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COP15: Breaking a deal

Richard Black | 11:56 UK time, Thursday, 17 December 2009

So we're entering the final throes of this two-week conference - the end (supposedly) of a two-year process aimed at securing a new global agreement on combating climate change.

But as we've been reporting regularly over the last few days, things are pretty chaotic here. In procedural terms, a number of journalists here who've reportedly extensively on international summits on all kinds of issues say they've never seen anything like it.

Frankly, it's being made up as it goes along now.

Procedure apart, what divides the countries here?

One issue is emission cuts from developed nations still inside the Kyoto Protocol (that's all except the US). Developing countries are looking for at least 25% by 2020 - some would insist on 45% or more.

But the pledges so far are a lot less than that - a step-up of about one-third would be needed.

Deal-breaking potential? Four out of 10 - soundings suggest many developing countries could live with existing pledges if other elements of a package are ok. But could all of them - especially if they're unhappy about other things?

Developed countries have grave reservations about continuing with the Kyoto structure. But it appears that most are prepared to do so - at least for now - if it's the price of making a deal.

Deal-breaking potential? Two out of 10.

Everyone seems resigned to the fact that the US will not be inside the Kyoto framework. OK - so how are its emission pledges to be characterised, assessed, and monitored?

Hillary ClintonThe distinct vibe from the US is that it won't accept its pledges are legally binding unless China does likewise. "Not providing transparency is a deal-breaker for us," Hillary Clinton said at her news conference just now.

China, as it stands, won't countenance legally binding constraints on its emissions and it won't accept international verification.

That's partly because other developing countries don't want it either and China is staying with that joint line; but according to one negotiator here with experience of other issues, China never accepts international monitoring of any environmental commitment - including, for example, refusing to carry international observers on fishing boats to monitor compliance with fisheries regulations.

Japan has been equally strong on the need for legally binding restrictions on China.

Deal-breaking potential? Eight out of 10... though verification is perhaps something that could be "kicked into the long grass" and pursued bilaterally.

There's also pressure from developing countries for the US to raise its emissions offer... but there's a general acceptance among other developed nations that it can't at the moment for domestic political reasons. Would developing nations pursue this one? Not clear.

Deal-breaking potential? Two out of 10.

The financial picture is quite complex. Japan and the EU have both put forward pledges on "fast-start" finance for the developing world, and others are prepared to put smaller sums into forestry immediately. Sums in the order of $10bn per year for the period 2010-2012 could be available - if everything else here works out.

Lumumba Stanislaus Di-ApingAlthough developing countries have demanded more - $10bn is "enough to pay for the coffins" of "climate victims" in Africa, according to Sudan's Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping - if enough longer-term finance was pledged to satisfy them, would they take the current fast-start offer? Probably.

Deal-breaking potential? Three out of 10

On the longer-term finance - which means 2020 - the EU has calculated that 100bn euros will be needed per year. The US says $100bn - a world of difference. Both of those figures are considerably less than developing countries want, and less than UN agencies such as the World Bank and International Energy Agency have calculated as necessary.

There's also a simmering row about how the money should be provided. The West wants a significant proportion to come from levies on carbon trading and "innovative mechanisms" which don't actually exist yet - which is partly why developing countries want the majority to come from the public purse.

Deal-breaking potential: Seven out of 10, with the developing world likely to seek more certainty - although this could also be "kicked into the long grass".

All of this, of course, leaves aside the question of whether there will be anything for leaders to sign.

As I write, the process here is in chaos - the Danish prime ministers' office is said by all sources to be in "meltdown", without a plan of action and without the diplomatic experience and skills to concoct one in time.

The Danes have lost the trust of the developing world here, no doubt about it - and by extension, that taints the EU and the wider Western world as well.

Lack of trust? Now that's a real potential deal-breaker - 10 out of 10.


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