Insights at Copenhagen

Posted on 18 Dec 2009 by The Manufacturer

Susanne Baker, senior climate and environment policy adviser at EEF, says that while heads of states have been making grand speeches at COP15, their negotiators have been obfuscating.

Yesterday new groups were formed in an attempt to resolve some of the continuing crunch issues. They are the same crunch issues from the first day of the talks. The same crunch issues from the meetings leading up to Copenhagen. It was all starting to feel like Groundhog Day.

As these groups debated the thorny issues of finance, emission cuts, the role of developing countries and the like deep into the night, rumours were swirling around the snow-clad Bella Centre: Obama was not coming; the G20 had met in secret; a deal had already been negotiated amongst the big emitters. Perhaps the biggest (concrete) news of the night was the announcement by Hilary Clinton that the US would offer $100 billion a year in climate aid by 2020 providing that the developing countries make firm climate policy promises and for these to be transparent. China, who had previously vehemently opposed international scrutiny of their policy delivery, appeared to soften its position somewhat. The press said this signalled that a deal was close to being brokered.

But unsurprisingly when negotiators reconvened at 8pm they reported that while some progress had been made some intractable issues needed political guidance and others required more time. Some of these hold ups are technical issues. On the Kyoto Protocol, for example, these methodological issues include which base years to use, the length and number of commitment periods and whether to add new gases. The Chair suggested the use of a UN device, known as Friends of the Chair, where a small number of senior negotiators try to identify ways through the impasse. After some resistance by a number of developing countries, eventually it was agreed this should be the way forward. They were meant to reconvene at midnight. This was delayed until 3am. When they did meet they agreed that they had gone as far as they could go without political input.

It now rests in the hands of the worlds leaders. I’m not a betting woman but if I was I wouldn’t like to place any money on the outcome. Still so much is uncertain. It will be difficult to track the talks over today – particularly as observer organisations have been pushed to the fringes of the talks*. Even ministerial press conferences (the life and blood of most ministers) have been cancelled this morning so more time can be devoted to the negotiations.

EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas was reported saying that the EU was ready to go to a 30% emissions reduction target (it has current has committed to 20%) if the US is ready to do more than they have announced. Sources say that the Commission was last night asking EU member states how far they were prepared to go by 2020 – Germany offered 42% by all accounts. All eyes are on Obama today.

* NGOs are furious about this lack of access. Businesses too. I spoke to one chap from a European trade association who had queued for nine hours on Monday in the biting cold only to be told to return tomorrow. On returning, he was told he had no chance of getting in what so ever. He left deflated. Another Australian lady at the daily business meeting earlier this week was in tears as her CEO was flying in from down under and had no chance whatsoever of stepping foot inside the Bella Centre, let alone honour the appointments and speaking engagements he had committed to.