Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Traffic Slows on the Auto-Bonn to Paris

Negotiators from all 195 COP nations were meeting in Bonn last week, trying to get the UNFCCC draft agreement into manageable shape for the Paris conference. This process has been at work in a sense for 4 years, but more actively since the Geneva meetings in February. Now, with about 10 weeks and 5 official meeting days left till Paris, lots of folks are offering a range of opinions on the crucial question: how's it going, and will there be a strong, substantive text that all parties will be willing to sign onto in December? Here are some key opinions on the state of negotiations after last week's meeting:

  • The 'Elders,' a distinguished group of global leaders led by Kofi Annan, Graca Machel, and Mary Robinson, declared that the negotiations were stalemated, and called on National leaders to intervene directly to find common ground, not only for Paris but for the the Sustainable Development Goals agreement to be hashed out in New York late this month.
  • Guaranteed funding for the promised $100 billion/year mitigation and adaptation ("loss and damage") fund (aka the Green Climate Fund) remains a potential deal breaker for the developing nations (the 134 nations in the 'G77' group) who will need the funding to implement their own plans. About 20 of the wealthiest nations, including the US and the EU, issued a statement last week in Bonn that laid out complex rules for how this money would be accounted (the point is in part to avoid counting existing funding in the total). While precise modes and pledges are far from ready, the signatories do seem committed to a transparent process--involving a very complex array of national, international, public/private, and other sorts of funding--a good sign, but not yet a deal.
  • Procedurally, the Bonn meeting took a big step by delegating to  smaller group of co-chairs the task of producing a new, streamlined draft of the UNFCCC agreement by early October. That would set the stage for finalizing the Paris document in advance of the actual Paris conference--an essential deadline if any meaningful agreement is to be reached at the huge Paris event. Various participants pointed to this procedural move as a major display of trust by national delegates--riven as they are by tensions and competing interests--though it could also be seen as a desperate maneuver to break through the logjam that has so far produced diffuse, unusable drafts.
It has long been clear that these months leading up to Paris would determine the real work of forging global agreements that the Paris meeting will only have time to acknowledge, perhaps tweak, and sign. The phrase 'legally binding' is being used with greater frequency in these preliminaries, though it isn't at all clear that major players such as the US, China, and India will sign any such thing. Diplomats speak an inscrutable tongue, so it's hard to know really how much mistrust, difference of opinion, and outright resistance is being rubbed away in these seemingly nonstop sessions such as the one in Bonn. But the declaration of some--that the sessions are doing much better than those that preceded Copenhagen--should perhaps be taken as a good sign, if not quite a promise.

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