06 December, 2010

A day of frantic drafting in Cancun

Sergio Abanches

COP16 closes today its technical segment with no concrete result. Even the draft document sketching the lines of a possible new global climate deal is a “non-paper”, a non-negotiating document.

The technical segment has been fully dedicated to informal consultations. Contact groups led by facilitators have produced summary texts, all “non-papers”, not negotiating drafts. The LCA “non-negotiating” draft prepared by its chair, Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe, has been discussed extensively, but delegates considered that it could not serve as the basis for formal negotiations. The document draws extensively on the Copenhagen Accord and “expands on the portions of that text”. It lacks, however, some definitions that are critical for a “balanced” package within and between each of the two trails of negotiation, the LCA and the Kyoto Protocol tracks.

Emphasizing informal consultations to the limit was clearly a Mexican strategy. The Mexican presidency has made all efforts to prevent deadlocks to emerge right at the beginning of the talks. It is also trying to create a positive ambience through informal encounters aiming at increasing the likelihood of a good result. This strategy has indeed helped to create a positive climate. But the side-effect was the lack of concrete results. The Mexican strategy has also triggered some criticism from delegations. Brazilian chief climate change negotiator ambassador Luiz Alberto Figueiredo told me he would prefer “direct negotiations with the Parties”, rather than talking informally with facilitators. During the Sunday informal stock-taking meeting with COP16 President Patricia Espinosa several delegates complained about the delay of direct government to government negotiations.

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the Climate Convention, inserted a veiled criticism of this excess of informality on her last press briefing: “We’re on Friday, almost the end of the first week. Governments should engage on the difficult task of deciding what they’re going to present to the high level segment. It’s time to switch gears.” She also said that “the challenge of Cancun is how to formalize proposals and pledges within the UNFCCC process on a balanced way.”

Balance is one of the three magic words that could provide the password for a deal at Cancun. It has been evoked repeatedly by all delegations in every press briefing and in every intervention at the stock-taking meetings.

U.S. Chief negotiator, Todd Stern, said that many countries look for a balanced result on both tracks, KP and LCA, here in Cancun. On the Kyoto Protocol, he added that “we are not a part of that negotiation, but I hope there is a way out of this debate without killing the possibilities of an effective result on the other track.”

EU top negotiator Arthur Runge-Metzger said: “The magic word is balance, there is no way to go without it. In the end, what’s important is that the commitments are comparable within the second period of commitment of the Kyoto Protocol and within the agreement that comes out of the development of the Copenhagen Accord. The sum of these commitments has to add up to meet the 2oC target.” Peter Wittoeck, also from the European Union, considers balancing the two tracks the most “challenging question delegates have to solve in Cancun”. To him progress lies on the perspective of having a second period of commitment for the Kyoto Protocol and a comparable agreement on LCA. “That’s what Europe is offering as a middle ground a two-track balanced package”.

Balance is also key to the issue of transparency, the second magic word, that has actually to do with confidence among the Parties. A crisis of confidence marked the Copenhagen summit from the beginning because of rumors about a “secret paper” from the Danish Presidency. The paper did exist and was published by The Guardian. This hidden agenda led to a break of confidence that irremediably poisoned the negotiating environment. The Mexican Presidency is sparing no resource to create confidence. “No hidden agenda, no secret text” is a stock phrase repeated again and again by president Patricia Espinosa. Several delegates fear that the end of the Kyoto Protocol is at the core of a secret negotiation among a few governments. Thus the need for reassurance that all are committed to the two-track view as well as to a balanced final package deal.

Minister Espinosa said that much at the beginning of her statement Sunday morning: “all of us are fully aware of and respect the fact that this is a two-track process and will continue to maintain balance within and between each of them.”

Governments will have to compromise to reach a balanced agreement. Balance within each track means that adaptation and mitigation have to get a proportionate treatment on the texts. It also means that adaptation finance has to be solved and guaranteed. Balance between the Kyoto Protocol and the Post-Copenhagen Accord (LCA) tracks means that commitments under each of them are comparable, Runge-Metzger argued on his statement to the press last week.

Everybody is calling for compromise here in Cancun, the third magic word. Even Venezuela, usually holding intractable positions, called for compromise on Sunday. Venezuela’s chief climate change negotiator Claudia Salerno asked for a constructive dialogue, and for “those who disagree the most, to talk more to each other”, to move forward and strike a balanced and full deal in Cancun.

Executive-Secretary Christiana Figueres said that she is optimistic, because the governments have arrived in Cancun aware of the need for reaching an agreement for a concerted action on climate change. She asked all “to look beyond their national situations, although without sacrificing their true national interest”. At the end, she said, “nobody will be satisfied, but this is the very definition of a compromise: one from which nobody leaves totally satisfied or totally dissatisfied”. Later she said that delegates should look for a “solution that makes all equally uncomfortable with or comfortable with the final package”.

Paradoxically the best compromise deal should leave all equally dissatisfied, because that would mean everybody has relinquished some principled points that have been deadlocking climate change talks. A compromise that is fully satisfying to this heterogeneous assembly of parties to the Climate Convention, with so many contradictory interests among them, would be void of substance. A compromise without sacrificing some interests would not serve the objective of tackling climate change. We should hope for a solution that dissatisfies individual countries‘ interests and satisfies the target of enhancing the chance of the “best-case” scenarios for climate change.

Issues related to these conflicting interests permeate all aspects of what is under negotiation here in Cancun. They can only be solved politically. All the technical groundwork has been done. The options are all on the table. In an attempt to deal with these issues at the political level and try to strike compromises on them all, the Mexican Presidency has designed pairs of ministers representing the developed and the developing worlds, to act as facilitators on each of these issues.

“I have approached pairs of ministers, one from a developing country and one from a developed country, who I know would greatly benefit our effort by focusing on specific matters. I hope their agendas allow them to undertake this task. Sweden and Grenada could help on matters related to shared vision; Spain and Algeria on adaptation; Australia and Bangladesh on finance, technology and capacity building; New Zealand and Indonesia on mitigation, including MRV, and the United Kingdom and Brazil on items under the Kyoto Protocol. Other ministers, among them those from Ecuador, Singapore, Norway and Switzerland could support on other specific issues as they arise.” (Patricia Espinosa, President of COP16, on Sunday’s stock-taking informal meeting)

We will soon see whether this strategy of political management of the hot issues will work. There is some stress on the relationship between negotiators (“experts”) and the “politicos”. This stress was apparent at other COPs as well. To avoid the politicos to encroach on the “experts” legitimate right to be the actual negotiators within the UN process, president Espinosa has set strict ground rules for the “high-level segment”.

“Ministers will not be expected to draft compromise language, but to help identify where balance is to be found. Ministers will not convene informal sessions of any sort, but will instead approach every delegation they believe ought to be consulted at each specific moment and remain accessible to all. Ministers will not limit their contacts to other ministers, but will be open to dialogue with all and they will reach out to the representatives that each party has decided to appoint. Ministers will not relief the Chairs of their responsibilities in any way, but will support their efforts to resolve matters that have so far not advanced in a more formal setting.” (Patricia Espinosa, President of COP16, on Sunday’s stock-taking informal meeting).

The issues are well known. The ground rules are set. However there are no formal papers to negotiate. Before a “balanced package on the two tracks” can be agreed upon, a frantic day of drafting and text negotiation lies ahead of delegations. Let’s hope that at the end of the day they’ll have substantive drafts to be presented to the ministers and, more importantly, to be tabled at the respective decision-making bodies of the UN process so that the game can enter its decisive phase.

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