Insider's view: from Barcelona to Copenhagen

The Climate Change Talks held in Barcelona (2-6 November) under the auspices of the UNFCCC ended with the Chairmen of the two main negotiating streams expressing confidence that ‘a strong outcome of COP15 at Copenhagen can be achieved that is balanced, fair, ambitious and effective’. However, at the same time, most negotiating groups are now playing down the probability that the initially hoped-for legally binding agreement will emerge in December. They admit that there is now a lack of time as well as a lack of progress. They prefer to refer to a ‘politically binding agreement’ (the meaning of which is less than clear) and to devoting 2010 to negotiating the details of a legal treaty- i.e. legally binding under international law. 

Copenhagen COP 15

This shift in expectations is mainly (but not exclusively) due to the fact that the US administration does not expect Congress to pass climate change legislation in 2009. The US does not expect to be able to propose firm, nationally binding limits for emission reductions. However, during the last days of the Barcelona talks, their head of delegation Jonathan Pershing intimated that they might be able to come to Copenhagen with an indicative set of figures, based on the bills now adopted by the House and before the Senate.

The developing countries are getting increasingly impatient not only with the lack of emission reduction targets from the US but also with the fact that the targets put forward by the other developed countries do not amount to the 25-40% reduction by 2020 advocated in 2007 by the IPCC. This caused the African group to boycott some of the negotiations under the Kyoto Protocol stream (where such targets are discussed) on Tuesday and part of Wednesday. Eventually, a compromise was found to bring them back to the table: more negotiating time on the ‘numbers’. However, the issue is not lack of time in the negotiations… it is the result of the developed countries facing the need for major changes in their energy economy and not being in a position to deliver sufficient change fast enough.

Another cause for lack of progress is a major disagreement between the developing countries (represented in the negotiations by the ‘G77 and China’ group and the developed countries (the EU + US and its main allies in the negotiations: Australia, Canada, Japan and Russia) on the form the post 2012 climate change regime should take. The G77 want an extension of the Kyoto Protocol for developed countries and no legally binding commitments for developing countries, plus substantial financial assistance for their emission reduction and adaptation efforts. The developed countries want the major economies among the developing countries to take on reduction commitments. The US and its allies also want one new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

The intention is now for COP15 to agree on a "package of non-legally binding decisions that will bring clarity to critical areas" such as shared vision, global goals, finance and institutions. If all goes to plan, these will be accompanied by a list of some 20 individual 2020 emissions reduction targets for industrialized nations; a reflection of what developing countries will do to reduce their emissions and deviate from business-as-usual; what individual developed countries are prepared to contribute in terms of fast track finance (i.e. before 2013), on a voluntary basis- this will be a list of ‘pledges’ ; and a formula that can be used ‘over time’ (i.e. when the expected legally binding agreement is in place) to calculate how costs are going to be shared. There will also be a set of specific decisions on Adaptation, Mitigation, Capacity Building, Technology Transfer and REDD.

It is expected that COP15 will make decisions on a timetable for negotiating a legally binding agreement. 40 Heads of State have already announced that they will attend.

Work area: 
Climate Change
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