The so-called “high-level” segment of the climate talks began today. The next 48 hours represent a crucial stage of the talks.
You can feel this in the air at the Bella Centre; the atmosphere is charged, if a little weary. Numbers in the corridors have shrunk as observers are increasingly being denied access as government parties swell in advance of head of state attendance at the end of the week. Outside however numbers are growing, as more and more demonstrators and activists arrive with each passing hour (and some are removed, hundreds have reportedly been arrested). Some members of government parties have been left out in the cold and are struggling to get in amid the chaos.
Inside, ministers are now leading “informal” consultations on crunch issues: finance, developing countries role in cutting emissions and other issues such as trade issues and proposals for a levy on bunker fuels. I hear rumours that two parties of 25 ministers have been convened to tackle the issue of emission reduction targets.
COP president Connie Hedegaards strategy is to force political discussions in order to pave the way for a more comprehensible deal for heads of states to agree later this week. And they are a long way from that at the moment. What has emerged so far remains heavily bracketed – yet to be decided.
It is hard to get an overall sense of how things are developing as meetings retreat behind closed doors, but here’s how I see things standing on some of the key business issues:
Outcome from Copenhagen: Ms Hedegaard is aiming to broker one package by Friday with agreements on long-term cooperative action and the Kyoto Protocol, underpinned with a range of other agreements on issues such as capacity building and technology transfer. She also wants agreement on an overaching text which would demonstrate the political will to commit to emission reductions and finance. If agreement is reached on these elements they will likely be political in nature, with an aim to make it a legally binding agreement by 2010. But there are constant challenges to this plan and what will emerge remains subject to intense debate.
Numbers: Work to agree emission reductions targets have failed to be completed before today’s deadline, in part because of the numerous delays and suspensions in work in the last five days. These followed accusations that developed countries were dragging their heels in order to try and secure a new treaty whch contained commitments from China and India to control some of their spiralling emissions - not just developed countries. As a result, the current proposals are marked by gaps and blank spaces where there should be numbers.
Sectoral approaches: As I reported yesterday, attempts to agree some general text on sectoral approaches has failed after being blocked by developing countries. It is only being pursued for agriculture. As a result it is dropping off the agenda. I think this represents a real missed opportunity. If designed correctly, this could have offered a real way to tackle emissions from industry on an equal basis regardless of location.
Levies on aviation and marine bunker fuels: A proposal is to place a levy on bunker fuels – which the UN think would generate $12 billion a year on a steady and predictable basis - is being blocked by China, India, Saudi Arabia and the Bahamas. The blocking countries argue that the levy should only be applied in developed countries.
Technology transfer: Technology and carbon-saving products and their global deployment is key to reducing emissions. Developing countries however argue that intellectual property rights are presenting a huge barrier. This has led to heated debate.s As it stands a decision to relax IPR is bracketed. But cooperative action on technology does look certain and there is a commitment to increase private and public energy-related R&D - doubling existing R&D by 2012 and increasing it to four times its current level by 2020. Watch this space for more detailed analysis of technology proposals.
Reform of the Clean Development Mechanism: The EU has been advocating a shift to sectoral approaches in advanced developing countries to avoid the pitfalls of the project-based CDM (the mechanism which generates the credits to allow "carbon offsetting" in developed countries). Under the EU's plan a baseline for business-as-usual emissions in a particular sector would be set, and a county would start earning credits (which could then be sold to developed countries) once its emissions fall below the reference levels by an agreed amount. The concern for us is the incentive used to stimulate action by the private sector in countries involved in such a scheme. We cannot allow a situation where companies in Europe effectively subsidise their competitors.
But as one of the leading negotiators said yesterday: "Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed." And very little has been agreed yet. The overriding request I hear from the manufacturing community in respect to climate change is that there is clarity in the direction of policy and that efforts are made to ensure that competitors face similar carbon constraints and costs, regardless of where in the world they are situated. At this stage we are as far from that as is possible.