The bottom line

All the talk here appears to be focusing on targets, guidelines, or whatever you want to call them for long-term emission reduction commitments from developed countries. What will be the wording of our climate ambitions in the roadmap to a post-2012 agreement we expect in Saturday’s early hours?

Representatives from the US to the EU to the G77 and China are happily dedicating much of their press conferences to this topic. Journalists are lapping it up and feeding the fervour. But is this really the sole issue on which so much hinges? It feels like much of the talk on targets may be posturing rather than a reflection of the true terms of the debate.

UNFCCC spokesperson John Hay confirmed as much when he said, in his personal opinion, much of the target talk is indeed intended for domestic consumption back home. Politicians want to look good in front of their electorate.

Behind the scenes, technology transfer is the most substantive issue still under debate. “Developing countries want to go home with something in their pocket,” says Mr Hay. Daily conference newsletter Eco, produced by NGO Climate action network, has started highlighting technology transfer as a fundamental element in the negotiations.

The official line is not quite the same. The major issue that would deliver a “really meaningful result” at Bali is major new commitments from all industrialised countries to cut their emissions in line with the latest science, said Munir Akram, Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN and chairman of the G77 and China group yesterday.

But it makes more sense that the key priority for developing countries is financial and technological assistance to set them on a low-carbon development path and help them cope with the impacts of climate change. This is what they have been calling for all along.

An adaptation fund was finalised in the pre-ministerial talks at Bali. But, as I wrote yesterday, technology transfer talks broke down in the early hours of Wednesday morning. They have been picked up by ministers, but, at lunchtime on Thursday, no agreement had been reached yet, said the Indonesian delegation.

Technology transfer is as much a financing as a technology issue. The key sticking point is what financial commitments developed countries are prepared to make and how quickly this money would be available to developing countries.

There are several proposals on the table. Developing countries for example have suggested a new, multilateral fund to finance a whole wish list of items from technology needs assessments to purchasing licences. Industrialised countries have yet to articulate a response, says one observer.

Carbon finance is also part of this picture. Through the Kyoto protocol’s Clean development mechanism (CDM), developed countries are financing emission reduction projects in developing countries. This is helping drive the development of a clean energy infrastructure there.

But a carbon market requires mandatory emission caps, otherwise there can be no carbon price. And this brings us full circle, back to targets, and to exactly where the negotiations are right now.

“In a way, we’re in an all-or-nothing situation,” climate chief Yvo de Boer told journalists this morning. All four building blocks of the Bali roadmap – emission reductions, adaptation, technology transfer and financing – are inextricably linked.  A decision on one must be a decision on all.

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