Panama Climate Meet Sets Stage for Outcomes in Durban

17 October 2011

UN climate negotiators trudged forward on a range of issues at a major meeting earlier this month in Panama City, but slow progress on trade issues and the questions over the future of the Kyoto Protocol bode poorly for chances of finalising a robust package this year.

The chairs of the Ad-hoc Working Groups for Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) and for the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) asked the designated facilitators of dozens of negotiating sub-groups to produce text by the end of the 1-7 October meeting. The texts will provide the basis for final negotiations at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change's (UNFCCC) end-of-year meeting this December in Durban, South Africa.

The AWG-KP discussions focused primarily on the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, as the first commitment period expires at the end of 2012. While the decision countries will take in Durban as to the future of the Protocol still remains uncertain, negotiations nevertheless continued to advance on details of a possible second commitment period.

Parties worked on further clarifying the options concerning mitigation targets, the possible nature and content of rules for a second commitment period, and the role of a possible second commitment period within a balanced outcome in Durban. The group's revised chair proposal summarises the current picture.

Talks on trade see little progress

Regarding trade issues, the discussions on so-called "response measures"- national policies or programmes aimed at reducing carbon emissions, such as implementing emissions trading schemes or regulating international transport -continued under various negotiation tracks but none with any real substantive progress.

The differences of position between developed and developing countries are marked; observers note that neither group appears willing to budge until perhaps the final hour in Durban, when deals are made. The forum on response measures that is scheduled to resume in Durban, having begun in Bonn this past June, will be telling (see Bridges Weekly, 22 June 2011).

Under the AWG-LCA, countries heatedly debated procedural issues, including whether last year's Cancun Agreement (Decision 1/CP.16) or the broader Bali Action Plan - the agreement from 2007 that launched the LCA negotiations - should define the scope of this year's negotiation. Negotiators at last December's Cancun COP were only able to advance certain pieces of the Bali Action Plan, and some countries are pushing hard for Durban to pull in the rest. A balanced package requires agreement on all elements, they say.

Parties in Panama negotiated in an all-encompassing "contact group," along with spin-off informal groups on adaptation, finance, technology, capacity building, shared vision, review of the global long-term goal, legal options, and diverse issues related to mitigation such as sectoral issues and response measures.

Nearly all of the informal groups produced text forwarded to Durban as a basis for further discussions. Parties also agreed to work inter-sessionaly through email, submissions, and bilateral meetings to further streamline the process. For the most part, a huge amount of work still remains for Durban, especially balancing of issues. Undoubtedly, countries are carefully strategising and weighing their positions for how to play their cards in the Durban decision-making game.

On agriculture, discussions revolved around how to identify points of convergence around aspects of food security, trade, economic development, and poverty eradication. The facilitator provided a paper attempting to consolidate ideas into one text, and parties decided to eventually work on this basis while leaving room for additional input from submissions and from the Bonn facilitator's note.

Developed countries welcomed the progress made by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on international aviation and shipping at the 62nd session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee. Developing countries showed scepticism over the ability of the IMO to apply measures globally due to the majority rather than consensus decision. As for the text to serve as a basis for negotiation in Durban, the group finally agreed to compile the facilitator's note with the set of country submissions that would serve as a guide, but not as negotiating text, per se.

Remaining issues for Durban

Resolving the issue of the Kyoto Protocol remains the most pressing question as Durban approaches. Increasingly, the future of the Protocol hinges on the possibility of the establishment of a future legally-binding agreement through the AWG-LCA negotiations, a position strongly promoted by the developing country Group of 77 and China. The issue, however, is entangled in a heated debate over the legal options for the extension, renewal, and/or carrying through of existing instruments.

Another key issue being tracked closely by observers is the kind of financial mechanism that Durban will produce and whether it will be accompanied by financial commitments and clearer indications of future financing sources. Developing countries repeatedly underline developed countries' failure to fulfil their past commitments and climate financing obligations.

Although advances are apparent under the Transitional Committee - set up this year to define the institutional structure and function of the new Green Climate Fund agreed to in Cancun - in negotiations, the tension between developed and developing countries is mounting especially on the question of short-term and long-term financing. Developed countries, who are bound under the UN convention to support developing country mitigation and adaptation with finance and technology support and who agreed at the Copenhagen COP to both short and long-term funding, are showing reticence on the long-term commitments. The ongoing global financial crisis continues to complicate this particular debate.

Ambition gap

Parties to the UNFCCC will also be looking to bridge the growing "ambition gap," brought on by the stagnant status of current negotiations. Some observers note increasing doubts as to whether the multilateral regime can keep temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius - a goal that is dependent upon a range of crosscutting processes and instruments involved in current negotiations. Numerous parties and observers continue to emphasise that the pledges made by developed and developing countries as part of the Copenhagen Accord are insufficient in themselves to protect the 2 degree maximum increase and that more recent statements among developed nations are, in fact, further weakening this mark.

Other issues in the spotlight for Durban are the negotiations centring on developed country mitigation targets, the process of International Consultation and Analysis - which would serve as a watered-down approach to encourage compliance, and the process to review commitments in the future in light of new science and information. These issues, however, are unlikely to see resolve. The US continues to indicate that they will not up their ante unless the major developing countries - especially China - promise to do the same.

How to resolve the question of equitably incorporating developing countries into the game in a "comparable" fashion while still upholding the Convention's principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" - a principle that sets a firm distinction between the mitigation requirements for developed and developing countries - still eludes negotiators. Many observers claim it is a political question that countries need to clarify at the highest level for this multilateral process to truly advance.

Last week's Panama meetings were a continuation of negotiations that took place in Bonn, Germany over the summer (see Bridges Weekly, 22 June 2011).

More information

All texts now forwarded to Durban are available here.

ICTSD Reporting.

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