Australia: Blog: UN climate change negotiations, Bangkok, April 2011

Wednesday 6 April - Deja vu in Bangkok

Late on the evening of Tuesday 5 April, the Parties got down to what they do best - talks about talks. This represents an awesome opportunity to reopen wounds, remind each other what they have (or haven't) done, and debate what they really meant by "agreement" and "Decision". Discussing agendas (which are arguably not necessary given that everyone knows what needs to be negotiated) provides the perfect backdrop.

The AWG-LCA work programme

It became apparent early on in the session that there were critical differences in opinion about what needs to be achieved this year, and the process that needs to be followed to get there. Two opposing views came forward:

  • that the Cancun Agreements narrowed the focus for this year and provided us with a path forward towards developing the frameworks for the key aspects that need to be brought together for agreement in Durban later this year.
  • that the Cancun Agreements provide agreement on the way forward for only some aspects of the breadth of the work of the AWG-LCA as defined in the Bali Action Plan, and as such the agenda for this year needs to be broadly inclusive of the other matters referred to the AWG-LCA in Bali so as to have a comprehensive package agreed in Durban.

The provisional agenda proposed by the chair of the AWG-LCA reflects the former view. It was added to on five occasions before the meeting, and even more agenda items were proposed from the floor at the beginning of the meeting.

This draft agenda was (perhaps unsurprisingly) not acceptable to many developing countries, leading to the G77and China (a group representing some 131 developing countries) proposing an alternative agenda. This proposal was a brief statement reflecting the broader authorities of the AWG-LCA as laid down in the Bali Action Plan, rather than the narrower developments in Cancun.

A number of parties, including Switzerland on behalf of the Environmental Integrity Group, Norway and Tajikistan, expressed the view that the G77 proposal was too broad, fragmented, and would dilute efforts to achieve what is required by the end of the year, a comprehensive agreement in Durban. The USA was the most strongly opposed to the G77 proposal.

Towards the end of negotiations for the evening on the agenda, there was increasing support for a compromise position. The European Union in particular noted that the agenda should not treat the Cancun Agreements as a ceiling that should form the basis of what is worked upon throughout this year, but rather it should be a floor upon which to build a more comprehensive agreement.

The session was adjourned with no agenda agreed. The session will be resumed on Wednesday afternoon.

The AWG-KPwork programme

Just as the gavel was falling to formalise the agreement of the parties to the AWG-KP agenda (much less controversial than that of the AWG-LCA), Tuvalu objected! Tuvalu was of the view that there should be one thing on the agenda only, namely ensuring that there should not be a gap between the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and any subsequent commitments by developed country parties under the Kyoto Protocol. The interjection raised significant applause; however the agenda was passed while noting the objection of Tuvalu. Tuvalu's suggestion of not breaking off into small groups to continue circular discussions that have been unfolding over many years was clearly not going to gain traction. With Tuvalu's comments still ringing in the air, the parties began their opening remarks, pantomiming Tuvalu's prophecy of failing to obtain political commitment on the one big issue.

Of all the developed countries, only the European Union noted its willingness to agree to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol. The Umbrella group (made up of Australia, Norway, Canada, Japan and Russia, among others) stressed that the work of the AWG-KP should be considered alongside that of the AWG-LCA, meaning basically that agreeing to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol is contingent upon agreements reached by all parties to commit to a framework for further action under the UNFCCC and outside of the Kyoto Protocol. This view was rebuked by Saudi Arabia and others, with the statement that discussions surrounding a second Kyoto commitment period under the AWG-KP should not be contingent upon developments in the AWG-LCA. The delegate from Saudi Arabia summed it up with the Shakespearian phrase "to KP or not to KP, this is not a question". If only!

Those who attended last year's Bonn talks immediately post-Copenhagen will recall similar discussions about the "legitimacy" of the Copenhagen Accord and objections to its integration into the formal UNFCCC negotiations. As the Accord has now largely been integrated into the negotiations by way of the Decisions coming out of Cancun, many parties now appear to be attempting to reverse out of agreements at Cancun by referring back to the negotiations at Bali. This is unsurprising, but indicative of the challenges faced this year.

