COP17 Durban UN climate talks Nov 30

2:03am GMT: Although Tuesday’s initial working group sessions of the climate talks were not held behind closed doors, it’s worth noting the exact position of the European Union, as recorded in the daily bulletin just published by IISD Reporting Services. First on the long term agreement:

The EU called for a process to deliver a new global,comprehensive and legally-binding framework, to be completed by 2015

and then on the Kyoto Protocol:

Contingent on an agreement to develop a new legally-binding framework engaging all parties, the EU said he is “open to” a second commitment period, which should end by 2020

That then is the EU starting point for the key item of these negotiations.

It’s worrying to read the Financial Times’ interpretation of interviews given yesterday by Su Wei, deputy head of the Chinese delegation. According to environment correspondent, Pilita Clark:

China accused the European Union of ‘shifting the goalposts’ to make unfair demands on developing countries over a new global climate pact…..he said countries should stick to a road map forged in Bali four years ago that meant developing countries did not have to agree to binding commitments to curb their carbon emissions

I haven’t seen this particular exchange reported elsewhere.But we’ll know soon enough what China thinks of the EU proposal.

2:28am GMT: Easily the most positive piece of news on Tuesday was the potential breakthrough in reducing the emissions of the shipping industry.

This wording of the joint press release by Oxfam, WWF and the International Chamber of Shipping (which represents over 80% of the world merchant fleet) is short on detail. But it does mention that:

a significant share of any revenues collected from international shipping could be directed to developing countries and provide a new source of finance to support their efforts to tackle climate change. Such revenues could be directed through an appropriate channel, such as the Green Climate Fund

It’s also fair to say that the International Chamber of Shipping has not been in the habit of leaping on to platforms with the big NGOs. Let’s hope we have the makings of a beautiful friendship.

After yesterday’s press briefing by the World Meteorological Organization, it sounds as though the ships may have more space to show off their new zeal for efficiency:

This was the second-lowest seasonal minimum (for Arctic sea ice) on record, 0.16 million square kilometres above the record low set in 2007. Unlike the 2007 season, both the Northwest and Northeast Passages were ice-free for periods during the 2011 summer.

Before putting this down to natural climate variation, remember that the most certain statements in the recent UN report on extreme weather events related to the increase in temperature that has already occurred.

3:09am GMT: It might be wise to avoid perusal of yesterday’s mainstream media. There’s a plague of premature pessimism surrounding the potential death of the Kyoto Protocol and the non-birth of the Green Climate Fund.

Even the usually buoyant John Vidal in the Guardian feels moved to rewrite lines from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with the Kyoto Protocol in the lead role. Needless to say, it’s the scene in the immediate aftermath of the assassination.

If Canada has been digging itself into a hole, then there’s no sign of any pause in the spadework. The opening paragraph of a piece in the Globe and Mail warns:

The Harper government is joining the United States in raising objections to a planned $100-billion a year climate fund that is designed to bridge differences between rich countries and the developing world

There’s references to the unavoidable necessity for Canada to “align” its economy with its neighbour. Today’s session on the Green Climate Fund could get lively.

10:21am GMT: just completed very impressive press briefing from the Africa Group spokesperson from Mali. On being questioned about what compromises Africa might be prepared to make in the negotiations, he said:

We’ve seen leadership from the developed world on democracy, on terror, but the biggest threat for Africa now is climate change and we can’t compromise on that

On being asked why Africa is insisting on a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol when so few countries are willing to participate, he explained that no amount of fiddling with legal structures will solve the problem on its own. The existing architecture will suffice.

we have an ambition gap (for emissions reduction) and we have finance gap. We don’t want to have a legal gap as well.

I’m very embarrassed that I missed the name of the single contributor to this Africa briefing. I’ll try to sort that out now and report more of the very frank and open exchange.

10:38am GMT: nope, I’ve failed to identify Mr Mali of the Africa Group press briefing so that’s what I’ll have to call him, with many apologies. He’s new!

Just quickly to record what we heard about the core focus areas of attention in negotiations for the Africa group, as agreed at a meeting of ministers held in Mali a month ago:

the mitigation gap which requires a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol

the finance gap which requires fulfilment of the fast start finance commitments and satisfactory launch and seeding of the Green Climate Fund with new additional public finance from contributing countries. The Africa Group want this fund to be a unique fund in the galaxy of international aid vehicles, offering direct access and not offering direct support for western private corporations.

the legal architecture for a new legally binding agreement under the UN Convention

No Plan B or Plan C compromises are on offer.

11:16am GMT: If it’s true that the behaviour of the European Union is the swingometer for the climate talks, then what we just heard from Hans Verolme of the National Wildlife Foundation is worrying. He was on the panel of a Climate Action Network press briefing.

Hans explained that the EU had seemed to be taking a leadership role in its roadmap idea for sustaining the Kyoto Protocol in return for commitments from everyone else to sign up to a long term agreement.

suddenly this week statements have become more nuanced, talking about moving beyond the Kyoto Protocol. They could just be playing hardball for negotiating reasons or there is a shift. We’ve asked Brussels what is going on.

The CAN panel (representing a global network of NGOs) attribute this shift to the behind-the-scenes influence of lobbyists acting for big corporations.

I wonder if it might be something rather more prosaic – such as Angela Merkel waking up to the existence of this Durban event. Germany is not in the mood for any European initiative unless it has to do with saving the Euro currency. Not even Greenpeace can manage that.

11:48am GMT: Well, there was a question from Twitter for the briefing by UN conference secretariat – the first time this has happened in Durban. Maybe our OneClimate appeal made the difference.

The question was about Canada. In reply, Christiana Figueres explained:

we have not received any further notification from Canada of actions not already known.

What Christiana means is that Canada’s decision not to participate in a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol has been known for at least a year. Rumours that it will also give notice to quit from the first commitment period remain unconfirmed.

One other small point from the session. In answering a question about the possible collapse of the Kyoto Protocol, the president of the conference, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, mentioned the possibility that the Clean Development Mechanism could continue separately.

This is the controversial instrument of the Protocol which allows rich countries and their companies to purchase carbon credits to offset commitments on emissions. I’m a bit surprised that the president conceded the possibility of its decoupling at this early stage of proceedings.

12:01pm GMT: We’re looking forward to the press briefing by the US delegation, due to start in about half an hour.

I say “looking forward” because the normally infallible Jonathan Pershing, head of the delegation, did make one or two slightly dumb statements on his first outing on Monday. These have been seized on gleefully by NGOs and other critics of the obstructive US role in these negotiations.

In one comment, Pershing observed that the pledges for emissions reductions already made by developed countries are unlikely to be increased by 2020. For the opening day of the negotiations this was a singularly unhelpful remark and not really the business of the US to make it.

Pershing also said that there are an infinite number of emission reduction paths to meet the target of a two degree temperature rise. This was plain daft. If we’re struggling to make the low carbon transition now, when it’s just about doable, how can we expect the next generation to do it under emergency conditions?

The role of the South African media has been helpful in toughening up the standard of questions at press conferences. The international media is thin on the ground, to put it mildly, and the South Africans have made a real effort to get to grips with the subject.

Watch out for moves to cut down the time for questions by the formidable lady who acts as Pershing’s minder in these sessions.

12:48pm GMT: I speculated just now that the US delegation might seek ways to reduce the time for questions in their press briefing which was due to start 15 minutes ago.

Yup, they’ve done it in decisive fashion by cancelling the press conference altogether. I’ll keep a lookout but I think it’s a no-show from Pershing today


this post was first published by OneWorld UK