Bangkok Meeting Recalibrates Pace of Climate Talks

14 April 2011

The first round of climate negotiations for 2011 concluded last Friday not with a bang, but a whimper. Following a successful set of decisions at the recent Conference of the Parties in Cancun, Mexico last December, there were expectations that the negotiations could move swiftly to clarify new institutional measures and address unresolved issues from Mexico. But alas, last week's meeting in Bangkok, Thailand served as a reminder of the political complexities that underlie these negotiations.

The Bangkok meeting, which ran from 3-8 April, hosted sessions of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP), the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA), as well as three pre-sessional workshops, which focused on technology development and transfer, developed country mitigation, and developing country mitigation -- issues that are crucial for creating forward momentum.

Following the three workshops - the working groups set out to organise their work for 2011. Their main task was to agree to an agenda of issues that would allow each group to achieve its mandate for the year in order to produce results at the Seventeenth Conference of the Parties (COP 17) in Durban, South Africa at the end of the year. As simple as it may sound, however, the task proved painfully complicated and difficult.

Kyoto stalemate

The future of the Kyoto Protocol is a critical issue this year. Although some argue that the Cancun Agreements effectively killed the Protocol and paved the way for it to be replaced by a new set of agreements, many developing countries continue to call for a second commitment period for Kyoto. Whichever way the coin falls, countries must address the potential "gap" between the end of 2012, when Kyoto's first period ends, and whenever the next instrument or commitment period kicks in. The gap will have implications for a number of climate instruments developed under Kyoto, such as the clean development mechanism (CDM), joint implementation, and the emissions trading schemes upon which the current global carbon markets depend.

Discussions in the KP working group focused on whether to launch into negotiation on technical issues or to secure political support for a second commitment period, as demanded by the Group of 77 and China. Reacting in part to the renewed message by Japan, the Russian Federation, and the United States that they would not participate in any future binding treaty, Tuvalu supported by numerous developing countries insisted that technical discussions were useless without developed countries' political commitment to the Protocol. Considering the stalemate, it was curious to hear an unusually open exchange of views on current levels of ambition and the relationship between components under the two distinct working groups. To conclude the session, the chair of the group, New Zealand's Adrian Macey, presented a paper outlining possible ways forward for discussions over the coming months. The current buzz indicates a need for clear political signals from ministers in Durban regarding the future of the Protocol's second commitment period. There is some indication that there may be a need for discussions outside the negotiating context to examine the numbers currently on the table, as well as how to deal with the widening gap between countries' conditional and unconditional targets and goals.

Slow start to LCA talks

The AWG-LCA talks also stumbled off the starting block. It took the entire week to conclude the agenda, effectively losing any precious time for discussions on substance. The main quarrels were over items left off the Chair's agenda. The G77 and China proposed an alternative version, which received no support from the industrialised countries. Finally, following three days of discussion the Chair was able to compose a compromise agenda (FCCC/AWGLCA/2011/L.1), which all delegations approved.

The agenda includes: preparation of a comprehensive and balanced outcome to enable the full, effective and sustained implementation of the Convention through long-term cooperative action now, up to and beyond 2012; review of the definition of its scope and development of its modalities; continued discussion of legal options with the aim of completing an agreed outcome; and other matters, including countries with economies in transition and those with special circumstances.

Trade issues re-emerge

A new item on sectoral approaches was introduced by several developed countries, opening the way for renewed discussions on agriculture with the understanding that future discussion on the topic will cover adaptation as well as mitigation. Agriculture was dropped at the last minute in Cancun because of sensitivities around trade implications. Bunker fuels, another controversial trade issue to be dropped in Cancun, has not yet returned to the playing field.

Notably, during the pre-sessional workshop in Technology Development and Transfer, parties addressed a number of issues with trade implications. Bolivia noted that the Climate Technology Centre (CTC), which is charged with facilitating a network to promote climate-friendly technological innovation in developing countries, should, among others: promote technology acquisition and innovation; remove technology transfer obstacles, particularly those related to Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs); enhance endogenous capacities; and help with adaptation to local conditions.

An agenda heading on unintended consequences of "response measures," which is a topic that often raises discussion around competitiveness, trade, and economic development implications, continues to figure prominently on the agenda for this year. A novel two-session forum on response measures is scheduled to take place at the upcoming meetings in Bonn (6-17 June) and Durban (28 November-9 December).

On a positive note, following the difficult week of negotiations - which was characterised by frustration and a sense of backsliding - UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres commented that the meeting allowed countries to recollect themselves and urged them to forge ahead with their work.

"I feel that we now have a solid basis to move forward collectively and that governments can deliver further good results this year, provided every effort is made to compromise and show the necessary flexibility to achieve that goal," Figueres said of the LCA talks. On the future of the Kyoto Protocol she noted that there was "a strong desire to build on the Kyoto rules and a desire to find a political solution in 2011."

ICTSD reporting.

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