03 December, 2011

No middle ground on central issues at COP17 in Durban

Sergio Abranches

As the first segment of COP17 comes to an inconclusive closing, negotiators are adding the bits and pieces coming out of their talks to figure out where they stand. They are working to narrow down the options to be presented to the ministers for further deliberation during the political segment, starting on Monday.

Although there has been fair progress on several technical matters, consensus is still lacking on the fundamentals. Nobody expects grand decisions to be made here in Durban, but a reiteration of a complete deadlock might severely damage UNFCCC’s credibility. All parties know they’ll need to arrive at a package deal with meaningful and practical results on finance and technology, as well as clear guidance as to future steps towards building a global climate change regime.

A second period of commitment under the Kyoto Protocol seems hard to obtain. Negotiators are considering some legal solutions to avoid a gap among commitment periods. There has been considerable agreement among parties that this gap should be avoided. Although a fully ratifiable amendment seems unlikely, negotiators could still decide on a transition mechanism to keep the Protocol alive.

Japan has insisted yesterday that the way forward is to start working immediately on a new comprehensive legally-binding agreement. Japan chief envoy Masahiko Horie proposed that COP17 establishes a new working group to draft this agreement that should be completed as soon as possible. The baseline for the agreement would be the Cancun Agreement.

A delegate from one of the BASIC countries said that it is imperative to look for a suitable solution to get the United States aboard, and convince the EU and other parties to agree to a second period of commitment. He hinted that there has been some work towards devising a legal form as strong as possible but short of requiring ratification. The negotiator said many feel uneasy with the possibility of deciding on a new treaty, even with support from the US, only to see the Senate in Washington refusing to ratify the treaty later on.

A non-ratifiable agreement would seem a more practical and working solution than the demand for a fully legally-binding agreement.

According to Reuters, China’s lead negotiator Su Wei said yesterday that “since the EU is the only group of parties that is ready to consider a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol we are ready and willing to engage constructively with the EU.” Su Wei is also reported to have said that China does not “rule out the possibility of [a] legally binding [agreement]. It is possible for us, but it depends on the negotiations.”

Finding a middle ground on major issues seems unlikely on the light of what has happened during the first week. Usually deferring decisions to the ministers at the political segment is no solution. Countries will hardly change their views on relevant issues on the spot. If there is any card to play on the second week, it has already been decided ahead of the meeting, at home. Ministers may or may not play these cards depending on the moves from other key players. But they will hardly change game at this stage of the process.

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