Cop This! Australia At Centre Of Climate Spat


Yesterday, delegates slipped into the groove of the negotiations as COP18 moved from opening plenaries into substantive discussion. Australia was the centre of controversy in the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) — part of the 2007 Bali Action Plan — for its staunch refusal to to concede that certain items were even up for discussion.

The LCA is basically the cousin of the Kyoto Protocol, the only existing legal agreement to bind developed countries to their emission reduction targets. The LCA is the "everything else" group that focuses on long term cooperation to reduce emissions between developed and developing countries not signed up to Kyoto. In Durban, parties decided that LCA should be phased out in Doha and all unfinished work absorbed into the broader Durban Platform Working Group that will move parties towards a 2015 legally binding global deal.

The issue is that many developing countries are not ready to let go of the LCA process. They fear that moving to unfinished business to the Durban Platform Working Group will mean some of the principles agreed to in Bali 2007 will be abandoned. For example, there is a strong sense among developing countries that further negotiations are needed in order to reach a consensus on necessary emission reductions and when global peaking of emissions should occur.

To put it less diplomatically, there is a fear that rich, industrialised countries are aiming to deregulate the climate negotiation process so that targets no longer have to be regulated, and financing and mitigation assistance agreements may be abandoned or at least relaxed.

After extensively espousing the contribution made by the Umbrella Group — the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and others — to the Fast Start Fund, Australian officials attacked the LCA Chair’s draft text, saying it "divides us". Australian ambassador for climate change Justin Lee spoke on behalf of the Umbrella Group who he said were "extremely disappointed".

Lee said that discussions commenced at Durban would continue; and for issues not mandated in Durban, they are open to dialogue. However, he continued, "if there is no agreement, our standard of procedure is to have no text or decisions". Blatantly falling back to inaction has always been a very vocal point of dissatisfaction for developing countries who have the most to lose from slow progress on climate change.

Nauru responded on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island Nation States that they were "concerned that some have tried to use LCA to retreat from the rigor of Kyoto," exemplifying the lack of trust between developing and developed countries. Nauru stressed the need to ensure that developed countries not bound by the Kyoto protocol adopt emission reduction targets consistent with those under Kyoto to ensure global emissions stay within a safe threshold.

Part of the Umbrella Group’s reasoning behind abandoning the LCA and rejecting the Chair’s draft text is to ensure both developing and developed countries are captured by requirements to set mitigation targets. This raises substantial equity issues as industrialised, developed countries bear most of the historical responsibility for climate change. It also raises real practical difficulties, as highlighted by ambassador for the Philippines. She described the thousands of deaths in recent months due to climate change related natural disasters, and concluded that while the Philippines wants to work on mitigation, "first we must stop drowning, Mr Chairman".

The importance of COP18 in Doha is largely ironing out these sources of tension and negotiating smooth transitions towards a binding global agreement in 2015. Developing countries are most afraid of losing the distinction in the Bali Action plan between developing and developed countries — not just because developed countries’ historical responsibilities; but also because developing countries are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, further impeding their capacity to mitigate without assistance.

Developing countries fear that the transition away from the LCA will allow developed countries to avoid their existing commitments. Ideally, the "dismantling" of the LCA can happen at a more gradual, negotiated pace that guarantees an equitable outcome.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.