Tuesday 5 April - Thai green flurry

Setting the agenda

The opening remarks of the Secretary of the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres, outlined what needs to be achieved this year, and were targeted and precise about the process required to get there. Figueres said that this year we need to complete the work begun at Cancun and this requires the parties to move forward in a spirit of flexibility and compromise. Figueres, after noting that the pledges currently received by the Secretariat amount only to 60 per cent of what is required, sees two key issues for this year:

  • the resolution of key issues under the Kyoto Protocol; in particular, overcoming the very real danger that there will be no legally binding limitations on emissions for any countries after the end of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol
  • delivering on the Cancun Agreements to ensure that the institutions and frameworks required therein are in place in 2012 in accordance with the deadlines set out

Figures is of course optimistic. It is, after all, easier to be optimistic at the start of the year than at the end, when yet another "crunch time" looms.

The early workshops

Sunday and Monday saw sessions presenting quantified economy-wide emission reduction targets by developed country parties and also developing country parties' presentations on their "nationally appropriate mitigation actions" (NAMAs). These sessions allow all parties to have a good look at what each party is doing in order to meet its stated emissions reduction targets. Two presentations of interest were those of United States and China. Their targets haven't changed, which is neither surprising nor controversial, but the statistics surrounding their implementation actions are significant. Let's just put a few numbers out there:


  • will endeavour to lower its carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 per cent by 2020 compared to the 2005 level, increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15 per cent by 2020 and increase forest coverage by 40 million hectares and forest stock volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters by 2020 from the 2005 levels
  • has closed down small inefficient power plants taking 60 GW of dirty power off the grid, saving 110 million tons CO2-e
  • leads the world in clean energy investment (including in hydro, solar PV and solar heaters)
  • has implemented vehicle efficiency standards "more stringent than in some developed countries"
  • has implemented many "market based" mechanisms, including differentiated electricity pricing in all 30 provinces
  • has implemented a range of successful subsidy programs (such as for the promotion of efficient air conditioners, taking them from 5 to 80 per cent market share)

The United States

  • will reduce all its greenhouse gas emissions "in the range of 17 per cent (below 2005 levels by 2020), in conformity with anticipated US energy and climate legislation, recognizing that the final target will be reported to the Secretariat in light of enacted legislation"
  • has issued increased efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, and has proposed increased efficiency standards for heavy vehicles
  • plans to propose emissions standards for electricity generation through the EPA
  • has proposed a target of 80 per cent of energy to come from clean sources by 2035
  • invested US$91 billion in clean energy in 2009, including US$29 billion in energy efficiency and US$21 billion in renewable energy

Parties' overall targets have not changed from what has been presented to the UNFCCC following both Copenhagen, and the workshops could therefore be criticised as simply going through the motions of presenting information already officially on the record. The usefulness of these sessions will therefore lie in the extent to which they really enable parties to genuinely understand each others' targets and actions (and the detail underlying them). If this is possible then they may be a useful baby step in unlocking some aspects of the negotiations.

Separately, a Workshop on the Technology Mechanism discussed issues relating to the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN). Though there is much interest in this area, one which could have significant commercial impacts, there has been uncertainty as to how it will work in practice. More clarity in this regard will be very welcome.

Climate - a done deal?

Some negotiators have commented that it almost seems that the so called "Cancun Agreements" are being spun into a "done deal" which may serve as the backbone of the future international regime, in the absence of the political will to go beyond them. There would of course still remain a significant number of issues to be addressed, such has what would happen to the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and how "legally binding" is "legally binding enough" to stimulate the private sector investment that is required to tackle dangerous climate change. This year should provide an insight into how far the Parties are looking beyond the "Cancun Agreements".


The sixteenth session of the AWG-KP(AWG-KP 16) and the fourteenth session of the AWG-LCA(AWG-LCA 14), as well as workshops pursuant to the Cancun Agreements, are taking place from Sunday, 3 April through Friday, 8 April in Bangkok, Thailand.

This meeting will help to set the agenda and program for the year in the lead up to the Conference of the Parties to be held in Durban at the end of the year (COP17).

The AWG-KP and AWG-LCA (the main negotiating groups discussing, respectively, a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and a broader agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) opened today (Tuesday).

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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