Bangkok Climate Meet Sets Stage for Doha

6 September 2012

UN officials are praising delegates for the "concrete progress" made at an irregular negotiating session, which wrapped up yesterday in Bangkok. Advancements on key issues were notably more positive than expected and some negotiators say the Doha talks are in a better position to succeed than they were before the meeting. Critics, however, have been quick to point out that wide gaps still remain and that countries will have to do much more to achieve measureable progress on curtailing climate change.

The Bangkok meeting was hastily planned earlier this year, when it became clear that delegates had made less than expected progress at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change's (UNFCCC) regularly scheduled mid-year meeting in Bonn, Germany (see Bridges Trade BioRes Review, June 2012). Last December in Durban, South Africa, negotiators were tasked with scaling-up work on the Durban Platform (ADP) over 2012 and concluding talks on two major, long-standing issues before the end of the year: the Ad-Hoc Working Group on the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) and the Ad-Hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA).

Following the week-long meeting, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said the measurable progress achieved in Bangkok will help ensure that the Convention's end of year meeting in Doha, Qatar is a success.

"The investment in Bangkok has paid off," Figueres said. "Government negotiators have pushed forward key issues further than many had expected and raised the prospects for a next successful step in Doha."

CBDR issue complicates Durban Platform

The UNFCCC's eighteenth Conference of the Parties (COP 18) in Doha is targeted as a stepping stone toward achieving consensus on the ADP's goal of creating a new global climate pact by 2015, to be implemented by 2020. The goal is to achieve the highest possible level of cooperation amongst all parties, close the emissions gap in order to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and be grounded in transparent, effective rules.

The most difficult aspect of the negotiations is the lack of explicit reference to equity and the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), which acknowledges the historical emissions of developed countries - a cornerstone of the Kyoto Protocol. The session in Bangkok featured two workshops on these principles.

Bangkok saw continued wrangling over CBDR, with developing countries urging the avoidance of formulas or a "one size fits all" approach. They said that mitigation actions should be nationally determined and not internationally imposed and underscored the need for technological and financial support.

The EU in Bangkok stressed absolute economy-wide emission reduction targets be implemented for those "most capable" and insisted that developing countries should do as much as they can.  Meanwhile, the US suggested that universal participation, access to new technologies, and linking climate policy to development, among other things, will encourage more action.

The ADP discussions also focused on ways to increase ambition in the short-term (up to 2020) and over the longer-term (post 2020). Over the past few months, numerous suggestions have been tabled, ranging from eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and promoting energy efficiency to creating a global carbon market.

Kyoto Protocol limps forward

The Kyoto Protocol is due to enter into a second commitment period in January 2013, but with almost every developed country outside the EU having abandoned it, the treaty has become severely weakened.

Negotiators still must establish the length of the second commitment period, resolve the question of whether the many surplus (unused) emissions allowances from the first commitment period can be carried forward into the second, and recommend a solid legal form for implementing the second commitment period, as there will be some time gap in between the first and second period.

Developing countries expressed deep concern over the lack of progress in the KP talks in Bangkok. A group of developing countries issued a joint statement saying they fear that Kyoto's environmental integrity is "eroding before our eyes" and calling on developed countries to boost emissions commitments "without conditions."

Small island developing states, which are projected to be the hardest hit by rising sea levels, told delegates that the consequences of a 3°C increase above pre-industrial levels have not been fully appreciated. Least developed countries (LDCs) also noted that movement on other tracks (ADP and LCA) depended upon making progress on the Kyoto issue.

The KP working group in Bangkok did, however, produce a draft document outlining potential decisions on the future of the treaty and exploring ways to resolve clashes over the length of the second commitment period. The chair of the working group for the Kyoto Protocol, Madeline Diouf, is now expected to produce a negotiating text ahead of the Doha summit.

Future of LCA unclear

While talks under the LCA were projected to wrap-up in 2012, with select outstanding issues to be taken up under the ADP if necessary, it is not yet clear if this will occur in Doha. The ongoing LCA work programme aims to mobilise financial resources for emissions reductions, adaptation to climate change's impacts, and technology deployment. It further seeks to establish solid rules for monitoring, reporting, and verifying existing emissions-reduction pledges, while also encouraging an increase of ambition in line with science.

This scope of work runs to more than 55 concurrent agenda items, which are at different stages of negotiation. A handful of trade-related issues fall under this umbrella, two of which - international transport and response measures - were discussed in Bangkok.

International transport discussions under the LCA have focused on the regulation of the use of bunker fuels - the highly polluting fuel used in maritime transport and aviation. Discussions focused on narrowing down the five options currently on the table. Options range from sets of criteria to be managed under the UNFCCC with associated principles, such as CBDR, to the US position that bunker emissions be managed under the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) - the UN agencies tasked with regulating the respective industries.

The issue of response measures - which deals with the social and economic impacts that countries could experience as a result of the measures other countries take to mitigate climate change, including those related to trade - continued to attract widely divergent views on whether a decision text should be prepared for Doha and which body should consider the issue of unilateral measures made by countries.

Some proposals for a text on response measures say that unilateral measures are not allowed under any circumstance, while other proposals say that unilateral measures are allowed as long as they do "not constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination or a disguised restriction on international trade." Parties seem to agree that they should "cooperate to promote a supportive and open international economic system."

While developing countries want to have only technical discussions in the new forum on response measures - established in Durban - and leave the real decisions to the LCA or ADP, the EU says that it wants constructive solutions in the forum. Developing countries, however, say they doubt whether developed countries want to have discussions on unilateral measures at all. Australia and Singapore called for negotiations on response measures in the WTO. Looking forward, it is likely that Doha will give a clear mandate to the forum to discuss substance.

Doha homestretch

Negotiations in Bangkok were ratcheted up a notch in tone and sprit compared to this year's Bonn meeting and a more positive tone has clearly been set for Doha than what would have been the case otherwise. But while it is clear that negotiators are moving forward, critics still say it is not adequate to address the urgency of the threat of climate change. Many environmental groups underscored that the recent extreme weather seen throughout the world - droughts, floods, Arctic melting, and hurricanes - will only increase if negotiators fail to realise their targets.

"The time for finger-pointing, blame-casting, and hiding behind the inaction of other countries is over," said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "We cannot afford those kind of games. What we need is political will for action and we need much greater ambition."

The next step before COP 18 will be the "Pre-COP Ministerial Meeting" in Seoul from 21-23 October. The high-level meeting will set the political groundwork for Doha, which will take place from 26 November  - 7 December.

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