COPENHAGEN -- Today was the first day of the ministerial segment of the climate negotiations in Copenhagen. Outside, 15,000 people were standing in line for hours to get access into the Bella Conference Center, home of the climate negotiations. Meanwhile, things were heating up inside. This morning, the African delegations led the G77 plus China, a bloc representing 135 developing countries, in a boycott from the negotiations.
The protest occurred in the forest and land-use working group under the AWG-LCA negotiating track. (The AWG-LCA stands for the Ad-hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action, which is a part of the negotiating track under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The AWG-LCA is one of two negotiating tracks at the COP. The other negotiating track is under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP). The working groups are essentially the meetings in which negotiators work on the draft texts that their heads of state will discuss at the end of the COP.) Having the G77 and China walk out of one of these working groups has the potential to stall this process, kicking up the negotiations to the ministerial and heads of state levels.
The delegates didn't have to wait long for a response: at lunchtime, the EU and Australian delegations called for a suspension of the other working groups, which meant that negotiations were suspended for the time being. So what was the issue that everybody got so worked up about? There is a sharp disagreement between the different delegations whether the Kyoto Protocol negotiating track should provide the framework for the Copenhagen agreement or if a whole new agreement should be concluded here either under the AWG-LCA that would include commitments from the United States, China, and other emerging economies, or under a framework that merges the two negotiating tracks.
Developing countries favor an agreement under Kyoto, which they see as best protecting their interests. However, it would be politically impossible for the United States to sign onto Kyoto, a treaty that Congress rejected vehemently 11 years ago. The U.S. and EU understand that in order for the United States to agree to a deal in Copenhagen, the deal must happen under a new treaty framework. The G77 plus China however fear that no legally binding agreement can be reached and that the world was letting go of the only legally binding agreement that we have €“ the Kyoto Protocol. One leader in the NGO community stated that abandoning the Kyoto Protocol was like jumping ship without having anything stable to land on.
Delegates seemed uncertain what these developments meant for the negotiations. While one European delegate was worried that things were falling apart, another senior negotiator was very calm about it, indicating that the developments were the usual brinkmanship of the second week of negotiations when everybody starts pushing a little bit harder for what they want. However, in general, there seemed to be confusion among the parties. One European said that the situation was reminiscent of the talks in Kyoto, where nobody really knew what was going on and a lot of deals were struck in side conversations.
The negotiations recommenced shortly after the President of the Conference, Danish Climate and Energy Minister Connie Hedegaard, held informal consultations with the key developing country delegations to urge them to resume negotiations. The African parties were the first to rejoin the negotiations and that set off a domino effect with the rest of the G77 plus China. While suspension of negotiations aren't uncommon toward the end of the COP, many worry that this will push back deliberation of key issues until the last minute when the negotiations are taken over by the heads of state and become highly political. The boycott highlights the difficult issues parties must overcome for an agreement to take place in Copenhagen.
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