Climate Negotiations on the Eve of Durban

Climate negotiators from throughout the world are in Panama this week for the last negotiating session before December’s major Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting in Durban.

Delegates Arrive for Climate Talks in Panama (photo: adoptanegotiator)

Last year’s COP in Cancun ended on a cautiously optimistic note as the explicit gridlock and petulance that marked the 2009 Copenhagen summit was avoided and a series of “agreements” emerged that would put negotiations on a path forward towards a new global treaty.

So where are we on the eve of Durban? Has there been significant progress towards substantive agreements? Or did the non-committal nature of the Cancun Agreements merely  temporarily avoid the need for  confronting critical differences between countries?

The two negotiating tracks are still proceeding–one dealing with what happens when the Kyoto Protocol’s first emissions reductions commitment period ends next year (AWG-KP) and another dealing with “long term commitments” for countries, like the United States and China, that are not bound by Kyoto’s reduction pledges (AWG-LCA).

On the Kyoto side, several Kyoto-bound developed country emitters like Japan, Canada, and Russia have insisted that they will not sign on to another commitment period under the current situation.

Developing countries, led by China, are still insisting that the Kyoto must proceed with a second commitment period. This has led the European Union to say that they are willing to consider a second round of emissions reductions only if it is part of a “broader package.”

They argue that since EU emissions are around 11% of the global share, their unilateral actions will not have the impact needed to stave off dangerous climate change.

On the AWG-LCA track, there still doesn’t seem to be anything concrete to have emerged yet that bridges the concerns of the major developing countries and the United States.  One of the major features of the Cancun Agreements was that countries–developed and developing–would voluntarily list their emissions reduction strategies in a public fashion and that there should be some way that any emissions reductions could be independently verified.  Also related to this is the crucial issue of financial mechanisms for developing countries to help transition to a low-carbon economy.  Developing countries are critical of developed countries’ focus on how climate finance funding might operate to the exclusion of  a discussion of monetary commitments.

How these logjams will be cleared is difficult to ascertain at this point.  Over the past few days in Panama, it appears that there has been a flurry of documents and “conference room papers”  circulating where countries are staking out positions.

The Panama conference ends tomorrow, so we should have a sense of where things are headed going into Durban within the next 24 hours.  The European Union was hoping for a “roadmap” towards a legal agreement to be adopted in Durban.  That would surely be progress.