Bickering Marks Start of UN Climate Talks in Bangkok

6 April 2011

This year's round of UN climate negotiations got off to a slow start this week in Bangkok, as renewed bickering on old divisions marred governments' attempt to build on the agreement reached last December at a meeting in Cancun.

At their annual conference in Cancun, parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change had agreed to establish new institutions, instruments, and generally move forward collectively on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping countries adapt to climate change. The decision revived hopes for global cooperation on cutting emissions and helping countries adapt to climate change; consequently the re-emergence of divisions in Bangkok has been disappointing to many.

The session began with technical workshops on technology development and transfer, mitigation by developed countries, and mitigation by developing countries. The discussions were fruitful and considered useful contributions to the upcoming negotiations.

Difficulties began with the opening sessions of the two negotiating groups: one on the the Kyoto Protocol (KP), whose first commitment period expires at the end of 2012; and the other on and the process of Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA), which includes follow-up to the Cancun agreements.

The future of the Kyoto Protocol remains a critical issue: 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. Either way, a crucial issue is the potential "gap" between the end of 2012 and when the next instrument or commitment period kicks in. This is particularly critical for a number of climate instruments developed under Kyoto, such as the Clean Development Mechanism, Joint Implementation, and the Emissions Trading Schemes upon which the current global carbon markets depend.  In the working group's opening plenary Tuvalu, supported by a number of other countries, criticised the lack of political commitment among parties and argued that continuing negotiations was useless in its absence. Tuvalu asked all countries not politically committed to the Protocol to leave the room.  (No one left.)

The talks on Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) also stumbled off the starting block. Negotiations jammed on the adoption of the agenda, the traditional first item on the agenda for such meetings. The Group of 77 and China rejected the chair's proposed agenda as too long and deviating from the Bali Action Plan - the agreement that provided the mandate for this working group. The G77 and China proposed an alternative version, which received no support from the industrialized countries. The United States criticised the chair's agenda for leaving out a number of issues, such as the question of "monitoring, reporting and verifying" of mitigation actions by developing countries. The chair finally adjourned the session, saying that he was not clear whether to put things into the agenda or take things out.

Early in the week, the UNFCCC executive secretary, Cristiana Figueres, told journalists that negotiations needed to move forward on both the Kyoto Protocol gap issue and the Cancun agreements in order to provide greater direction for this year's Conference of the Parties (COP) in Durban, South Africa.

A number of parties also raised a legal issue regarding the lack of consensus on the adoption of the Cancun decisions, when the meeting was closed despite explicit objections from Bolivia.

Many issues related to trade were dropped from consideration in Cancun last December in order to make an agreement possible. Agriculture, which had been considered one of the easier negotiating issues, became linked in the negotiating process to contentious discussions about emissions resulting from international shipping. When it became clear that parties would be unable to overcome their differences on how to manage bunker fuels - the global nature of the industry makes it difficult to make decisions on jurisdiction - both issues were snipped out of the text. References to the use of unilateral trade measures - often dubbed ‘carbon tariffs' - were also dropped. At time of writing, neither issue has been discussed in Bangkok.

ICTSD reporting.

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