Australia: Blog: UN Climate Change Negotiations, Tianjin, October 2010

Day 1: The shock of the new

The harsh reality

The physical challenge of combating climate change, in the face of the rapid growth of major developing economies, is all too tangible in Tianjin. This city is an apposite choice of host for this UNFCCC negotiating session. Tianjin, with a population of 6 million, is a city that seems to extend endlessly, to the horizon and beyond. Here, unlike in European cities such as Bonn, Lyon or Manchester which have a more sedate rate of growth, there is no visible end to the high rise buildings and wide expressways and no sense that the city, or its demands on the environment, will ever taper off. The rapid creation and expansion of such mega cities and their energy demands bring home the imperative that we incentivise low-carbon growth all over the world.

Here is a new city of wide expressways, filled full of luxury cars (with comparatively few bicycles), whose size and greenhouse gas emissions will grow exponentially in the coming decades. Incomes in many areas of China are 10 per cent of those in larger cities like Shanghai, but this is not intended to remain the case. The environmental efforts made by Tianjin were highlighted in the opening ceremony. What will power this and other cities' growth (and what such growth entails) if not unabated coal, and what international climate finance architecture and incentives could realistically be put in place to encourage the adoption of an alternative tack?

Progress this week?

This week's meetings in Tianjin have been attracting media attention. Perhaps not as much as the Commonwealth Games, but with reporting, for example, on BBC World News, there is a greater level of awareness than of the usual rounds of meetings in Bonn. Our hosts have gone to great lengths to make sure that things run smoothly, with drivers and an extensive coach network available to whisk delegates and observers to their destinations. The conference facilities are lush and brand-spanking new. In the words of Christiana Figueres, now is the time for the delegates to rise to the challenge.

The immediate priority for delegates this week is to focus on the deliverables for COP 16 which starts next month, not far away now. Has progress been made over this year? The official message is that it has, that the Kyoto Protocol draft text is in good shape and that there are areas of the AWG LCA text which are relatively close to being agreed. As highlighted by the Chair of the AWG-LCA, the session will be "make or break for the Cancun outcome". Her desire is to present a set of draft decisions to COP that is close to agreed. This upbeat assessment contrasts with comments from some delegates that expectations for Cancun are low and that there appears to be further backsliding from positions established in Copenhagen. Certainly, negotiating texts are being loaded up with extensive additional language once again, a sure sign that Parties are not making headway. The negotiations appear to be hindered, too, by overarching uncertainties about whether richer nations will deliver on the $30 billion finance they pledged in Copenhagen and what this "fast-start" package comprises.

Unfortunately, it appears that there is a wide variety of views on what level of ambition Parties will be bringing to Cancun. Are we to expect a repeat of Copenhagen, where everything was left on a knife edge until the last minute? If so, would that lead to another flawed outcome that will seal these negotiations' fate for good and give rise to a definitive swing towards bilateral and multilateral negotiations outside the UN process? We hope more clarity will be available later this week as new papers emerge and the Chairs of the different working groups report on the negotiated outcomes.


The fourteenth session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP 14) and the twelfth session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA 12) are being held from Monday 4 to Saturday 9 October 2010 in Tianjin, China.

Both groups will present their decisions to the 16th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP 16) and sixth session of the Conference of the parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties (COP/MOP 6), in Cancún, Mexico, which will take place between 29 November and 10 December 2010.

We will be attending the negotiations. We will be reporting back on interesting developments over the course of the week.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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