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Copenhagen: is a global deal still possible?

The walk outs at the COP15 talks in Copenhagen yesterday highlighted the challenges of international negotiations. While talks have resumed, albeit informally, the sticking point is the failure, according to the Africa Group, of the rich nations to commit to emissions cuts beyond 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol.  There was a similar suspension last week when the Pacific Island of Tuvalu insisted on a full debate to amend the Protocol.

Cause for concern? Well, it has compounded worries that part of the global deal being sought in Copenhagen disappearing out of sight.  For ODI, however, the key issue is how a COP15 deal will, ultimately, deliver for the poor – those who are already struggling to secure a decent and sustainable future.

To those who participate in these kinds of global negotiating processes, yesterday’s  dramas were par for the course, showing up the marked difference between what is on the public ‘table’, and what is not.  What is on the table is part of the formal process and scrutinised by technocrats and public servants as part of an elaborate act of paradigm maintenance.  What is not on the table is the stuff that only Heads of State can address  behind closed doors, often resulting in grand gestures.  When push comes to shove, walk outs and withdrawals are often necessary to shift the proceedings from the formal to the informal – where much of the real work gets done.  

The main worry for the G77 countries is that if they agree to something that essentially replaces the Kyoto Protocol, they will lose many of the gains they made when the Kyoto agreement was put in place in 1997. Kyoto was a defining moment and to argue now, as EU members seem to be doing, that it hasn’t stood the test of time is, frankly, galling for developing nations.

So what will happen?  Negotiations have already shifted into the corridors, and these more informal talks will probably generate some kind of deal.  But will it be a deal worth having?  What needs to be in a Copenhagen deal if developing countries are not to feel that they have paid too high a price.

  • Irrespective of the deal with China and India and the rest, there needs to be a commitment by rich nations to further emissions cuts beyond 2012 as part of the Kyoto framework.
  • The volume of financing being proposed needs to have a meaningful timeframe (three years is not enough) and we need to be clear on how much is new money and how much is simply current funding,  or repackaged funding from elsewhere. Some re-packaging is inevitable, but the price for non-transparency is not worth paying and will definitely undermine the credit worthiness of any financing deal. 
  • The global deal needs to have clear, even simple targets to monitor what countries have agreed to deliver.  The danger of any deal as complex as this is that it gets bogged down in its own internal controversies and contradictions and ends up being so obscure that no one really knows whether it is being enforced or not.  

Enlightened leaders from around the world need to commit to a global deal that is clear about its goal, clear about the means for getting there, and clear on the scale of the contribution needed by whom and by when.  It sounds simple, but as events today show, nothing so simple is ever simply achieved.