Bridges Doha Update #1 | Negotiators at Doha Climate Talks Look to Tie Up Loose Ends
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There is a noticeably different tone in the air as negotiators arrive in Doha, Qatar for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s eighteenth Conference of the Parties (COP 18). The media speculation, the looming big questions, and, interestingly, the pessimism that has coloured the previous three annual climate change meetings even before they began are muted. Indeed, the uncertainty and possibility for a breakthrough that surrounded the Copenhagen, Cancun, and Durban talks created a whirlwind of pressure, speculation, and possibility that drew the world’s attention.
Doha is clearly a different animal. Instead of mounting pressure on parties as to whether they will be able to strike a deal, COP 18 will focus on operationalising the Durban Platform (ADP). The hard-fought COP 17 negotiations in Durban, South Africa ultimately culminated in a deal to set the ground work for a new global climate pact, but difficult questions, new alliances, and altered political realities have emerged over the past year. In addition to the ADP question, observers will be watching closely to see if parties are able to forge a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and whether negotiations under the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) can come to a conclusion, as agreed last year.
In order to gauge the direction of the talks in Doha, observers will be scrutinising some of the key parties that could sway outcomes in one way or another. With recent developments affecting the planet’s two top greenhouse gas emitters - the United States and China - at the highest level, every move will be examined for changes in how they engage with the process and develop policy.
Obama phase II
While present in body, but largely absent in spirit at recent UNFCCC meetings, the United States will be attending fresh from an election victory by President Barack Obama. Obama took the helm in Washington in January 2009 with a strong position on climate change that had many environmental groups expecting that the US would become a new beacon of hope in the talks. This did not come to be.
But with increased frequency and severity of weather disasters still on the minds of many Americans in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and several reports confirming that a growing proportion of the US population believes that human-caused climate change is a reality, the Obama administration may find itself in a position to press harder in the talks. In his first press conference following the defeat of Republican challenger Mitt Romney, Obama reconfirmed his stance on the issue.
“I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behaviour and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it,” the president told reporters at a 14 November press conference. However, he cautioned that he would not prioritise the issue over jobs and a healthy economy.
Binding commitments for all?
This month’s Communist party congress in China, meanwhile, saw Xi Jinping take over from Hu Jintao, who had spent 10 years in the country’s top position. Few expect the leadership transition to trigger a sudden shift in Beijing’s position on climate change, but many will be watching the country closely for possible changes in approach. Of particular interest will be how hard China, along with most other developing countries, will press for a “common but differentiated responsibility” (CBDR) clause to be incorporated into the Durban Platform. The final ADP agreement reached at COP 17 makes no explicit reference to the concept, which has been an underlying element of the Convention since its inception.
The CBDR issue will factor into discussions across the board in Doha and it will undoubtedly be one of the most difficult to find common ground. While the vast majority of countries agree that industrialised countries have a historical responsibility to take on the lion’s share of the initial work on reigning in emissions, some emerging countries are quickly closing that long-standing gap. China, the world’s top emitter, recently overtook Russia to become the number two cumulative emitter behind the US.
Already the BASIC group of countries - Brazil, South Africa, India, and China - have been emphasising CBDR in talks since Durban, and this is expected to continue in Doha. This will undoubtedly receive pushback from the US, Canada, and Japan, which have clearly articulated their opposition to a deal that excludes binding commitments for all major polluters. The past year has also shown gaps in what was once a firmly bound negotiating bloc of developing countries. Worried about the effects of rises in sea levels, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are pushing for higher ambition by all, including increased mitigation efforts from emerging economies. The CBDR issue was instrumental in the US decision to not sign onto the Kyoto Protocol, the first phase of which will expire at the end of this year.
The Kyoto factor
The possible implementation of a second phase of Kyoto will be watched closely at COP 18. While the Durban Platform is designed to be a follow-up global treaty to Kyoto, the terms of the pact will not be finalised until 2015 and it will not enter into force until 2020. A second phase of Kyoto is meant to address this eight year gap by ensuring that the planet has a continuous climate change treaty.
