Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 21:42 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 21:42 | SYDNEY

Half time in Copenhagen

14 December 2009 12:21

Fergus Green is the co-author of Comprehending Copenhagen: A Guide to the International Climate Change Negotiations. He is in Copenhagen working with Project Survival Pacific.

If the first week of the international climate change conference in Copenhagen is anything to go by, there is little prospect for a meaningful agreement. But as we head into the second and final week, the presence of ministers and more than 110 heads of state and government could start to loosen long-entrenched positions.

Week 1 ended with new proposals flying from all directions and negotiators up to their necks in draft texts. As environment and climate change ministers from around the world fly into the Danish capital for week 2, they will descend into a situation that is in some respects refreshingly dynamic yet, in others, frustratingly static.

Normally, climate change agreements materialise in a bottom-up fashion, with countries hammering out consensus on each issue and gradually building a comprehensive text that addresses every country's interests. As negotiations toward a Copenhagen outcome have demonstrated, this is a transparent but cumbersome process that tends to drag on for years.

Yet the world leaders attending the final days of the conference will need to produce some kind of agreement that goes some way to meeting the soaring political expectations for Copenhagen, even if it's not a comprehensive legal text. This desire for tangible results in such a short time-frame necessitates a more 'top-down' approach to negotiations, in which a small group of countries proposes a complete text, which they then lobby other countries to endorse or modify.

The bottom-up process has been occurring since Bali in 2007; the top-down process only began a few weeks ago. Both have gathered steam in Copenhagen. Compromise on most of the key sticking points, however, is as elusive as ever.

The most significant point of contention relates to the commitments of developing countries – particularly the major emitters – under a new international climate change regime. Developing countries continue to resist any binding, quantifiable and internationally verifiable commitments, while developed countries continue to insist that the absence of such commitments would be a deal-breaker.

The bottom-up draft text dealing with this issue proposes a fudgy resolution that would effectively mean that developing countries would only be held to account for the emissions-reduction policies or projects they undertake with the financial support of developed countries. The responses of developed countries to that proposal were summed up frankly by US chief negotiator, Todd Stern, who summarily dismissed it as 'old think' on the basis of which the US would not be prepared to negotiate.

The substantive dispute over the nature and extent of developing country commitments is also wrapped up in a debate over the legal form that a new climate agreement might take. Developed countries want a single new treaty that incorporates key elements of the Kyoto Protocol but also provides a framework for mandatory developing country emissions reductions.

Developing countries want simply to amend the Kyoto Protocol to require deeper emissions reduction targets from developed countries, with additional issues such as finance, technology, deforestation and adaptation to be addressed through a package of decisions by the Conference of the Parties. Small island states want an immediate, two-treaty solution that would both extend Kyoto and incorporate the additional issues into a new 'Copenhagen Protocol'.

This week, countries focused on negotiating the emissions accounting rules that would be used to determine compliance with the eventual targets. Rules relating to the accounting of emissions sources and removals in the agricultural, land and forest sectors have proven particularly contentious, as this will have a big effect on the ease with which countries like Australia could meet its targets. Developing countries worry that generous land-sector accounting rules will allow countries to 'cook the books' and effectively meet their targets without reducing emissions.

Australian negotiators have reportedly revealed that Australia would only sign on to the upper-end of its emissions reduction target range (5-25% below 2000 levels by 2020) if these rules are resolved favourably to Australia. This issue will be one to watch in the coming days.

Finally, deep divisions remain over the amount of finance developed countries should provide to help developing countries reduce emission and adapt to climate change. A developed world consensus has emerged that US$10 billion dollars of 'fast-start' finance should be provided to developing countries as an interim measure to bridge the gap between now and 2013 (when any new medium-term climate agreement would take effect).

Developed countries have started pledging contributions toward this fund, but they remain silent on medium and long term funding, as do the various texts that are flying around. One person who is anything but silent on this issue is the Sudanese negotiator who speaks on behalf of the G77 & China Group of developing countries in the negotiations – he has dismissed the $10 billion fast-start package as 'no finance whatsoever' and is demanding vastly greater sums as a precondition for developing country participation in a new climate regime.

Photo by Flickr user gak67nz, used under a Creative Commons license.