Here’s a Q&A with Duncan Marsh, the Conservancy’s director of international climate policy, on how things are progressing at the international discussions on climate change now going on in Bonn.

Q: Where do we stand after this first week? Where should the focus be in the last few days?

Duncan Marsh: There has been some steady, gradual movement on the text as countries have put forth some of their reactions. But the big issues still remain. One worry is that the G77 + China has indicated that until there is more progress towards getting developed countries to commit to greater reductions under the Kyoto Protocol, they will hold up progress in other areas, including the crucial discussions on Long-term Cooperative Action.

The challenge with this is that developed countries aren’t likely to put serious concrete targets on the table until they see all of the pieces coming into place, including what other countries will agree to do. It’s unlikely this will really be worked out until the last few days in Copenhagen in December. But there are so many important details to get worked out – this is one of the most complex global negotiations ever undertaken – that if parties don’t keep working through the technical issues, it will be much harder to get a sound final agreement sorted. We learned in Kyoto that we need to get the rules settled now so we know what can count towards targets, and how these rules will be enforced. So continuing talks is absolutely important.

Q: What are the key issues and dynamics that might help keep the negotiations going?

Duncan Marsh: The crux of this whole negotiation is over how the costs of reducing global emissions will be shared. This involves discussions of who bears greatest historical responsibility for emissions to date, and where emissions will be produced in the future, as well as who has the capacity to control emissions and to adapt to climate change.

An interesting discussion that is happening is about how countries are grouped under the current Convention. Under the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol, there is a clear division between what are called Annex 1 countries (industrialized countries that are bound to emissions reductions and financial obligations through the Kyoto Protocol) and non-Annex 1 countries (all the rest).

Under Kyoto, the Annex I countries had legal obligations for reducing emissions. Going into the future, and considering the rapid growth in developing country emissions, it is clear that developed country reductions alone will not solve the climate problem. Accordingly, some parties — mostly industrialized Annex 1 countries —  are now floating ideas about creating more and perhaps different categories of countries. While still recognizing that countries differ in their capacity and responsibility to act – a fundamental principle of the Convention – some are pointing out that that capacity and responsibility has shifted over time, and will continue to shift.

These suggestions to change how countries are categorized are creating some real tension in the negotiations. For example, there are the least developed countries that are feeling the impacts the hardest and continue to have almost no contribution to emissions. They want action and progress from wherever necessary. But there are also the larger developing countries such as Brazil, China, India, South Korea and other non-Annex I countries whose emissions have grown since the Kyoto Protocol. These countries, though they have taken impressive steps to control emissions at home, are continuing to focus attention on the responsibility of developed countries to act, so have resisted any new categorizations of countries.

Q: Have the discussions determined how much money will be made available to support developing countries?

Duncan Marsh: As with emissions targets, the final decisions on the amount of financing available will only come in Copenhagen when countries commit to funds to go with whatever package is crafted. But it remains important for developing and developed countries to exchange ideas in this forum and others on both the scale and structure of financing mechanisms.

Some estimates put the cost of financing for climate change at around $150 billion per year. That’s about 10 times the size of the World Bank’s current annual development assistance to the poorest countries. If we are to put a dent into stopping climate change and dealing with its impacts, we will need to maximize public and private investment in as many places, institutions and governments as possible.

Q: What do we need to do to keep things moving to success in Copenhagen?

Duncan Marsh: What’s most important is political leadership. That will need to come from the highest political levels. The climate negotiators will need a clear mandate by Copenhagen to conclude a strong, ambitious deal that will set the world on a path to aggressive emissions reductions. In this respect, the bilateral talks between the United States  and China, where Todd Stern — the U.S. special envoy for climate change — is visiting this week, will be crucial. So will talks involving Japan, the European Union, Brazil and other major countries. The action in Congress, where serious climate legislation is being developed, will be critical to sending the right signals and empowering the U.S. negotiating team.

At the same time, negotiators must continue progress here. If we start seeing stalling techniques now, then we will be wasting valuable time that is needed to work out the details. There is so much to be done in terms of creating the structure for this agreement.

Talking only on emissions targets and financing is like talking about the height of a building you’re going to build. Any tall building needs a solid foundation and support structures. For Copenhagen, these include structures around who is going to manage the building (governance), who will makes sure regulations and rules are followed (oversight mechanism), what those rules will be (inventory and accounting systems).

If parties don’t keep working to get those structures in place and right, then we will not have a solid foundation for the big decisions to be made in December.

Q: What are odds of agreement in Copenhagen?

Duncan Marsh: There’s always a bit of a lull at the midway point, which is to be expected as countries take in what they have heard, evaluate their responses, and wait for others to respond to them. Last week was a lot of talk, but little real movement. The process both needs to maintain steady progress on the negotiating texts, but also strong leadership signals to come from outside, showing the major countries are ready to step up to the challenge. We are optimistic that countries will meet the challenge. The world depends on it.

(Image: Bonn at dawn. Credit: Curnen through a Creative Commons license.)

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