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Climate talks eye level playing field

Richard Black | 12:15 UK time, Friday, 11 June 2010

From the UN climate talks in Bonn:

On the final day of this two-week session, a new text [304KB PDF] emerges - which is likely to form the basis of the most difficult negotiations between now and the end of this year's UN climate summit, in Cancun, Mexico, in December.

If you want the official title, it falls within the Ad-hoc Working Group on Long-term Co-operative Action under the Convention.

The shorter version is that's it got most of the fundamental and hard stuff in it - what the ultimate goal of any agreement should be, whether rich nations should be subject to an overall cap on their emissions, how the $100bn per year by 2020 pledged by the rich for the poor will be raised and distributed - and so on.

Climate_football_matchEarly reactions from delegates suggest that chair of this particular working group, Zimbabwe's Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe, has done a pretty good job in steering between the various minefields strewn across this process.

In particular, she's avoided explicit references to the Copenhagen Accord, the pale document signed off by a group of countries at last December's summit, which is dearly beloved by the US but abhorred by many other nations.

There are, though, things that all the various parties will find difficult to take - and there are interesting doors to compromise thrown in as well.

An overall goal is posited of reducing emissions globally by 50-85% from 1990 levels by 2050.

Developing countries have repeatedly resisted calls for a global cap on emissions, because they deduce - accurately - that it implies a cap on their collective emissions: total cut minus industrialised countries' cuts equals their cuts.

The maths says that when all is said and done, this would result in them accepting lower per-capita emissions for decades than Western nations, which they see as hindering their chances for equitable development.

The call for parties to "co-operate in achieving the peaking of global and national emissions by 2020 at the latest" will also irk many developing countries.

If that's a potential stumbling block for the poor, the rich nations are likely to baulk at wording that would see them having to find most of the $100bn per year they've pledged from the public purse, with "innovative mechanisms" such as a "Robin Hood" tax consigned to a supporting role.

Verification that everyone's really making the emissions cuts they've pledged is high on the US agenda.

Whether they'll be satisfied by the chair's proposal that developing country governments will verify their own emission cuts without international oversight we'll have to wait and see.

And the compromise? Well, that relates to advice from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that developed nations should cut their collective emissions by 25-40% from 1990 levels by 2020.

The new fudge factor introduced by the chair is to leave the baseline year blank - effectively legitimising the legerdemain that has seen successive developed countries - Australia, Canada, the US - select baseline years for their own pledges, and present them as big reductions.

Bolivia - among the most outspoken of the developing countries these days - has already slammed the document as being biased towards the west, its UN ambassador Pablo Solon declaiming:

"If this document is going to be the outcome of Cancun, then the future of humanity and Mother Earth is really in danger."

But other experienced observers, such as Kaisa Kosonen of Greenpeace, reckon it's time for a quiet think, and are urging delegates to think about the whole package rather than immediately tearing the bits they don't like into shreds.

With just half a day to go here, most eyes are already elsewhere.

Mexican and South African football supportersMany are turning to South Africa, where - in UN climate terms - the presidency of COP17 is about to do battle with the presidency of COP16.

In normal people's language, that'll be South Africa kicking off against Mexico in the first match of the World Cup.

Some usually sober-suited delegates are sporting football shirts, and the session here is scheduled to finish early enough that all the South Africans and Mexicans, at least, can find a convenient bar in which to watch the match in comfort.

We'll see - early finishes are not this process's forte.

Some eyes are also on Brussels, where EU environment ministers are meeting to discuss whether to increase the bloc's emission pledge from a 20% cut (from 1990 levels by 2020) to a 30% cut.

They won't make a decision this week - it probably won't come next week either when EU heads of government meet - but presumably it might conceivably come later this year, if EU leaders appreciate the extra leeway the recession has given them, and believe it'll kick-start international talks that by then look like they're going somewhere.

And a few eyes have been cast westwards to Washington DC, where the US Senate has just defeated a proposal to relieve the Environmental Protection Agency's duty to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

Passing this motion would have spelled big trouble for the climate legislation that is before the Senate. It's still in trouble, no doubt about it - but it's still alive.

Whether or not it eventually passes is probably still the single greatest in-country obstacle to the eventual agreement of a new UN climate deal - as it has been for so long.


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