COP-17 on knife-edge

2011-12-07 07:01

Negotiations are on a knife-edge at COP-17.

Delegates close to the heart of the talks last night feared that the talks could either fall down a precipice, or give rise to something significant at Durban.

Ministers started arriving at the high-level segment of the talks, and will now take over the work the negotiators had been toiling on for the past week.

They have much to do, but already significant progress has been made that could deliver a Durban deal come Saturday morning.

At the same time the political issues now weighing down the talks could result in a disastrous ending for the conference.

Already it has become clear that Durban might just be a watershed moment for the ongoing climate talks that had been dragging on since the 90s, particularly for this round of the ongoing negotiations that started off in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2004.

And at the heart of the talks is the issue of the new emerging world order.

This round of negotiations wants to find a solution, whereby India and China are strengthening their economies while having to eradicate poverty at the same time. The question of capping developing nations’ economies is key to all the thorny issues tabled in Durban.

When the much-debated Kyoto Protocol was negotiated, the China of yesterday was not the power it is today. The protocol only covers about 15% of world emissions.

Rich nation, poor nation
Rich nations, such as the European Union, demand that a new deal cannot be negotiated on the basis of the world as it stood in 1992, but that the major new economies must also now do their share. Yet up and coming economies say that the historical responsibilities of the rich nations must still be considered.

“BASIC countries [China, India, Brazil and South Africa] are not major polluters. They have a small carbon footprint in terms of all historical emissions,” Indian Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan said at BASIC press conference yesterday.

Since the controversial Copenhagen climate talks in 2009 the BASIC countries have become a strong voice in the negotiations, because they know their members countries are the pillars of the emerging world order.

Negotiators have been delaying answering the question of how to balance the new world order, but the issue of the second commitment period has forced their hand. Because the second commitment period runs out at the end of next year, negotiators will have to make a decision.

We will sign, but ...
And this is where the fun starts, because this time around in Durban, countries have more chips to play with because of the countries’ different needs.

The developing countries wants the European Union to sign on to a second round of the Kyoto Protocol urgently.

The European Union knows this and says it will sign but only if a framework, roadmap or mandate is put in place that will put the world onto the path of getting a new legally binding agreement signed and ready by 2020.

And this deal must include the biggest polluters China and the US and have clear timeframes to meet goals.

The developing world is willing to come on board with such a deal, but only if certain conditions are met such as financial assistance and technology transfer. China said it would sign a 2020 legally binding deal, but only if five conditions are met.

And the US, which wants nothing to do with the Kyoto Protocol, is also game for a legally binding agreement and roadmap, but only if there are no conditions attached to it – “no deal full of Swiss cheese holes”.

The US does not want to give up its tax dollars to make the Chinese even more competitive or its technology, which it believes still gives it a competitive advantage. It also has to contend with its domestic policies back home.

Informed sources close to the negotiations said a Durban deal was on, but hard work remained to work through these differences to get something done by Saturday morning. It was no longer about trying to get to the middleground, a source told City Press, but about reframing the debate, “framing the choices at the table differently”.

But rescuing the Kyoto Protocol was critical to the talks, the source said. “If you lose the Kyoto Protocol, you risk losing 20 years of negotiations.”

Yet there was optimism that Durban would deliver something, even if it was a watered down treaty.

“It is a party driven process. The parties will ultimately decide whether the Durban deal will be weak or whether it will have rigour in it,” the source said.

All the issues such the Green Climate Fund and financing will start flowing if the issue of how to deal with the new world order is resolved, including how to deal with Kyoto.

“If not, these negotiations will keep going at a snail’s pace,” the source said.

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