Consensus grows behind the scenes at the UN climate negotiations

Mike Shanahan's picture
Insight by 
Mike Shanahan
04 December 2011

It’s too early to talk about the end-game in the 17th conference of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks that are underway in Durban. But amid the shifting diplomatic sands of talks and texts, there are signs that some of the ground is starting to solidify.

Negotiators are meant to be constructing three main tracks that all countries in the world can follow.

First, steps to turn all ‘agreements in principle’ from last year’s conference into action. This includes; an agreement to pay to keep forests intact; systems to enable poor countries to adapt to climate change and access technology, and — the jewel in the crown — the rules for a Green Climate Fund that will provide these countries with US$100 billion a year by 2020.

Second, a new period of binding targets for countries that are party to the Kyoto Protocol whose first commitment period ends on 31 December 2012. The issue here is that some parties (Japan, Canada and Australia) do not want more commitments until countries with no targets (read United States, China and India) have their own.

Third, a roadmap towards a new agreement that binds those non-Kyoto countries into alignment with the rest.

Negotiators in Durban now have one week to agree each of these debates. More importantly they also have to ensure that all strands of these agreements interlink seamlessly.

The big outcome of last year’s conference of parties in Cancun was the agreement to create the Green Climate Fund. This was meant to be turned into reality here in Durban. But in late October the United States and Saudi Arabia blocked the consensus on how it would operate. It seems that the United States will use this as a bargaining chip, to trade in return for a weaker roadmap when talks resume next week.

The United States wants to wait until 2020 before a comprehensive new deal. China and India are in no hurry to take on binding commitments. The European Union is taking more note of the science and wants a faster resolution to these talks, by 2015.

But the Least Developed Countries and the Alliance of Small Island Developing States are getting sick of so much talk and so little action — and are moving away from their long-held unity with the likes of China and India.

These smaller nations want the negotiations towards the global deal to begin immediately and conclude 12 months from now, when the climate circus arrives in Qatar for the 18th conference of parties to the UNFCCC.

Today the rumour mill is churning again. The talk in the corridors is of the United States seeking to form a common platform with the so-called BASIC countries — Brazil, South Africa, India and China. This platform would agree to postpone any serious action on climate change for several years.

So far though it seems the European Union is refusing to be brought into this gang of high-emitting nations. If it holds its ground, it will be making a stand for both environmental integrity and solidarity with the countries most threatened by climate change and least able to protect themselves from rising seas and rising temperatures.

One lifeline for the talks has been proposed this week by Lord Prescott. This former deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom has been called the Godfather of the Kyoto Protocol for his efforts to secure the treaty back in 1997. He has called for the Kyoto Protocol’s current commitment period to be extended until a global deal has been agreed.

Insiders at the Durban talks say this might also make Japan and Russia less likely to jump ship, and could create the political space for them to align with Europe again.

So whether or not Durban proves to be a useful step towards an effective global response to climate change, we may see a new world taxonomy. A climate change classification system where nations are no longer defined as rich or poor, developed or developing, but where they are ambitious or ambling.

This blog was written by IIED's press officer Mike Shanahan. It was first posted on the climate change media partnership blog.