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« Agriculture to feature as a key issue on the Road to Durban: opens up critical debates | Main | Waiter, There's a Newfangled Technology in My Soup »

June 28, 2011

Small insights about the big picture in climate negotiations

Bonn2 It is axiomatic that negotiations successful for all sides require good faith. It would be inaccurate to say that good faith was completely absent during the climate change negotiations, June 6–17 in Bonn, Germany. Nearly two weeks of negotiations among the contact group for Long-Term Cooperative Action (LCA) produced a draft decision text to enhance action on adapting to climate change. There was progress on agreeing to the terms for authorizing an invitation to host the Climate Technology Center and Network. The institutions chosen by the Conference of Parties (CoP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will implement the terms of the Technology Mechanism decided at the CoP in Cancún, Mexico in 2010. The Center and Network will respond to developing country requests for needs assessments and technology options advice to adapt to climate change and reduce greenhouse gases. However, the Technology Mechanism will not pay for transfer of technologies to developing countries, as is required by Article 4.5 of the convention.

Money, or rather lack of it, was one motivation for accusations that the United States was negotiating in bad faith. The U.S. refusal to discuss the sources of the $100 billion Green Climate Fund by 2020 agreed in Cancún, the U.S. suggestion that the fund might not reach $100 billion, and its meager contribution to the Fast Start Finance promised by developed countries in Cancún, reinforced an impression that the United States was negotiating in bad faith: the U.S. government would not pay the costs of adaptation to, and mitigation of, climate change on anything near the scale of its historic and current responsibility as a major emitter of GHGs.

But perhaps at the core of the accusations of bad faith, and not just those directed at the U.S. delegation, was the belief that no matter what position papers parties advanced, no matter the extent of consensus among parties for some of those positions, the decision-making process would be controlled by a few developed countries and the UNFCCC secretary. At a Friends of the Earth (FoE) press conference, Michelle Maynard of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, said that she could still not get a satisfactory answer about who wrote the Cancún CoP decision document that was presented to delegates with less than three hours time to review on a take-it-or-leave -it basis. In Bonn, Maynard put the question to Patricia Espinosa, the President of the Cancún CoP, who replied that the decision was the result of a “new methodology.” As to the rumor that the decision was drafted under the supervision of a “U.S. legal expert,” Secretary Espinosa had nothing to say.

Last year Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre, characterized the Cancún decision-making process as uncannily like that of the opaque “Green Room” process of the World Trade Organization negotiations. Will the Green Room become the new normal of convention negotiations and if so, will that process be used to decide on an agricultural work program in advance of a work program in any other economic sector? Will agriculture, along with forestry, be reduced to providing carbon emissions offsets for other sectors to buy, in order to comply with voluntary or mandatory GHG caps?

South Africa, the president of the 2011 CoP, has announced that agreement to commit to an agricultural work program will be its signal achievement. To procure an African consensus for the CoP, South Africa will host a September 1–3 meeting of African agriculture, environment and finance ministers, financed and co-organized by the World Bank. The bank has a long announced interest in expanding its $2.1 billion in Bio-Carbon Funds by a CoP decision to allow agricultural land based carbon emissions offset credits to provide an underlying asset for the carbon derivatives market. Despite the mandate, from Cancún previous decisions, to have a balance between the funding of adaptation and mitigation projects, including carbon emissions offsets, the bank’s Global Environmental Facility has invested just $50 million in adaptation.

In Bonn, the Substantive Body on Scientific and Technology Advice (SBSTA), refused to establish an agricultural work program. However, the 2011 chair of the ad hoc working group on Long-Term Cooperation is Daniel Reifsnyder, a U.S. official. The U.S. and other developed country supporters of an agriculture program, with the aid of an African “consensus” on agriculture resulting from the September 1–2 meeting, and the bank’s offer of public money to support African carbon offset projects, in exchange for African support, may be able to forge an agreement to launch an agricultural work program.

Since U.S. Vice President Al Gore made inclusion of carbon markets a condition of the U.S. signing on to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the carbon market designers have struggled to make the markets work to reduce GHGs. The U.S. failure to join the Kyoto Protocol after developing countries reluctantly agreed to inclusion of a carbon market provision is one of those demands that may or may not have been demanded in bad faith.  Now, when Japan, Russia, Canada and the United States oppose an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, with its mandatory caps on GHGs, “new market mechanisms” are proposed in addition to the ones that haven’t worked.

IATP has written elsewhere about the many vulnerabilities to failure of carbon markets. A broad range of these vulnerabilities were presented at the IATP and FERN co-organized side event on June 14. IATP has recommended a due diligence review of carbon emissions market performance before parties commit to supporting “new market mechanisms."

Carbon market failure would not be a matter of gravest concern if other programs to reduce GHG were working. At this point, however, parties cannot even agree on a target year for the peaking of GHGs nor what that target should be, nor whether developing countries should be obliged to assume reduction commitments that the developed countries have been unable to achieve. Instead there is a mercantile approach to climate governance, trying to lock in climate commitments from other parties, while ensuring that none of those commitments damage trading interests. Such language is included in a proposed draft LCA decision for a SBSTA program in agriculture that may be agreed during the next CoP, November 28 to December 10 in Durban, South Africa.

It will be a tragedy if Bolivia alone opposes such a Durban decision, due to a Green Room procedure that excludes most parties, as Bolivia did in Cancún. Instead there is ample substantive grounds to oppose a decision whose implementation would almost certainly benefit carbon market investors far more than it would enable agricultural producers and rural communities to take urgently needed action to adapt to climate change.

Steve Suppan

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