Our guest blogger is Andrew Light, a Senior Fellow at American Progress specializing in international climate policy. He will be leading the CAP delegation in Copenhagen next week.
Lumumba Di-Aping (photo: Adam Welz)
The Guardian reported yesterday that the UN climate meeting currently underway in Copenhagen (the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties or COP 15) had disintegrated into disarray when secret draft language for an interim climate agreement from the host Danish delegation had been uncovered by the Group of 77 – the coalition of well over a hundred developing countries which negotiate as a group at the UN climate meetings. A secret group of nations had supposedly put the document together without any consultation.
The so-called Danish text, a secret draft agreement worked on by a group of individuals known as “the circle of commitment” – but understood to include the UK, US and Denmark – has only been shown to a handful of countries since it was finalized this week.
The British daily goes on to breathlessly claim that it had not only received the document but had been privy to a “confidential analysis” of it by developing countries and that it turned the Kyoto Protocol on its head. They go on to list a dizzying array of dramatic and unjust reductions in emissions required by the Danish text without any actual support from the document itself. They were joined in their condemnation by an array of people like Friends of the Earth U.S. President Erich Pica who condemned the U.S. in similar terms: “The Obama administration’s role in what appears to be a secret plot to strong-arm through an agreement forcing poor countries to bear much of the cost of reducing emissions is despicable.”
In response the G77, plus representatives from China, walked out of a press conference led by the Sudanese chair of the G77, Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, claiming that the Danish text had come from nowhere and reiterating their claim that they would not accept any binding commitments to reductions in carbon pollution.
What do we make of this implosion in the meeting so quickly?
Any veteran of the UN climate meetings will recognize the G77+China reaction to “the” Danish draft today – as the Danes reiterated, there is no single definitive draft and nothing has been finalized – as more of the same drama that has pervaded these meetings for the last 14 years. A not terribly creative mind could script these events before they happen. Two things jump out from yesterday’s episode that are typical: first, the shock expressed by Di-Aping at the very idea that the Danes were drafting anything, and second, the insistence that developing countries, writ large, will never, ever agree to any mandatory emissions reductions.
The first part of the drama has become par for the course for Di-Aping who, since becoming the chief negotiator to the G77 last August has worked tirelessly to make sure there is absolutely no progress in the UN negotiations. But ask yourself, how could Di-Aping (or Pica, for that matter) be surprised that the Danes are working on text for an interim political agreement for this meeting when it’s been reported in every major media outlet in the world since the APEC conference in Singapore last month that they were doing so? Recall that there the President of Mexico and the Prime Minister of Australia hastily organized a meeting to present the idea of focusing Copenhagen on an interim “political agreement” as a first step to finalizing a fully legal and ratifiable agreement over the course of 2010 in advance of COP 16 in Mexico City, if not earlier at an interim meeting. Both President Obama and President Hu endorsed this two step strategy later that week at their presidential summit in Beijing, and Obama’s commitment that whatever was decided in Copenhagen should take immediate operational effect was again reported around the world. The Danes have been discussing draft text with everyone since they got the green light on this plan.
So how could Di-Aping possibly be surprised that the Danes were actually doing what they promised to do in front of the leader of the largest developed and developing countries in the world? The expressed shock here is incredulous.
There is a precedent, however, to Tuesday’s announcement. Di-Aping closed the Bangkok round of UN climate negotiations two months ago with a bold condemnation of the US for having hidden from developing countries a super-secret second treaty designed to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012. Of course, what he was talking about was the treaty language that had been under discussion for six months in the “LCA track” of the UN climate framework (the Ad-hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action) which was authorized at the Bali meeting in 2007. The “secret” treaty was the discussion draft in the LCA track, publicly available to anyone with a working internet connection, and consisting primarily of contributions by Australia, Costa Rica, and Norway. D-Aping’s condemnation was pure spin, worthy of D.C.’s best spinmeisters.
The second part of the drama — the claim that developing countries will never agree to anything ever — is also a mainstay. No one agrees to anything in these meetings until the very bitter end. The conventional wisdom is that it’s the only way any party can actually get what they want.
Consider the run up to this meeting: Both China and India had major presidential-level summits with the United States in Beijing and D.C. last month. Both agreed to major bilateral agreements aimed squarely at fulfilling one of the core mandates of the Bali Action Plan — namely, assistance from a developed country with clean energy technology in exchange for eventual cuts in emissions. Both agreed to the ground work for creating the capacity for eventually being able to measure, report, and verify their emissions reductions (MRV) — assistance from the US for a carbon inventory in China and for improving the environmental ministry in India.
But these countries also met prior to Copenhagen, along with the leaders from Brazil and South Africa, to reiterate their position that they would never agree to any emissions cuts. Why? To reset the negotiating clock to zero lest developed countries take it for granted that they could get even an interim agreement out of this meeting without some hard negotiations.
I’d love to see COP 15 go forward without any more needless posturing by any of the parties like we saw yesterday, but I’m not holding my breath. I applaud the Danes for what they are trying to do to pull some significant advances out of this meeting and would hope that the rest of the parties give them a chance to actually deliver on their promise.