First results

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It’s just after 9:30am. Negotiators in Bali have managed to secure provisional agreement on a “roadmap” to a post-2012 international climate agreement. At first glance, the document appears to be more a victory for the US and its supporters Japan, Canada and Australia than for the EU. But initial reactions are divided.

What no one can dispute is that the document clearly launches formal negotiations on a post-2012 climate treaty, to be completed by 2009.

Its proposed work plan to guide these negotiations is more ambiguous. Direct mention of the need for developed countries to cut their emissions by 25-40 per cent by 2020, relative to 1990 levels, and for global emissions to peak in the next 10-15 years and then be at least halved by 2050 have been deleted from the preamble.

A requirement for “much deeper cuts” by developed countries has been replaced by a requirement for “deep cuts” in global emissions.

The IPCC findings are still referenced but to see the actual numbers a footnote now directs you to the original IPCC report on mitigation. What does this mean? The formulation is clearly not as strong as the EU wanted – the numbers are not in the preamble but in a report footnoted in the preamble.

Nevertheless, Philip Clapp, president of the US National Environmental Trust insists the reference to the science is “very strong” because the numbers are directly linked to the text, even if at one step removed. The US had maintained it did not want any reference to specific emission reduction ranges.

On the other key issue of translating this long-term ambition into emission reduction goals for developed and developing countries, again the US appears to come out on top. Instead of asking developed countries simply for emission reduction commitments, the text offers them “nationally appropriate commitments or actions”, which could include reductions.

What does this mean? Some are saying inclusion of the words “nationally appropriate” effectively kills off the idea of internationally-agreed binding emission caps because decision-making power is shifted to the national arena. This is something that has been consistently advocated by the US.

Leaving the door open to “actions” instead of demanding commitments also seems to weaken the text. This is especially true when you see the same word used to describe potential developing country initiatives. The US had been arguing that the commitments of developed and major developing country emitters should come closer together.

Not everyone believes the text on emission reduction goals is weak. Mr Clapp says it’s a very open text but this is not necessarily a bad thing. While being acceptable to the current US administration, it also opens the door to a new administration taking on binding emission reduction targets.

Long-term ambitions and emission reduction commitments are not the only elements in the roadmap. The document also sets out work plans for adaptation, technology transfer and financing. Each of these is worked out in more detail in separate papers agreed by negotiators yesterday.

The overall roadmap and more detailed work plans must all still be approved by ministers. They are meeting as I write.

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