The Irish Times

5 0ct 2009

WITH JUST 64 days left to the crucial climate change summit in Copenhagen, delegates representing nearly 180 countries at a preparatory UN negotiating session in Bangkok yesterday took the day off for some sightseeing and “RR” in the steamy, traffic-choked Thai capital, writes FRANK McDONALD , Environment Editor, in Bangkok
As environmental groups noted, there are only 10 negotiating days left between now and Copenhagen – five here this week and another five in Barcelona early next month.
Some of the delegates were bleary-eyed after the traditional late- night NGO (non-governmental organisation) party on Saturday.
For many of them, there was a sense of deja vu, as they had been here before in March 2008 for the first round of negotiations to flesh out the “Bali Road Map”.
That session followed the tough but ultimately successful UN conference on Indonesia’s most famous holiday island in December 2007.
Back in Bangkok for the second time in less than two years, delegates spent last week wading through a convoluted 180-page negotiating text – much of it contradictory – as well as at least a dozen “non-papers”: texts produced by working groups and aimed at clarifying and simplifying some of the issues.
Non-paper number six, for example, provides background information on non-paper number three, which deals with “enhanced action on capacity-building” in developing countries, by keeping track of proposed changes in the text and explaining the rationale behind them.
Only seasoned hands could make sense of it all.
Nama has even made an appearance here, although, in UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) parlance, it’s an acronym for “nationally appropriate mitigation actions” by developing countries such as China and India to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions – without, of course, being legally required to do so.
After the March 2008 session involving ad-hoc working groups in Bangkok, UNFCCC executive secretary Yvo de Boer declared optimistically that “the train to Copenhagen has left the station”, after delegates agreed a two-year work programme broken up into “bite-sized, manageable chunks”.
Since then, they have met three times in Bonn, where the UNFCCC has its secretariat, in June 2008 and April and June of this year, as well as in Accra, Ghana (in August 2008) and Poznan, where a full UN climate change conference was cocooned against bitterly cold Polish weather last December.
Poznan took place in the immediate aftermath of Barack Obama’s election as president of the United States, amid great optimism that the US would once again engage with the UN climate change process after eight years of sterility and downright obstruction from the Bush administration.
Mr Obama certainly delivered, saying all the right things and appointing good people to key positions.
But the leadership role nearly everyone expected from his administration has not been evident in moving these tortuous negotiations forward – and sometimes, there are even flashes of Bush.
Last Friday the US delegation won the Climate Action Network’s “Fossil of the Day” award for blocking a quite reasonable EU proposal that someone should calculate the total value of commitments made to reduce emissions by 2020, so that negotiators would know the “distance from target”.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that emissions from developed countries – including the US – must be cut by between 25 and 40 per cent by 2020 if the world is to avoid dangerous warming, or to have any chance of keeping the average temperature rise below two degrees. The EU has championed this ceiling figure and offered a 20 per cent cut upfront, and says it will go to 30 per cent if other countries join in the effort.
But only Japan’s new government has done so, with a 25 per cent offer. The US, on the other hand, has yet to define any target for reducing its emissions by 2020.
To underline its credentials, the European Commission is hosting “EU green days” in Bangkok during the UN talks, including disaster risk reduction workshops for children and and a “What on Earth!” concert on Saturday at the Zen Outdoor Arena, featuring local bands such as Lemon Soup and Tattoo Colour.
What needs to happen this week, according to Yvo de Boer, is that negotiators “really must focus even harder on what must be in the Copenhagen text – what to cut out or what can be left until later”, when the details are being worked out by ministers in whatever deal they finally strike in December.

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