Countdown to the conclusion of climate talks

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As the countdown to the UNFCCC climate talks begins, Indaba (a Zulu term describing an important conference held between communities) negotiations have now entered a critical phase. Ministers joined the conference yesterday.

During these final 48 hours of the negotiations, the talks will be characterised by a ministerial-led process of political decision-making coupled with frenzied parallel meetings on scores of outstanding technical issues.

By Saturday morning we will know if political will can bridge the current gap on a future global response to the issue climate change – or secure substantial progress in a way forward.According to reports, the South African hosts have tabled a number of iterations of the ‘big picture':

  • A new legally binding agreement, with negotiations starting in 2012 and concluding by 2015. This is the position backed by the EU and some of the world's most vulnerable countries.
  • The adoption of a "series of decisions", supported by the US
  • A wait and see option, favoured by Brazil, India and China. These countries want to see the outcome of the next IPCC scientific review as well as a review of the efforts undertaken by Annex I countries (developed countries with targets under Kyoto) before discussing the form of a future agreement.
  • No action at all, which only Bolivia supports.

This simplifies the enormous challenge faced by Ministers. In addition to the thorny issue of the future of the Kyoto Protocol, On Tuesday, the chair of the ad-hoc working group on long-term cooperative action produced a new, amalgamated text (following meetings which stretched long into the night) which shows ministers will need to address a myriad of complex and highly-political issues: A shared vision for the agreement; global goals and a timeframe for global peaking; mitigation pledges, accounting, ambition and compliance within both developed and developing countries and cooperative sectoral approaches including consideration of approaches to international aviation and shipping.

And of course finance. Deliberations on the Green Climate Fund – the body that will collect and distribute $100bn a year to poor countries – have been reportedly “hard”. Given the current financial crisis and the slow pace of negotiations, some delegates think there may not be enough carrots for large developing countries to soften on their staunch positions. However, in a press conference yesterday, UK minister of energy and climate change, Greg Barker was more upbeat, saying the UK was happy with the current recommendations, and was positive an agreement will be reached. A levy on bunker fuels is one option being considered to finance the fund, a solution the IMO has previously supported.

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