Bangkok Talks Conclude with Mixed Metaphors, Unfinished Business

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de BoerIn a statement released at the conclusion of the two-week session of climate talks in Bangkok, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer talked of more clarity on the “bricks and mortar” of the agreed outcome in Copenhagen, but that “long-held differences” persist on coming to terms on mid-term targets and finance.

“A will has emerged in Bangkok to build the architecture to rapidly implement climate action,” said de Boer at a press briefing, “but significant differences remain. In December, citizens everywhere in the world have a right to know exactly what their governments will do to prevent dangerous climate change. What we must do now is step back from self interest and let common interest prevail.”

Using another metaphor, Jake Schmidt, International Policy Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, spoke of the five principal negotiating elements of a Copenhagen agreement as the main parts of a well-tuned car – and how the “car” is leaving Bangkok with some “dents and rattles.”

What do these metaphors really mean as (to add my own metaphor) the clock ticks down on the road to Copenhagen?

Finance and targets

Progress was reportedly made on issues of adaptation, technology transfer, and capacity building. There was also promising movement on deforestation issues and land use, methods of assessing the global warming potential of greenhouse gases, and options for strengthening the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). But the trickiest stumbling blocks remain largely unchanged: commitments to mid-term emissions targets from developing nations (the U.S. principal among them), and more “clarity” on the issue of finance needed from developing nations so they can both adapt to inevitable climate change and take action to limit their emissions growth.

There was one notable exception on the emissions target issue, that of Norway, who pledged it would cut emissions by as much as 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 “if this can contribute to achieving an ambitious climate agreement where the major emission countries take on concrete emission obligations.” This goes beyond the EU commitment of 20 percent to 30 percent, and is far beyond anything the U.S. has on the table. The recently released Senate bill calls for a 20 percent cut, and the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the House last June mandates a 17 percent cut – but both of those figures are cuts from 2005 levels, not 1990.

Further, U.S. officials acknowledged in Bangkok that they may not agree to any targeted emissions cut in Copenhagen until and unless Congress passes whatever climate legislation it can muster. “It will be extraordinarily difficult for the U.S. to commit to a specific number in the absence of action from Congress,” State Department deputy climate envoy Jonathan Pershing said. “The question is open as to how much we can do. It’s not really possible to answer.”

Go home and talk to your leaders

Time and opportunity are whittling down to resolve these issues and clear the path to Copenhagen. There is a five day negotiating session next month in Barcelona, and de Boer has urged negotiators to “go back to their capitals to receive guidance from their political leaders tom complete their work.”

“Bold leadership must pen the roadblocks around the essentials of targets and finance that the negotiators can complete their journey,” he said.

Tom is the founder, editor, and publisher of and the TDS Environmental Media Network. He has been a contributor for Triple Pundit since 2007. Tom has also written for Slate, Earth911, the Pepsico Foundation, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, and many other sustainability-focused publications. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists

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