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Road to Copenhagen: Bali to Bangkok

Thomas Schueneman | Friday October 2nd, 2009 | 1 Comment

The Road to CopenhagenThe “Road to Copenhagen” began on the Indonesian island of Bali at the COP13 climate conference in December of 2007. COP13 charted the intended course toward  Copenhagen, producing the Bali Roadmap (pdf) and the Bali Action Plan, setting forth the negotiating process designed to take the international community “beyond Kyoto” and produce an effective global response to the reality of climate change.

The Bali Roadmap set a path with numerous waypoints leading toward COP15, where the treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, expiring in 2012, will hopefully be signed. These waypoints have included numerous sessions of the Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA), and the Ad hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex/Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP), and COP14 in Poznań, Poland in December of last year.

This week marks the final push to Copenhagen, with the start of sessions of the AWG-LCA and AWG-KP in Bangkok, Thailand.

Copenhagen on the horizon

With Copenhagen looming on the horizon, there is a growing sense of urgency for hammering out details in advance of the COP15 conference, with rhetoric swinging from cautious optimism to dark warnings of missed opportunities. At the conclusion of meetings last month in Bonn, Germnay, UNFCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer said of the progress then, “At this rate we will not make it.” Pressure to make the final days and final meetings count with any hope of success in Copenhagen was inherent in his words.

It seemed as if the world responded to the pressure and growing urgency, with positive steps seen from both developed and developing nations and encouraging rhetoric of engagement coming forth from world leaders in New York during Climate Week. The momentum is hoped to carry on into Bangkok this week and next. With negotiations in Thailand ongoing, following the progress gives one something of the feeling of being on roller coaster, swinging from the giddy heights of relative optimism to the gut-wrenching depths of hopeless deadlock.

While the details and range of issues are far-reaching and complex, the nut of the problem is finding common ground between developed and developing nations. News from Bangkok on Thursday was of a continuing rift between rich and poor over how mitigation efforts (emissions reduction targets) will be structured, financed, reported, and verified.

Reengagement or retrenching?

“We must attack this problem with a sense of urgency and ambition and quite frankly we are not seeing the level of urgency and ambition from the U.S.,” said Selwin Hart, a delegate from Barbados who was speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, who face their entire nations sinking beneath rising seas caused by global warming. “This process will go nowhere if we don’t see leadership from the U.S.”

Kevin Conrad, representing the tiny tropical nation of Papua New Guinea at the Bali conference, provided one of the most dramatic moments in the entire process thus far when in he stood before the goliath United States and said “either lead or get out of the way.” The U.S. relented at the time, at least enough to set the Bali Roadmap process in motion, though the tenor of rhetoric from the Bush administration on climate action remained lukewarm at best throughout his presidency.

Despite a general spirit of “reengagement” with Barack Obama, reports from Bangkok find the American delegation once again cast as the “villain,” and some in the U.S. are concerned that Obama’s resolve in forging a climate deal, both internationally and at home, may not be up to the task. Nonetheless, the rhetoric, stated goals, and push to pass climate and energy legislation  stand in stark contrast from his predecessor.

What is clear, however, is that leadership in the final days before Copenhagen is essential.

Speaking from Stockholm earlier this week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon somewhat ironically characterized negotiations as moving at a “glacial pace” and urged the European Union to “play a role as a locomotive” for “countries who are reluctant, or who are not ready, and you must push them and pull them forward.”

Little time left

So it may seem to the outside, casual observer that little has chanced since the process began in Bali, and the course charted to reach Copenhagen in 2009. The issues remain largely the same, and some see the same players behaving as they did when the process nearly stalled at the starting gate and Kevin Conrad implored the United States to either lead or let others do so.

At that time there was a wide schism between all parties, that to many seemed a gulf too wide to bridge. The issues haven’t changed. What has changed are the signals, from science and the observed world we inhabit, that the time is now to act. The arduous road nations have plodded through countless sessions since Bali, hammering away at the issues, inching toward common ground, now passes through Bangkok. In the nearly two years since the process began, despite seemingly intractable differences, the work of the negotiators at Bangkok and all the waypoints leading to it will hopefully have closed the gap enough so that the international community can meet in Copenhagen and cross that final divide, arriving at an agreement leading the world past Kyoto and into a sustainable future.

The whole world is watching.

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As we now enter the final stretch on the Road to Copenhagen, I’ll be submitting a weekly post on progress and final preparations in advance of the COP15 United Nations Climate Conference. If all goes well, I will attend the conference as a member of the press and deliver daily on-the-ground reports of progress in Copenhagen.


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