On the Brink of Agreement, Says U.N. Climate Chief


Nusa Dua, Bali-Climate change negotiations are not down to the wire, they're past it, but that's usual for U.N. conferences. In a nighttime press conference, Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was asked how to describe the state of negotiations here in Bali, compromise or deadlock? De Boer replied, "On the brink of an agreement. Absolutely not deadlocked." He added, "You are going to see here the launch of a negotiating process that will deliver a new climate change regime in 2009." Asked if negotiators might come to an agreement that excludes the U.S., de Boer replied that everyone, including the U.S. wants to walk away with a deal that includes the U.S. There is no point to negotiating Kyoto 2. De Boer assured reporters that U.S. is showing a "great deal of flexibility."

Negotiators are still haggling over what, if any, commitments to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions developing countries might have under a future new treaty. In addition, the negotiators have yet to specify how formal the post-Bali negotiations will be and what type of body will undertake future climate negotiations aiming at completing a new comprehensive agreement in 2009.

Another undecided issue is the question of how the scientific findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be referenced in whatever agreement emerges tonight. The European Union (E.U.) wants specific guidance included in the preamble to any agreement declaring that developed countries should aim to reduce their GHG emissions by 25 to 40 percent below their 1990 levels by 2020. They argue that this guidance is in line with the IPCC's findings. The U.S. does not want to include specific mention of a range of possible reductions. The E.U. insists that mentioning the range is merely guidance not a firm target. On the other hand, everybody, especially including U.S. negotiators, knows that an agreement on specific numbers, even if characterized as mere guidance, would actually become carved in stone. One possible compromise is that the preamble might declare that emissions must peak in the next 10 to 15 years without mentioning a range of future reductions.

While de Boer may have been upbeat, Pakistani ambassador Munir Akram, the chief negotiator for the developing countries collectively call the Group of 77, (G-77), appeared to be much less sanguine. At a press conference, Akram said that developing countries have come under strong pressure to make some type of commitments with regard to reducing their GHG emissions. Saying that G-77 countries have the "priority objective of economic and social development," Akram decried the idea of imposing GHG reductions as "unjust and unfair and [reduction commitments] would significantly retard the development" of poor countries. Akram firmly stated that under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change poor countries "are not required to accept [emissions] caps." He added, "We will try our best to achieve a climate-friendly path to development."

Akram also hinted that the negotiations had taken an acrimonious turn when an "Annex 1 non-party country" made threats. Annex 1 countries are the industrialized countries under the Kyoto Protocol that have emissions reductions targets. There is only one country listed in Annex 1 which not a party of the Kyoto Protocol, the U.S. Akram said that the "threat" involved trade sanctions. Akram also complained that "some number of countries" apparently expressed "agnosticism with regard to the scientific findings of the IPCC" about the magnitude of the global warming problem. He said, "My prognosis is that the document that emerges from the negotiations will not make reference to the science." Translation: Whatever agreement reached here in Bali will not include the reference reduction range of 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

A small group of negotiators is supposed to bring an agreed upon text dealing with the outstanding issues to the president of the conference by midnight. It will then be evaluated by all the delegations and submitted to the plenary for consideration. The rumor is now that nothing official will happen until 8 am Bali time (7 pm EST). U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has scheduled a press conference for tomorrow at 10:40 am here (9:40 pm EST). We'll have a better idea then if we're on the brink or over it.