Report from Panama - slow and steady wins the race?


Report from Panama - slow and steady wins the race?

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Date: 13th October 2011
Type: Feature
Tags: climate finance, climate negotiations, COP17, Kyoto Protocol, UNFCCC

The UNFCCC meeting in Panama last week, an important preparatory meeting before CoP17, led to solid progress on several fronts. The talks remain difficult in many areas, but parties recognise where they need to make progress in Durban if they’re to keep the hope alive for a global climate deal.

By Tim Ash-Vie, Head of Negotiations Support, CDKN

Meetings of the UNFCCC earlier this year in Bangkok and Bonn were mainly characterised by fundamental differences among countries about what should even be on the agenda.  The latest meeting in Panama, from 1-8 October, offered more than that. At last, parties began to articulate the shape of a possible outcome at Durban: an outcome that would show meaningful progress towards a well-supported international agreement beyond 2012.

Ahead of the UNFCCC Panama session Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres had set out four areas to move forward the process of establishing an effective global system to address climate change:

1.       the resolution of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol;

2.       the rules for the scientific review of the 2C temperature target;

3.       clarity on climate finance;

4.       the operationalisation of both the new Technology Mechanism and the Adaptation Committee.

The preeminent issue remains the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol but the wider issue of how all global emissions will be brought down in an ambitious and transparent manner remains a lively discussion.

As described by Dr Benito Muller of Oxford Climate Policy, the options typically presented are whether to keep the Kyoto Protocol as currently conceived, and complement it with a separate LCA-Protocol, or alternatively whether the Kyoto Protocol might be assimilated within an outcome of the Adhoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA).  These options are typically referred to as Plan A and Plan B; Dr Benito Muller has been helping to develop an intuitively appealing alternative, which he calls “Plan C”.

The proposal is that the Kyoto Protocol is retained in an enhanced and amended form for willing Annex B Parties (industrialised countries that have committed to emissions limitations) to agree to both a second and third commitment period, and to introduce an “Annex C”.  This would be based on the work that has been carried out under the AWG-LCA and contain binding obligations for willing developing countries, e.g. in the format of (supported) Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions or NAMAs.  In a conference looking for ideas for breaking the deadlock this was an idea that caught people’s imagination and could yet offer a realistic alternative route through the impasse.

Underpinning the whole mitigation discussion is the third issue that the Executive Secretary highlighted: climate finance.  One of the African negotiators favourite joke is to offer to buy colleagues lunch with his (non existent) fast start cash.

For the African Group and the Least Developed Countries, in addition to agreeing on the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, agreement on long-term finance is the foundation of any possible deal in Durban.  Their concern is that there are no finance pledges due to start in 2013, after the Copenhagen "fast start" period. While the commitment to mobilise an annual $100 billion in climate finance by 2020 holds, the  sources of the funding – both public and private - and how it will be provided in a predictable and transparent manner - are yet to be determined.  That remains a serious issue for the African and LDC groups.

The second issues that Christiana Figueres focused on was the ‘Review’ – the process to establish whether a 2°C goal is adequate or whether the science indicates that the COP should consider strengthening the long-term goal  to 1.5°C.  This is an issue of particular importance to the small island states who were instrumental in its inclusion in the Cancun Agreement.  Yet the process for initiating the review is still unclear and in particular the role of the IPCC and the alignment with their upcoming Fifth Assessment Report is yet to be defined.  The urgency of moving that process forward is evident for both the Alliance of Small Island States and the Least Developed Countries group.

It is easy to focus on the neuralgic problems and be convinced of the impossibility of reaching a good outcome in Durban much less a long term legally binding agreement.  On the fourth of the stated priority areas - the Technology Mechanism and Adaptation Committee -  there was clear progress in Panama.  Christiana Figueres felt sufficiently confident afterwards to announce that Panama made good progress towards meeting deadlines for the launch of the new Adaptation Committee and Technology Mechanism which were agreed at Cancun.

And so while it was not a definitive outcome in its own right Panama probably did achieve its key goal, which was to lay open the critical areas of contention for the future of the global climate change regime. Now governments have five weeks up to Durban to consider those outstanding issues which will require most careful political consideration.

Image: Landscape. Photo © Curt Carnemark / World Bank

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