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Bonn's obscured climate vision

Richard Black | 17:52 UK time, Thursday, 10 June 2010

From the UN climate talks in Bonn:

Halfway along the temporal road from Copenhagen to Cancun: is the glass half-full or half-empty?

There's been lots of chat of that kind in the corridors here.

Bonn road sign

The incoming head of the UN climate convention, Christiana Figueres, reckoned it is less than half full, but that governments would fill it up in due course - though more slowly, she acknowledged, than many countries might like.

What's clear, though, is that the glass itself is much smaller than it was before Copenhagen - a spirit measure compared against the all-encompassing stein in which you might buy a beer here.

A comprehensive, global, legally-binding deal in Cancun this December is still sought by many smaller developing countries.

But China doesn't want it - at least not on terms the West would accept - there appears to be little appetite among other major players such as Russia and Japan, and as for the US - well, it's a sign of how fast things have turned around since Barack Obama's election that some delegates are saying the US is now a bigger obstacle than it was under George W Bush.

So if not a global deal in Cancun, what then?

Two possibilities are being sketched out. One envisages some kind of over-arching framework, or vision, with all the details remaining to be worked out afterwards.

The other sees bricks being added to the wall one by one, as soon as they can be fired. A finance mechanism, a deal on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD), agreement on transferring clean technology to poor nations... etc, etc etc.

Given the comprehensive toppling of Copenhagen's grand ambition, you can see the intuitive appeal of both approaches, but that doesn't mean either will be easy.

Take the first option. Negotiations on a "shared vision" have been going on for about five years now... it still doesn't exist on paper, for the simple reason that it doesn't exist in reality - there are at least five very different visions out there in the world of where this process should lead.

And some will ask what is the need for a new vision or a new framework, given that two exist already - one from the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, one from the Bali summit of 2007. It's not time to talk but to deliver, many developing nations will argue.

Then take the second option, the brick-by-brick bottom-up construction.

There are both practical and ideological reasons why many of the poorer countries will not agree to this readily; here's one hypothetical example that shows why.

The amount of money a "climate-vulnerable" country will need to "climate-proof" itself will depend to a large extent on how far and how fast the major emitters cork their gases.

So why would you agree to a sum of money unless you know how far and how fast the developed world is going to abate its emissions?

There are many more linkages that are more subtle, more involved and more realistic, but I hope the point is clear. That's why many maintain they want the whole package on the table before they'll agree to any small bits.

Divisions that have existed for many years between the huge bloc of developing nations are becoming clearer.

IslandsFor example, the vast majority of countries here wanted a technical paper to be drawn up exploring options that society would need to adopt to limit the temperature rise since pre-industrial times to 1.5C. It's been a demand of the small island states, but the EU, Australia, Japan, US, Africa Group etc all saw no reason to object.

But four oil-producing states did - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Venezuela.

Tomorrow, my bet is that at least one of these will talk of the common interests of developing countries and their brothers and sisters in the South.

And Venezuela, mind, is a member of the ALBA group that wants the temperature rise to be kept under 1C - which has always raised eyebrows, given its status as a major oil producer.

Meanwhile, the EU raised some eyebrows by failing to provide - as promised two months ago - a clear breakdown of how much money had been released under Copenhagen's "fast-start funding" pledge, and how it is being spent.

Its internal analysis, which I've seen, says that a little more than the 7.2bn euros pledged for the period 2010-12 has been committed by member states, who are the ones with the big wallets.

But only 73% of it is confirmed to be in the form of grants. So the rest is loans? It seems so - yet was that clear at Copenhagen?

Is the money "new and additional" to overseas development aid (ODA), as it's supposed to be? Some and some, it appears - the UK's line is that its contribution is ODA money, but that as its ODA spend is rising towards a target of 0.7% of GDP by 2013, it's additional each year to the level of ODA that was spent previously, so it is new and additional.

Other countries appear to have yet looser definitions of "additional".

As one veteran of many negotiations said to me here: usually as you progress through a series of negotiations, the number of outstanding issues comes down until you can really grapple with the few difficult ones.

Here, the complexity of the process appears to be mounting - a chink of clarity appears, then is swamped by another attempt on the part of some country or other to obfuscate.

Anyone, please, able to tell me I'm wrong?


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