30 November, 2011

A faint positive signal

Sergio Abranches, from Durban

The first day fully dedicated to informal consultations and negotiations in Durban, South Africa, where COP17 is convened, has produced faint signs that some progress may be possible over the next days. Some negotiators said today that there has been some movement forward regarding what they call technical issues.

Some were hopeful that tangible progress could happen in the days ahead to close a package deal comprising the Green Climate Fund, and the Technology Center and Network, both deemed necessary to support developing countries do adapt to climate change and to adopt clean technology and renewable energy as they develop their economy. On what is considered to be the political agenda, regarding a second period of commitment under the Kyoto Protocol, and a new global climate change agreement under the Climate Convention, there has been no progress at all. Very subtle signaling from some key parties have, however, raised hope that some progress may be obtained over the weekend.

The chief negotiator for the European Union, Arthur Runge Metzger, has acknowledged the expectation that a package deal of financial and technological resources could be approved soon. He said that the European Union would rather have a different solution on some points of the document on the governing structure of the Green Climate Fund, but would approve the formula presented by the Transitional Committee created in Cancun to design the fund. The EU would like, in turn, that the Green Climate Fund could start operating as early in 2012 as possible.

Other negotiators argue the Europeans are eager to have the technical package deal wrapped up to have something tangible to offer its African partners. And what the African countries need the most is financial and technological help for adaptation to climate change.

Ambassador André Corrêa do Lago, Brazil’s chief climate negotiator sees a financial and technological package deal as more likely now. He explained that negotiators are trying to accommodate corrections some parties say are a necessary condition to approve the package, but without having to reopen the document.

Reopening a document on a COP is no simple matter. Negotiations follow a rule saying that “nothing is closed until everything has been closed”. If a clause is reopened all other are automatically set to be rediscussed as well. This could represent losing months of work in a single hour. Diplomats are now trying to figure out a way to make corrections on some points of the document without declaring it reopened. Making corrections on a closed document is no easy feat, but, if there is good will and no party objects, diplomats have a few tricks that would make it to happen

On the political track of the convention, discussing a new period of commitment under the Kyoto Protocol, and a new global agreement under the Climate Convention, progress has been far less visible. But negotiators give notice that there have been a few subtle moves that might indicate the possibility of some progress in the days to come. A phrase showing a very discreet change of attitude on a statement, a subtle use of words during a conversation are read as signs that a party may be more open to remove a veto and become more cooperative under certain conditions. Like a discreet nod of the head or a slight wave of hands to incrementally raise the bid on a very disputed auction, these signs are used by negotiators to keep talking in the direction so indicated as more conducive to an agreement.

These very subtle cues seem to indicate that the European Union, Australia and New Zealand could support a second period of commitment under the Kyoto Protocol. This outcome for the Kyoto Protocol would require that the United States agree to a future binding agreement, and that China, once seeing such a move from the US would also point to the possibility of being a party to this future agreement. If China does move in this direction, Brasil, India and South Africa would follow suit. If the US and the BASIC countries agree to a future agreement, then all other developed countries unwilling to be a party to a second period of commitment under the Kyoto Protocol would also agree to be a party to the new agreement. Hopefully, says a negotiator who supports a second period under Kyoto, even would ultimately sign in to a second period.

The tricky question would be the timeline for all these new moves. Some negotiators think that the only feasible date for a future agreement would be 2020. Others consider 2020 too late, and ask that the new global agreement be signed in 2015. This has a relationship with the scope of the second period of commitment under the Kyoto Protocol. If the magic date becomes 2015, those countries advocating a five-year second period of commitment would probably prevail. If the deadline becomes 2020, it is likely that the second period of commitment would be eighth years long as the first.

No one is envisaging a game changer in Durban. What they see is just a bridge to cross these troubled economic times. After the crisis has passed, negotiators would likely be more willing to commit to more ambitious emission reduction targets. A global climate change regime that could bridge the “ambitions gap”, that is the gap between what science considers necessary to face the dangers of climate change, and what the countries are willing to do is still too far away on the horizon.  The goal in Durban is to approve a practical package deal, and try to prevent fatal damage to the credibility of the UNFCCC.

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