But with the world’s major emitters either not subject to binding emissions cuts or not interested in a second Kyoto phase, sealing a deal that will make a meaningful contribution to combating climate change is unlikely. Already, Russia, Canada, and Japan - major economies that signed onto the first phase of the Protocol in 1997 - have said they will not be a part of the next phase. The European Union and Australia have conditionally said that they will be a part of “Kyoto 2,” but without the participation of more developed countries, the impacts will be far less than what is needed to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C from pre-industrial levels.
Out with the LCA, in with the ADP?
Negotiations on how best to begin operationalising the Durban mandate will be front and centre at COP 18. But lingering in the background will be the LCA negotiating track, which is scheduled to be wrapped-up to allow the ADP to move forward. It is not yet clear how unresolved issues under the LCA will be dealt with upon its termination, but it has been suggested that some may be forwarded to the ADP. Sources close to the talks say they do not expect to encounter any overwhelming obstacles in their efforts to close the LCA in Doha.
As always, financing will likely play a significant role in the COP negotiations. This will include ensuring that the new Green Climate Fund (GCF) is fully operational and that fast-start financing pledges - agreed to in Copenhagen and set to end this year - have been lived up to and are accounted for.
The second session of the “Forum on the Impact of the Implementation of Response Measures” - which was established at COP 17 in Durban - will take place in Doha and will likely see a range of trade issues discussed. The forum was established to discuss the possible consequences of actions that are taken by developed country parties to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. While initially focussed on the possible loss in revenue by oil-producing nations, the concept has been broadened to look at other possible impacts, such as emissions trading schemes (ETS) and border carbon adjustment policies. The European Union’s controversial inclusion of aviation emissions under its ETS was expected to be the focus of much discussion in Durban before Brussels diffused the issue earlier this month by announcing plans to suspend the scheme for one year.
One response measures issue that will certainly be up for discussion in Doha is the issue of “unilateral measures” to combat climate change, which is an unresolved issue under the LCA track. While the response measures forum is tasked with “consolidating” the entire process, some developing countries would like to see the issue kept in a standard negotiating track, rather than the forum. Because the forum has a limited lifespan to COP 19 (with possibility of extension), it is unclear what will become of issues discussed there if it is brought to a close.
Technology issue moves forward
Technology issues are expected to progress with the endorsement of additional functions for both components of the Technology Mechanism (TM), which was established at COP 16 in Cancun. The Technology Executive Committee - the Mechanism’s policy arm - will “recommend activities to expand technologies in the public domain,” making up for an omission in the original mandate. The reference to technologies in the “public domain,” which is strongly supported by developing countries, had figured prominently in many past key UNFCCC decisions on technology transfer but not in the one establishing the Mechanism.
The Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) - the operational arm of the Mechanism - is expected to be given the additional function of capacity building for technology assessments. It will also be charged with identifying currently available climate technologies that meet the key low-carbon and climate-resilient development needs of countries. This is meant to respond concerns by some developing countries that the CTCN would force them to adopt controversial technologies or costly renewable energy technologies that were not appropriate to their needs.
Intellectual property emerges
The role of intellectual property rights (IPRs) in the transfer of climate change technologies has been notoriously contentious in climate change negotiations, and Doha will be no different. Currently on the table are two options as to how to address the linkages between IPRs and technology development and transfer.
One option - more favoured by developing countries - calls upon members to “consider technology related intellectual property rights issues to be a barrier to development and transfer of technologies under the Convention process.” It also asks for the organisation of a forum to discuss these issues, as well as for parties to “cooperate to undertake a range of measures to address the issue of intellectual property rights, as appropriate.” However, this option also calls on organisations such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the WTO for their input and expert advice, a concession to developed countries which said their expertise was required.
The other option would be no mention of the IPRs issue. This has been the long-standing position held by many developed countries who argue that the UNFCCC is not the right forum to address these issues in any manner whatsoever. They further point out that IPRs are not mentioned at all in the mandate of the TM.
Overall, few surprises are expected in Doha, but as has been seen in previous COPs, anything can happen. What is certain is that parties have been ramping up their efforts over 2012, and most observers agree that negotiators will be arriving with their shirt sleeves rolled up. Slow progress at the Convention’s annual mid-year meeting in Bonn, Germany this year was overcome by hard work at an extraordinary meeting held recently in Bangkok, meant to better prepare texts for the COP. The next two weeks will reveal if they were successful.
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