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December 09th 2009 print

Tim Wilson

COP15: Day 2

The best entertainment was at a side-event with a speaker who dared decry the NGO group think that prevails over the conference.

It is day two of COP15 but negotiations haven’t begun. The purpose of the second day was to establish a framework for discussions throughout the conference, including setting up working groups and assessing the negotiating lie of the land. But these discussions, like the actual negotiations, go on behind closed doors. 

Following the leak of a draft agreement text written by "friends" of the Chair, negotiators spent the afternoon hosing down developing country anger at their perception of a stitch up. 

Negotiations at Copenhagen are operating on two tracks. The first track is the future of the Kyoto Protocol and if, and how, it should be extended into a second commitment period after the expiration of the first period in 2012.

The second track is that commenced at the December 2007 Bali Summit and concluded with the Bali Road Map committing countries to the diplomatically vague “long-term cooperative action”. The vagueness of the language was deliberate because of the lack of convergence from countries about both the problem, and the solution. And not much has changed over the last two years.

The United States position has remained largely consistent since the Clinton Administration by opposing negotiation of a legally binding treaty along the lines of the Kyoto Protocol. And the US won’t agree to anything unless obligations are also placed on developing countries.

The European Union wants the most extensive deal by either introducing a new, deeper commitment period under the first track Kyoto process that also brings in developing countries supported by international emissions trading.

Developing countries disagree. They largely believe that climate change is a developed country caused-problem and they should deliver a developed country- solution. The Group of 77 developing countries plus China don’t want obligations under the second track, and have argued for deeper obligations on the Kyoto first track because it doesn’t requiring them to do anything.

Australia sits somewhere between the European, American and G77 plus China positions, but closest to the Americans.

The small island states falling victim to climate-induced sea level rises want at least one per cent of developed country GDP to be dedicated to addressing climate damage, Africa wants "climate aid", and the oil-rich Gulf States are openly questioning the science of climate change following the leaked CRU emails and data. 

When a reality-based picture of negotiating positions is painted an outcome at Copenhagen appears decidedly bleak.

But the vacuum left by negotiators has quickly been filled by non-government organisations providing light entertainment.

Today’s NGO colour and light show started with a crowd of young people singing “all we are saying is give youth a chance, all we are saying is cut greenhouse gas” in a remix of the Beatles’ "Give Peace a Chance". However the robotically-voiced activists dressed up as aliens asking to be taken to a “climate leader” who is committed to a “real deal” was much more original.

My favourite was the unsuccessful “Offset Magician” who attempts to make the carbon footprint of plane travel disappear through carbon offsets but just can’t pull off the trick.  

But the best entertainment was at a side-event with a speaker who dared decry the NGO group think that prevails over the conference.

Forestry conversion has become a hot topic because a key pillar of the negotiations is how to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. But green activists want to remove options for forestry conversion to agriculture which will deny millions of poor farmers the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty. And that was the point Chairman of the pro-development NGO World Growth, Alan Oxley, made in releasing and speaking to his new report highlighting the importance of forestry conversion to economic development in poor countries.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether climate activists were actually interested in listening to the impact of their policies on those who couldn’t afford the plane ticket to Copenhagen.

Tim Wilson is Director of the Climate and Trade Unit at the Institute of Public Affairs and will be blogging from Copenhagen at www.sustainabledev.org

See also Tim Wilson on the COP15 Opening Ceremony