The Countdown Begins At Global Climate Talks


Theoretically, the United Nations climate talks in Doha will be over in less than 24 hours. Theoretically, we should have five completed texts on the table that will allow COP18 to wrap up with a clear roadmap to a legally binding global treaty in 2015.

In reality, this won’t be the case. Instead, huge question marks still hang over a the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period, the best path towards the Durban Platform, and issues of finance under the Ad-Hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA).

At this point, only the SBSTA and SBI negotiation tracks have concluded without any large outstanding matters. SBSTA is the scientific and technology stream and last week announced that it has established a common emissions reporting system to be utilised by all governments. This will be invaluable for transparency and ensuring the integrity of domestic emission reduction policies. SBI is the negotiating stream that is concerned with the practical step-by-step implementation of any policy decisions that arise under the other negotiation tracks.

The Kyoto Protocol negotiating stream was closed yesterday at 11am. Against the backdrop of a deadly typhoon in the Philippines, the closing session was emotionally charged and interventions were loaded with accusations of low ambition and a lack of genuine commitment.

The Philippines delivered a powerful intervention on behalf of G77, calling for Doha to be a historical moment where political will turned around the negotiations and ministers showed courage and leadership. Climate Change Commissioner Naderev M. Saño said, "As we sit here, every single hour, even as we vacillate and procrastinate here, the death toll is rising. There is massive and widespread devastation. Hundreds of thousands of people have been rendered without homes. And the ordeal is far from over, as Typhoon Bopha has regained some strength as it approaches another populated area in the western part of the Philippines." He visibly held back tears during his speech.

Switzerland, on behalf of the Environmental Integrity Group, laid out the key divisive issues in the text that remained unresolved. Predictably, the issue of carrying over unspent emission credits remains an issue. Switzerland emphasised that there needed to be recognition that the commitments currently on the table are not in sync with the science and must be considered "a floor and not a ceiling".

The most heated interventions were delivered by Bolivia and St Lucia on behalf of Small Island Developing States. Both aligned themselves with statements made by G77 and the African Group who remain deeply concerned that the text contains many options without clear solutions. Bolivia outright rejected the text — which it considered to be sacrificing "the only legally binding instrument we currently have for the planet and for humanity".

St Lucia presented a number of challenges to the text that will have to be decided by the broader UN body either today or tomorrow. They challenged the emissions targets set out under Annex A which they considered lacking in ambition; they challenged the ability of developed countries that are not bound by the Kyoto Protocol to trade in the emission "permits" provided under the scheme; and finally they sought to amend the provision that declared the Kyoto Protocol negotiation stream concluded — pointing out that the stream and had not yet agreed on emission targets that would keep global warming within a 2 degree increase.

Unsurprisingly, the AWG-LCA has continued on its path of uncertainty and tension.

Negotiators worked through the night and continued into morning but remain unable to reach consensus on a number of issues, particularly finance.

Developing countries demand a clear decision on finance that involves increasing funding for mitigation and adaptation. There has been considerable criticism levelled at the chair regarding methodology, presentation of texts and a failure to facilitate constructive progress. Civil society members Oxfam, WWF, Greenpeace and ActionAid hosted a press conference yesterday that announced their support for developing countries who plan to refuse to agree to a text that does not answer the question of when and how the promised $100 billion Green Climate Fund will be filled.

The Oxfam spokesperson said, "36 hours to go. 36 precious hours. We are in a deep situation of crisis. It is time now. We cannot have developing countries leave Doha without certainty that there will be mid-term public finance available so they can be helping people suffering today from climate change, and even more tomorrow".

Last night during the Stocktaking Plenary the AWG-LCA chair expressed his desire to "bring all the elements together by one time tonight", eliciting disbelieving laughter from observers.

Finally the Ad Hoc Durban Platform Working Group gave a generally positive report at last night’s stocktake. They have established a declaration in the form of a draft decision based on a number of informal consultations throughout the week. However, the chair expressed disappointment that slow progress by others has prevented them from finalising their work. They are, in the chair’s words, "just a little bit delayed".

The final hours of negotiation have been coloured with a strong sense of desperation. An unapproved youth-run action resulted in two young observers being removed from the conference centre and deported. And, in a bizarre twist at the end of the day, Lord Monckton posed as Myanmar in the stocktake plenary and launched into a speech declaring that in the "16 years that we have been coming to these events there has been no global warming at all". He was booed out of the plenary and to our knowledge debadged and presumably deported, as COP18-issued visas are contingent upon attending the conference.

The outcome of Doha is far from clear. It is possible that in the final hours negotiators from developed countries will seek permission from their political superiors to put more on the table to move the negotiations forward. Equally, it is possible that developing countries will band together and refuse to accept decisions they feel will lock them into agreements that lack sufficient ambition.

As UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres put it, irrespective of the state of negotiations, "the science looks at it the way the atmosphere sees it. And the atmosphere sees this as very, very urgent issue."

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