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A requirement for “much deeper cuts” by developed countries has been replaced by a requirement for “deep cuts” in global emissions.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

UN climate chief Yvo de Boer has said he thinks we are on the brink of agreement to a Bali roadmap. This does not imply an early finish. When pushed on the time issue by journalists desperate to squeeze in a bite to eat, Mr de Boer acknowledged talks were likely to carry on throughout the night.

His spokesman John Hay confirmed a nasty rumour that UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon is due to return to Bali – he’s presently elsewhere – for a final address at 11am on Saturday morning. “He has to come back here anyway for a refuelling stop,” added Mr Hay but even he did not look like he believed this.

So we’re here for the night. It’s just after midnight and the press room is a lively place. During his last update, Mr de Boer provided a useful progress report. The primary outstanding issue remains how to word the long term climate ambitions and mitigation goals for developed and developing countries.

Conclusions on adaptation, financing and deforestation have all been agreed, save for some language linking them to mitigation. They join technology transfer, which was agreed last night. Details of a review of the Kyoto protocol have also been agreed.

This means it’s down to settling the ambition and mitigation text. Once that’s done, ministers will have to decide whether to launch formal negotiations and by when they want them to finish. They are expected to do so and set a 2009 end date. Assuming all this goes ahead as planned, what will the new agreement be called asked one journalist?

Mr de Boer added this to his to-do list. The document is currently entitled “consolidated text prepared by the co-facilitators”.

But all may not go as smoothly as this. At a press conference earlier in the day Munir Akram, chairman of the G77 and China group, told journalists developing countries were being threatened with trade sanctions to sign up to “commitments and obligations” on mitigation:

“The G77 has no obligation under the [UN] convention to accept binding targets,” he emphasised, “our measures will be voluntary, they’ll be national, and they’ll be in the context of sustainable development.”

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Mr Akram said developing countries had faced an uphill battle in Bali and it had proved “extremely difficult” to secure a commitment from developed countries, especially the US, to enhanced mitigation efforts in future. He stressed several times that the priority for developing countries was to see full implementation of the existing UN climate convention and Kyoto protocol, not a sidelining of these by a new agreement.

Mr de Boer responded he was not aware of anyone having been threatened, but emphasised that the issues at stake went to the very heart of economic policy and tensions were running high.

The G77 and China chairman predicted negotiations would continue for “a few hours at least”. That’s proved optimistic. Ministers in the small working group dedicated to ambition and mitigation were due to report back to the main body of ministers at midnight. In the meantime it’s 1:20am and there’s still no sign of them.

I heard a few minutes ago the final plenary session is provisionally planned for 8am. Some are calling even that optimistic. As the trickle of information has dried up, journalists – including me – have started hanging around the coffee bar outside the locked meeting room, occasionally mobbing someone when they emerge.

A few are considering going home to sleep. That seems a shame after a week of build-up. But not as incredible as one Dutch journalist who apparently flew home today because he figured he could report on the final details from behind his own desk.

Breakthrough?

Things are moving. The Indonesian presidency of the UN talks in Bali has tabled a compromise text on how future emission reduction commitments could be worded in a Bali roadmap. German environment minister Sigmar Gabriel is suddenly calling the US “flexible”. Journalists are looking busy.

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The proposed text, which ENDS has seen, drops the notorious 25-40 per cent cuts for developed countries but says global greenhouse gas emissions must peak in the next 10-15 years and be reduced to “very low levels, well below half of 2000 levels by 2050”. These are “facts” that should guide future action to combat climate change, it says.

All that’s left of the original statement that developed countries need to make “much deeper cuts” in the range of 25-40 per cent by 2020 is: “developed countries should continue to take the lead in combating climate change and its impacts”.

All this has to do with the preamble of the proposed Bali roadmap. Indonesia’s compromise text also suggests changes to the operative part of the paper. This includes removing the word “national” from a section calling for consideration of quantified emission reduction commitments by developed countries.

In the same section a call to consider the work of the Kyoto protocol’s working group has also been deleted.

What does all this mean? Before I speculate, I should warn you that things are shifting very quickly here now. Nevertheless, the draft compromise text as it stands, which sources say was well-received, indicates the US may now be open to including specific long-term global emission reduction goals in the preamble to a Bali roadmap.

This would be a significant victory for the EU. At the same time, the sticking point appears to be what distinction there should be between developed and developing countries and exactly what the former should commit to at this stage.

Deleting the word “national” from the section on developed country emission reduction commitments suggests the US may be sticking to its guns on the point that while long-term shared emission reduction goals can be agreed internationally, each nation should then be free to decide its own national goal and strategy to achieve it.

Removing reference to the Kyoto protocol adds to the idea that the US and its supporter(s) would want to be as free as possible to set their national goals.

But all this is speculation. A UNFCCC press conference that was due to start in 15 minutes has just been pushed back by an hour-and-a-half, which doesn’t bode well. Rumours abound that some ministers have already changed their flight schedules.

Meanwhile, there is also confusion over the status of discussions on the other building blocks of the roadmap, like deforestation. Contrary to reports earlier this morning, several delegates have since said forestry talks have not yet been concluded, although a final agreement along the lines of what I reported is “very close”.

One source of confusion is that this conference must produce two outputs for these building blocks: first, draft conclusions that must be approved by ministers in their final plenary session, and second, a decision on how to reference the building block in the overall Bali roadmap.

Clearly the two are linked, but UNFCCC chief Yvo de Boer suggested earlier today that draft conclusions on deforestation, adaptation and financing are pretty much ready and it is how they must be referenced in the overall roadmap that remains to be decided.

As I write, two working groups are meeting, each comprised of a small selection of minsters together representing all other parties. One group is finalising work on deforestation, adaptation and financing – technology transfer was fully concluded last night – and the other is working on the Bali roadmap. I’m hoping Mr Gabriel was right when he said “it’s going a bit better.”

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.

Let’s talk

Everybody is talking about climate change these days. My grandmother was saying something about everyone having to switch all their lights off on the phone to me yesterday. “Why?” I asked, only half-listening. “You know, climate change,” she replied.

As the media has taken climate change and thrust it into our lives, it has become the topic of conversation not only for coffee tables but also for policymakers and businessmen. The latest scientific report leaves no room for doubt: the world is headed for catastrophe if we do not start doing something about it, now.

Yesterday marked the start of a two-week marathon of UN talks on climate change to do just that. Up to 15,000 people are estimated to be flocking to the island resort of Bali, Indonesia, to discuss a successor to the Kyoto protocol. The goal is to agree to start talking, when to finish taking, and what to talk about.

I will be flying out to Bali on Saturday (offset provider yet to be determined) to get a handle on this conversation. Well, myriad of conversations. Because policymakers, business and civil society will all be there to present their case. My inbox count has doubled in the run-up to Bali.

What can we expect? On the big things, it would be very surprising if there was no agreement to start talks or to aim to finish them by 2009. The problem is their content. It looks like the UN has taken the pragmatic decision to side-step the controversial issue of targets for now however, and to focus on tools instead.

When everyone agrees what’s in the toolbox, then we can talk about what those tools can achieve, UNFCCC chief Yvo de Boer said recently. One major tool that will dominate discussions is the carbon market. The US may insist it doesn’t like it, but it’s worth billions and in no hurry to go away.

Almost everyone agrees that any post-2012 agreement must include China and the US. Of course the danger of keeping it all as vague as possible to get everyone on board is that in the end we may settle on very little. But that shouldn’t concern us, yet. For now, the focus must be on getting a conversation going.

We’ll talk again next week.