughts finally turned to celebrating his birthday, which had fallen on the previous day.

What next?

Negotiations for both the LCA and Kyoto Protocol tracks reconvene for a week in Bonn, Germany in June. The standoff over the agenda meant the effective loss of a week negotiating substantive issues within the UNFCCC process. Whatever the merits of the new agenda and the defects of the chair’s original draft, the more expansive and less targeted work programme is likely to make the Durban COP a more challenging session.

Speaking prior to the adoption of the new LCA agenda on Friday, Christiana Figueres acknowledged that the week spent on the agenda means parties will have to optimise the use of ever opportunity which comes to them this year to ‘advance the work’.

Figueres was asked to respond to challenges to the UN’s role in climate negotiations (US climate envoy Todd Stern this week remarked of the UN: ‘it also has the potential to be a platform focused mostly on rhetorical thrust and parry, with a thick overlay of accusation and blame’).

She responded parties should avail themselves of other fora and informal workshops to complement their UNFCCC work, but stressed that the UN remains the indispensable forum for parties to reach agreement in.

In truth, it will be difficult to shake the perception that, in a week of talks, the credibility of the process was rescued only on Friday evening, to the extent that it was rescued at all. Critics of the UNFCCC will be confirmed in their suspicions. Advocates of alternative fora (e.g. the G20) and approaches (e.g. multi-state/province initiatives and city-to-city networks) will be equally unsurprised. But the obvious point is that the climate challenge requires action on all fronts at once. The Bangkok session will hardly lead anyone to the conclusion that waiting for the UNFCCC is any kind of plan.

Emissions reduction targets clarified

A brief note on the pre-sessional workshops: The troubled negotiations overshadowed the workshops held earlier in the week on national actions. A paper by Climate Action Tracker – a joint initiative of Climate Analytics, Ecofys and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research – found that these workshops clarified some national plans.

Climate Action Tracker determined, on the basis of these clarifications, that some national plans are more ambitious than they previously appeared. The EU’s confirmation that international aviation will be included in its ETS from 2012 onward makes its 20% target more stringent, as does its non-recognition of surplus AAUs from Kyoto period one in its post-2012 target accounting. Indonesia has flagged that reductions additional to its stated target ‘could be achieved through the carbon market’, which the paper states ‘is a new element’. The paper reports, however, that Brazil’s clarifications effectively lower its level of ambition.

Stephen Minas is covering the Bangkok meetings for RTHK Radio 3 and 
The Diplomat. Twitter @StephenMinas