COP17 Durban UN climate talks Dec 3

1:15am GMT: We hear repeatedly that the Kyoto Protocol is the only legally binding agreement to control greenhouse gas emissions and should therefore be preserved at all costs.

One thing has always baffled me about this. If the legally binding status carries such weight, how is that Canada and others have been allowed to overshoot their commitments?

I understood that the rules dictate that any excess emissions are carried over into the second commitment period, making life more difficult for offending countries.

Is this why Canada and Japan are refusing to countenance a new commitment period? Will their excessive behaviour go unpunished?

Here’s a welcome piece by Bloomberg on the subject suggesting that Canada has overshot its emissions target to a value of $6.7 billion – and that by giving notice to quit the Protocol early, the government may indeed escape the penalty altogether.

1:27am GMT: Another quick note on the Kyoto Protocol. One of its 1997 architects, the former British deputy prime minister, now Lord Prescott, resurfaces from time to time brandishing his climate change credentials (which are genuine).

He’s suggesting in the Guardian that the Protocol be suspended until a more comprehensive long term agreement can be sorted out. This would be a way of ensuring that the many operational virtues of the existing regime can be maintained.

In typical fashion, Lord Prescott offers little evidence that he has fully thought through the idea. My concern is that the only parties who might feel comfortable with it are the businesses hoovering up carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism, an instrument of the Protocol.

However, if the Durban talks go badly, putting the Kyoto Protocol into suspended animation might then be seen as the least-worst outcome.

2:03am GMT: We’ve heard next to nothing about India in this opening week of the Durban climate talks. Later today the delegation holds its first press briefing, just at a time when the media may be distracted by the protest march.

This report in the Hindustan Times brings an impressively well-informed picture of a recent cabinet discussion of the Durban strategy to be followed by environment minister, Jayanthi Natarajan. It doesn’t sound great news for the conference.

China by contrast has put out conciliatory smoke signals. Reuters reckons that the lead negotiator, Su Wei, said yesterday that China might be willing to sign up to a legally binding agreement as part of the European Union roadmap.

In the US press briefing, Jonathan Pershing had excused his refusal to contemplate such a move on grounds that China would never sign up.

On top of that, there are reports from China that the government might even consider an absolute target for carbon dioxide emissions as opposed to its current pledge to improve energy intensity. This sounds far fetched and distant in time but it was apparently acknowledged by Su Wei in Durban.

There’s a possibility of choreography here, positioning China as the deal-maker and isolating the US.

If you want to get a real sense of the gulf between the European and US positions on the roadmap towards a legally binding agreement, read the first page of Meena Raman’s report on Wednesday’s informal consultations about mitigation.

2:15am GMT: At this halfway stage of the Durban climate talks, the various working groups and committees should be close to producing draft texts for plenary discussions on Saturday.

These are the texts with lots of bracketed clauses which have to be thrashed our by ministers next week.

There are plenty of reports of “discussions continuing into Friday evening,” which imply difficulties. One draft that has got through in time is that for REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation), according to the Center for International Forestry Research.

12:11pm GMT: Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists gave a formidable summary of the state of play in the Durban talks in the press briefing this morning on behalf of the Climate Action Network. I’ll try to pick out the key points:

Kyoto Protocol – still up in the air which way this might go and even the best outcome (formal amendment introducing a second commitment period for emissions reductions) could not take effect until 2013.

long term binding agreement – US current position crosses so many red lines (especially doing nothing until after 2020) that developing countries regard it as not a serious basis for negotiation. If G77+China group could reach agreement, that might put pressure on US

Small Island States – their proposals to get an agreement within 12 months have been excluded from draft texts due to objection by US

Green Climate Fund – agreement is possible but real problems remain with US reluctance to allow developing countries to have meaningful role in the context of raising long term finance

The main task for the conference today is to progress draft documents on technical issues (Adaptation and REDD are believed to be furthest forward) and for negotiators to absorb the Presidency’s paper on the big political issues to be sorted out by ministers.

12:42pm GMT: At last we’ve heard from India, thanks to a briefing from the head of the Durban delegation, J.M. Mauskar, special secretary in the ministry of environment and forests.

Mr Mauskar was resolutely tight-lipped in presenting India’s apparently uncompromising position. But he sustained a sense of humour which suggests that the Indians will not simply act as sulky boys standing in the corner.

Can the European persuade India to sign up to some sort of promise to join in a legally binding framework or to even to a timetable to talk about it?

We are not against a legal treaty. The question is what comes first, action or treaty. If treaties could solve problems, life would be simple for us.

One or two presentational banana skins lie in wait for the European Commissioner Connie Hedegaard.

this terminology of ‘major emitters’ we don’t like. India is not a major emitter. India is a large country with a small footprint

From other comments by Mr Mauskar, it is clear that when he talks about “carbon footprint” he means per capita emissions. He made no reference to the fact that India is 3rd on the 2010 list of global carbon dioxide emitters.

But the negotiator was conciliatory on India’s demands on trade and intellectual property rights (they don’t want to be frozen out from access to new technologies). And Mr Mauskar concluded by saying:

I am optimistic that all us go from Durban with smiling faces

That thought has induced an paroxysm of writer’s block.

12:52pm GMT: Going back to the Climate Action Network briefing, the panel of experts speaking on behalf of the global NGO movement was asked for a reaction to the overnight news that China might agree to a roadmap leading to a legally binding treaty on action to fight climate change.

(this may not be word perfect) but Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists warned:

this is not an entirely new position and it is based on certain conditions eg overall progress in negotiations and in China’s own development. And it’s not intended to signal that China’s pledges on emissions reductions will go into the agreement. It’s a constructive move but the devil is in the detail

which is another way of saying that the cat in not in the bag just yet.


this post was first published by OneWorld UK