09 December, 2009

Toxic leakage at COP15 heats up climate talks

Leakage of confidential documents have heated up the first three days of the climate summit in Copenhagen. Leakage of the “Danish non-paper”, published by The Guardian, started the fuss that galvanized negotiators, journalists and observers at COP15 all day yesterday.

Sergio Abranches

They are called “non-papers” because they weren’t tabled by any of the Chairs to the conference and are not officially acknowledged by Secretariat of the Climate Convention (UNFCCC).

After the Danish non-paper circulated, growing rumors of another one, attributed to the “BASIC countries” (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) led the Chairman of G77, Lumumba Stanislas Dia Ping, to confirm and comment on both, on a belated press briefing at the end of a very nervous day.

As the leaked document became a political event requiring further instructions from home, several negotiators left the public scene to hold private tele-conferences with their governments.

These papers are treated almost as a secret, but they are meant to leak at a specific time of the conference. A source has told me that the Danish non-paper had already been discussed with both the US and China in Singapore, during the Asia-Pacific summit last November. The text is a “draft” of a possible resolution to be signed by the heads of state that will come to Copenhagen to close the summit.

The Danish prime minister was apparently worried about the possible failure of the Copenhagen summit, and designed a save-face solution. He flew to Singapore for a non-scheduled meeting on the future of COP15, and defended a fast-track political agreement as the solution. He defended the draft as the blueprint for a solution to the risk of failure in Copenhagen. A political deal that could, somehow, extend the Copenhagen talks farther next year.

The Chinese disagreed, drafted a counterproposal and called Brazil, India and South Africa to a meeting in Beijing. At the meeting they told the other about the Danish proposal and showed their own, asking for support. I’ve heard from more than one source that the other BASIC countries adhered only partially to the “Chinese non-paper”. Although disagreeing with several points, they thought a counterpoint to the Danish proposal was necessary. The Chinese non-paper will be supported as far as it is not presented at the formal negotiation table.

It was no coincidence that the Chairman of G77, Lumumba Stanislas Dia Ping, acknowledged the existence of the Danish non-paper at the end of a nervous day, to strongly criticize its content. He also admitted the existence of the “Chinese non-paper”. He attributed the text to the BASIC countries and defined it as a “counterproposal” to the Danish.

He quickly added, though, that the document did not represent the views of all G77 members, especially not the least developed and most vulnerable ones. He moved into full diplomatic jargon to explain it was an “informal contribution” from the BASIC countries to G77 discussions: “it was not tabled by any member to the G77 for a formal discussion”.

Those were precisely the same words used by UNFCC’s Executive Secretary, Yvo de Boer, referring to the Danish non-paper. On a statement yesterday, he said:

“This was an informal paper ahead of the conference given to a number of people for the purposes of  consultations.  The only formal texts in the UN process are the ones tabled by the Chairs of this Copenhagen conference at the behest of the Parties.”

Diplomacy obliges. All professionals involved in the negotiations know to a large extent the meaning, the purpose and the utility of these informal documents. There are at least a few yet to come. Two others have already been rumored. One of them, attributed to “Europe”, has already started to leak. I’ve read one if its sections, and it differs from the other two in several counts. It is not a “draft resolution”, but a “discussion paper”. Reactions to these toxic leakages are not emotional. They are meaningful political movements in themselves. They’re meant to add to the puzzle and, if possible, to it solution.

Not all parties know everything though. The European Union, for instance, was not informed about the Danish non-paper ahead of its circulation in Singapore. Several European nations were uncomfortable with the behavior of the Danish premier. The document reflects only the most conservative views of the wealthier countries. It formally commits the emerging economies to mitigation efforts, and is rather vague when considering the needs and vulnerabilities of the least developed countries.

The Chinese counterproposal reclaims the Kyoto Protocol division between Annex I (with formal and binding commitments) and non-Annex I countries (with no binding obligations). The document envisages any contribution from emerging economies as totally discretionary, voluntary actions.

The developing country Parties, except the least developed countries which may contribute at their own discretion, commit to nationally appropriate mitigation actions, including actions supported and enabled by technology, financing and capacity-building.

Regarding Annex I countries that have also ratified the Kyoto Protocol, the Chinese draft affirms the validity of Kyoto’s “second commitment period”.

