06 December, 2011

Deciding on process rather than on action

Sergio Abranches, from Durban

A perusal of discussions on preliminary results of informal consultations shows that negotiators are streamlining options, preferably to come down to only two alternatives.

This is a signal that negotiators are making relatively fast progress in narrowing down to a few key choices to make in Durban. Disagreements become clearer this way, and negotiations tend to be more finely focused. But this is not a signal that consensus is nearer or easier. Quite often the options that are abandoned on the road towards final decisions are those supported by a small minority; or intermediate solutions, that failed to provide a middle ground for consensus. It seems that in several consultations choices are too polarized to serve as a basis for a compromise. In this case negotiators will have to change their views, reframe the issues, in order to move closer to the center, where consensus could still be built. If they fail to move to fresher positions, they’ll look for an exit option, without necessarily dropping the issue once for all.

In other cases, alternatives confront making a clear decision in Durban, to postponing  decisions. In the informal consultations on “shared visions”, i.e. the targets to reduce carbon emissions, four options were discussed: 1. to “agree on the numbers and set the global goal for emissions reductions and the time frame for global peaking of GHG emissions, before going into other issues; 2. consider first the context for the adoption of the numbers, and postpone decision on numbers; 3. to propose a process for defining numbers and the peak date for emissions, and what should be the steps forward; 4. drop the issue because negotiators are unable to reach an agreement.

The third option is a winner on most difficult negotiations under the Climate Convention. It offers an “exit” solution, without closing any doors for the continuation of the talks on the issue. It has been the most common choice at the end of most COPs.

Some developing countries opposed it at the informal consultation on “shared vision, saying that decision on numbers was necessary for emissions to peak by 2015. Many said dropping the issue was not an option. The third option, about context is weaker than the others. Consultations continued aiming at reducing the number of options. The most likely result will be to present two alternatives to the ministers: decide on the numbers, or define a process for future deliberation on the numbers. Ministers will choose “process” over “numbers”.

“Process” is becoming the “catch word” for this COP17. Todd Stern, US lead negotiator, used it to sum up his thoughts about the European Union’s proposal on a roadmap plus a timeline towards a new common legally-binding agreement. Brazil chief-negotiator, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo also referred to a process, when commenting on the EU ideas. He apparently wanted to distinguish it from the “Bali Roadmap”, yet to be fully implemented.

At the informal consultations, “process” is often seen as a way forward. In a context of lack of agreement on hard issues, the second-best choice is to define a “process” to address the issue later on. Negotiators hope that decision on the “Durban process” would suffice for the EU to sign into a second period of commitment under the Kyoto Protocol, to be in force to 2020.

It seems we are heading to a decision by the plenary of COP17 on “the Durban process”, i.e. deferring all key decisions to a future COP. The magic date seems to be 2015, when a review of the Copenhagen/Cancun pledges to determine how far away they are from meeting the 2C target should be completed. In the meantime parties also hope they can put in place a global accounting system for their GHG emissions, in order to increase transparency of the implementation of pledges. Upon deciding on what to do to close this gap, negotiators would also make more substantive decisions on how to proceed beyond 2020, the deadline for these targets.

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