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COP15: Still squabbling over form

Richard Black | 10:02 UK time, Monday, 14 December 2009

The second week of this conference is opening much as the first week ended - with disagreements on some pretty fundamental issues, and lots of squabbling about things that appear to be petty details but in fact mask big underlying concerns.

This morning, for example, the Danish hosts have scheduled a big session of "informal consultations" on "major issues requiring political guidance".

But that's not likely to be acceptable to some developing countries - in particular the African bloc - and "lively exchanges" are expected.

As with many aspects of these talks, the outsider will ask "why"? After all, when there are difficult outstanding issues - which there are - why not talk them through informally?

The answer is that developing states feel the Danish recipe - a single discussion - legitimises the idea of bringing everything together under a single new legal agreement rather than continuing with the Kyoto Protocol (KP).

Ed MilibandFor them, choosing this forum pre-judges the outcome of negotiations that are on-going - and pre-judges in the direction that favours the Europeans - and they're likely to ask for two parallel sessions, with issues concerning the KP dealt with in one, and other issues in another.

We'll see how this little spat plays out during the morning.

What else is up for grabs?

UK Climate Secretary Ed Miliband has just been outlining what he sees as the outstanding points of division:

  • emission cuts, where he said the EU "would like" to move from 20% to 30% (from 1990 levels by 2020), the implication being that the EU as a whole doesn't yet feel the rest of the world has made the commitments necessary for it to adopt its higher target
  • fast-start finance, where the EU is waiting for other potential major donors such as Japan and the US to match, approximately, the pledge of $3bn per year for the period 2010-2012 that it made on Friday
  • monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) - the plot here is that developed countries (the US in particular) want any emission curbs in developing countries (China in particular) to be formally binding in some sense, and open to international scrutiny - which is anathema to China.

He also outlined again why the EU is keen to end up with a single legal entity rather than the twin-track solution currently favoured by the African bloc and the small island states. An extension to the Kyoto Protocol in the absence of other measures would, he said, be "irresponsible for the climate", because it would leave some of the world's biggest emitters without targets for cutting emissions.

Mr Miliband - who generally appears unusually frank for a UK minister - said negotiators had to get on with things if there were to be a deal in Copenhagen - currently, there is too much left for heads of state and government to do, he said.

The most glaring divide, however, is the maximum level within which governments should attempt to keep the global temperature rise. While wanting the "most ambitious" deal possible, he suggested that the figure of 1.5C favoured by some of the smaller, most "vulnerable" countries is simply not achievable, politically or technically.

We shall see whether that placates the small island states and others that have adopted the 1.5C as a target for these negotiations.

The question we urgently need answering is: how far into next weekend has the conference centre been booked? Because that will probably determine the position of the wire down to which negotiations are sure to go.

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