For Annex I Party to the Convention that is also a Party to the Kyoto Protocol, its emission reduction target for the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol shall be considered as a commitment under this paragraph. For the measurement, reporting and verification of its emission reduction target, pertinent rules and procedures, including those under the Kyoto Protocol, shall apply.

For countries that have not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, as the US, the document says they should abide by similar rules and procedures as those established by the Kyoto Protocol, and precludes international offsets as a means to meet the emission reduction target.

For any Annex I party to the Convention that is not a Party to the Kyoto Protocol, its emission reduction commitment shall be comparable to the target referred to in subparagraph 4(a) above. For the measurement, reporting and verification of such a commitment, rules and procedures shall be the same as those of subparagraph 4(a) above. The commitments specified in this subparagraph shall be implemented mainly through domestic measures. The rules and procedures for the use of international offsets shall be further established by the Conference of Parties.

The section of the European non-paper I’ve read deals with finance, one of the most divisive issues, perhaps the one most likely to lead to a gridlock at COP15. When it becomes widely known, it will confirm fears among the emerging countries that the developed nations are shifting their finance commitment from long-term new-money finance to short-term, “fast implementation”, recycled-money.

Copenhagen should provide for the immediate start of the implementation of core elements of the agreement. This is, of course, directly linked to the Copenhagen deal on up-front financing.

Looking at the various EU positions formulated so far, the prime candidates for “fast start” action, and corresponding financial and capacity building support, include, (i) REDD plus readiness; (ii) implementing adaptation action; (iii) preparations related to new market/crediting mechanisms; (iv) inventories and MRV; and (v) formulating NAMAs and low emission growth plans.

The fast start deal with upfront available financing preparing for the implementation of the Copenhagen agreement would  get action going immediately to implement the Copenhagen agreement. It would also facilitate the transition from current financial arrangements to the long term arrangements of the Copenhagen agreement, and so help overcome some of the mistrust that is endemic in the process.

Why are these documents written to be leaked? They are diplomatic and political “field tests”. They are instrumental to a territorial strategy aiming at the demarcation of the outer boundaries within which a deal might be possible. That’s why they polarize. They fix the defensive, most conservative position of each party or group of parties to the Convention. They are to prevail only if no common ground is found.

Right now, the limits within which negotiations will take place have three outer poles: the “Danish”, representing an almost exclusively “developed countries” view; the “Chinese”, or “BASIC”, partially representing the large emerging nations view”, and the “European”, as a sort of alternative “developed countries” view.

What strikes most one who reads the three comparatively is what they have in common, not what differentiates them. There are two main coincidences. First, they all open with strong, and unsubstantiated claims about the seriousness of global warming and climate change, the need for action, and the care for the most vulnerable nations. Second, all three are vague and noncommittal about the needs and priorities of the poor, least developed or most vulnerable countries.

The deeper meaning of this comparison is that this deal, if sealed, will concern only two classes of countries, both influential segments of the world elite: the developed, and the emerging, or, more clearly, the “upper class”, and the “middle class” nations.

The poor are left out and, at the end of the day, will only get some money for mitigation and adaptation to vote a deal that concerns mostly the powerful, among them countries that like to be seen as developing, such as China, India and Brazil.

India, for instance, has intervened today in a heated debate at the COP Plenary over the idea that the least developed, smaller, island nations have urgent needs and should have a priority treatment. Its representative stated that India was one of the countries most vulnerable do climate change, with a large poor population and many islands.

Large emerging nations are struggling to remain under the umbrella of Kyoto Protocol’s simpler division between the Annex I (developed) countries, and all the rest of the world. But the world is no longer that homogeneous and has far more than two political and economic poles. The BASIC countries plus a few other do not belong with the poorer majority. They are a fast-growing, richer, more resourceful middle class, already admitted into great power politics.

Copenhagen, and global climate politics in general, is clearly about a new, post-Cold War, world order. One that is far more complicated than the former one, based on simple, binary polarities: capitalist vs communist countries; North vs South. The new world order is a complex and unstable transition stage towards a multipolar world. This transitional stage shapes a world order of which the dominant elements are shifting alliances; cross-cutting cleavages; competing though overlapping partnerships. It is an unstable environment by definition.

Tags: , ,