28 November, 2011

The core problem at COP17, in Durban

Sergio Abranches, from Durban

The United States has voiced the first clear objection to Europe’s proposal for a Durban roadmap toward a future legal agreement to reach all relevant parties on its first press conference after COP17 has officially opened.

US negotiator, Jonathan Pershing, said today that his government would not decide on the formal nature of such an agreement without first knowing its content. He also said that “any post-2020 agreement would have to bind all significant players.” Post-2020 agreement was the catch-phrase Pershing has used to mark the US stance on the negotiations. His reasoning was quite clear: countries representing 80% of the emissions have already registered their commitments to reduce emissions to 2020. All of them have taken actions, and in the near future these actions will lead to a deceleration of greenhouse gas emissions. The US does not intend to change commitments made in Copenhagen to 2020. These commitments have become official under the Climate Convention in Cancun. As to post 2020 “what we are asking is whether is this the time to start talking about it.”

He lectured the audience of journalists on the constitutional balance of powers in his country, to say that any international treaty has to be ratified by two thirds of the upper house, the Senate. “If there is an agreement binding the US, that does not bind other major emitters, Congress will never approve it.” And the Executive fully agrees with this position, he added. “We will only support any agreement that binds all major parties.”



Underneath these objections, there is considerable agreement between what Jonathan Pershing said today, and Arthur Runge-Metzger, the European Union chief negotiator, said on two press conferences, one yesterday, the other today. They agree that a new binding agreement has to encompass all major emitters. They used the same example to show that the Kyoto Protocol is not enough to face climate change. Pershing said that the Kyoto Protocol covers about 20% of the emissions. The US, he adds, covers more or less the same. The major part of the remainder comes from “a handful of large developing countries”. What is required is a “global collective engagement”, he concluded.

There is also agreement among the US and the EU on the need to make the Cancun Agreements fully operational, comprising a global transparency regime; the technology executive committee, the Technology Center and Network; and the Green Climate Fund. As to the second period of commitment under the Kyoto Protocol, Pershing adopted the usual attitude: “although we helped to negotiate it, we ultimately did not ratify it, so the United States is not a party to the protocol.”

Pershing warned that the United States has real objections to the report on the Green Climate Fund, “but we are sure these problems can be solved”.



Runge-Metzger announced on the press conference today that Europe will present its new report on fast start finance pledges and disbursement tomorrow. Pershing also announced the US report on its contribution to fast start finance. Both said it is a demonstration of transparency regarding their financial contributions to mitigation and adaptation in the developing countries for the period 2010-2012, and that their countries are delivering the money that have pledge to contribute to the fast start finance.

It appears that there is a fair chance that divergences on what negotiators are calling technical issues (Green Climate Fund, Technology and, perhaps transparency – MRV) could be solved, assuring a substantive content to the Durban package. One that can be immediately implemented. The core difficulty to challenge the negotiators’ skills, and the propensity of the countries to compromise will be the second period of commitment under the Kyoto Protocol, and a new global legally binding climate agreement.

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