The State of Negotiations on Climate Change: Towards COP-15

Natalia Cardona Advocacy Coordinator Social Watch

131 nations have dennounced the developed countries for dismantling the Kyoto Protocol and setting new rules for negotiation at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bangkok. While the media has been shut out of negotiations, civil society has proven an extremely valuable link to those who are not allowed to be part of the discussions.

Secrecy is the name of the game for developed countries (or as they are known in climate talks lingo “Annex 1 countries”) at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bangkok.  But developing countries are not keeping quiet. A statement from 131 nations including China called out the developed countries on dismantling the Kyoto Protocol, setting new rules for negotiation and implementing a new negotiating mechanism. “Developing countries expressed their strong concerns over efforts by developed countries to undermine their commitments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by shifting their responsibilities to the markets and in weakening their obligations at the Bangkok climate talks.”1  Meanwhile the media has complained that they have been effectively shut out of negotiations. And in effect rich countries are refusing to give interviews until the last days of the talks. 
The 200 page draft version of the global agreement on climate change has also been referred to as confusing and contradictory. This document is expected to be reduced to something that the 190 nations taking part in the talks will agree to at the UN Meeting in December in Copenhagen.
The document’s highlights include important references to the Bali action plan which set Copenhagen as the deadline for a new agreement; it continues to set a distinction between the responsibilities of rich nations versus poor nations vis a vis climate change but, because this is a very controversial clause for rich countries, the text is placed in square brackets throughout the document (meaning it is provisional and has a long way to go in the negotiations); and includes stated attempts at climate protectionism the rich countries claim to need in their “carbon constrained economies.” According to the South Center this type of legislation, which already passed in the United States Congress, contains trade measures linked to emissions that cause climate change and target imports coming from developing countries. The laws also hinder technology transfer to developing countries as they prevent the relaxation of intellectual property rules. The subject of climate protectionism reared its ugly head at the talks on climate change in Bonn in August 2009.

The document also covers the gamut in terms of the intended goal of the negotiations, which could be anywhere from making cuts in emissions if it is economically feasible to –something that some term as ambitious and others as necessary— lowering emissions of CO2 to 350 parts per million in the atmosphere.  And the document leaves the door open as to whether these guidelines will be legally binding or will be intended goals. In addition, the document includes references to the US being on a different legal track because it did not sign the Kyoto Protocol. However, in what is seen as a contradiction, it also states that the US is one of the biggest polluters and must pull its weight. Needless to say, “determining the long-term global goal for emissions reductions is a highly contentious issue in the Bangkok climate talks.”2   And developing countries opposed moves by developed countries to abandon the Kyoto Protocol.

The financial architecture for the full, effective and sustained implementation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is another area of major difference between developing and developed countries in discussions in Bangkok.3 With regards to funding, the document does include a clause that would commit rich countries to funding technology and adaptation mechanisms for poor countries to deal with climate change. However, it does not commit developed countries to a particular amount and developing countries are skeptical that financial support and transfer of technology will actually happen, given past experience with failed promises and lack of follow through. Additional controversies have arisen as developed countries want the financial architecture for implementation of the UNFCCC to be held within the World Bank and the Global Environmental Facilities. In the meantime, “developing countries want a comprehensive structure that is in line with the Convention and directly governed by the Conference of the Parties (COP), on the basis of their negative ground experience with the existing system where the financial mechanism is operated by an entity outside the Convention. The Group of 77 and China were the first to table a detailed proposal on this last year.”4

The document being discussed in Bangkok also introduces the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (Redd) plan which would allow developing countries to receive payment from rich countries for protecting their forests, so that rich countries can use developing countries’ carbon credits to count towards their targets. "The Alliance of Small Island States (made up of the countries who stand to be drowned in a few years and which have as their motto: "1.5 to stay alive") say that if the US joins in with its expected target of about 4-10%, that would give an aggregate global cut of just 11-18% in emissions. If so, that means that we, the rich, intend to cut our emissions by a measly 6% more than what we pledged - but failed to reach in 2002. And with carbon offsets -which we can pass on to poor countries- that means we [rich countries] need do next to nothing at all at home. Indeed, we could probably increase emissions and carry on building coal power plants. No wonder the EU and rich countries are hiding from the press and the developing countries are furious!"5 

The Redd plan has also brought controversies onto itself as conversion of natural forests to other uses (like biofuels) has come into contention with indigenous peoples rights as held in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and various national constitutions. Currently the Kyoto protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) only qualifies reforestation and afforestation activities as CDM and does not include avoiding deforestation (of indigenous forests) as a CDM.

Civil society has played a key role and proved its value in these negotiations by maintaining a link to those who are not allowed to be in the negotiations or cannot be part of the discussions.  The Third World Network and others who are tracking the climate negotiators—and who due to certain UN rules are often allowed in the room—even when the media is dismissed, are providing essential information to civil society networks around the world.  Actions are also being carried out by many civil society organizations internationally.  These include an elephant caravan, organized by Green Peace, travelling across Thailand collecting small amounts of money that will be delivered to Yvo de Boer (the head of the UN negotiations) as an initial contribution to the more than $150 billion needed every year to fund adaptation in the poorest


1 TWN Bangkok News Update No.13, 5 October 2009, Published by Third World Network

2 TWN Bangkok News Update No.15, 6 October 2009, Published by Third World Network

3 TWN Bangkok News Update No.16, 7 October 2009, Published by Third World Network

4 TWN Bangkok News Update No.16, 7 October 2009, Published by Third World Network

5 The Guardian, Secrecy prevails at Bangkok climate talks, Monday 5 October 2009, John Vidal,