Copenhagen Talks Take (Week) Two

This post first appear in Opinio Juris.

COPENHAGEN -- The climate negotiations ground to a halt for much of Monday, as negotiators debated the organization of work for the second and final week of the meeting.  The ostensible cause of the breakdown was concern among some developing countries that the Kyoto Protocol (KP) track in the negotiations is moving more slowly, and getting less attention, than the Convention track (the so-called Long-Term Cooperation Action track, or LCA) Although since the LCA track is itself moving very slowly, it is a bit difficult to understand the concern.

For many members of the G-77, the differentiation enshrined in the Kyoto Protocol between developed countries (which have quantified emission reduction targets) and developing countries (which do not) is sacred. All last week, developing countries had been emphasizing the importance of continuing the Kyoto Protocol, rather than merging it into a single comprehensive agreement that addresses both developed and developing countries (as the EU, Japan and other industrialized countries would prefer).  At the procedural level, this developing country position is reflected in a desire to maintain the complete separation between the two tracks in the negotiations, rather than merging them into a single discussion, as the Danes apparently envisioned.

But whether substantive concerns about the KP’s future fully explain Monday’s events is open to question.  The organization of work envisioned by the Danes (as COP president) had apparently received tacit approval at a ministerial meeting held on Sunday.  So there is no reason why developing countries that had accepted the work program Sunday should suddenly object on Monday.  One possible explanation is that Sunday’s ministerial meeting included only a select group of about 40 countries, and Monday’s work suspension reflected a move by the countries excluded from Sunday’s meeting to reassert themselves.  Others speculate that Monday’s events reflect a reaction by working-level negotiators worried that ministers might be too willing to reach agreement.  Whatever the explanation, the COP lost the better part of a day, with only two days remaining before heads of state arrive. 

Ultimately, the Danish president convened a ministerial-level group to consider Kyoto Protocol issues, and a series of ministerial-led groups to consider particular issues in the LCA, including: the long-term goal of limiting temperature change (2 degrees, 1 ½ degrees, etc.), the way in which developing country actions are be reflected (a schedule, registry, etc.), and the scale of financial contributions.  The other issues in the LCA, not elevated to the ministerial level, will continue to be discussed in the various LCA contact groups, with the LCA (in theory) scheduled to wrap up its work Tuesday night and to report back to the COP on Wednesday morning.

Overall the conference is chaotic.  Reportedly, some participants spent the better part of Monday outside waiting in the registration line.  Meanwhile, inside, NGO observers sang songs, strummed the guitar, and organized a “crime scene” with Sherlock Holmes inspecting a chalk drawing on the floor of Africa.  With the number of registered participants far exceeding the capacity of the conference, security guards begin restricting access Tuesday, with each NGO receiving only a limited number of slots. 

Dan Bodansky is Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Woodruff Professor of International Law at the University of Georgia. He is a guest contributor to Climate Compass.