Bangkok Dispatch: Climate Negotiations Resume


We are back on the negotiating trail, this time in Bangkok, continuing international discussions that happened in Bonn in June and August. I arrived here late last night wondering what I would wake up to in the morning. So much has been happening recently on climate change, from last week’s “Climate Week” in New York City to Wednesday’s introduction of climate legislation into the Senate committee on environment and public works.

There have been some other things happening on climate change too. We’ve been seeing the impacts of climate change first hand – from 500 year floods in Georgia to more intense and frequent fires in southern California. We’ve seen reports on how some ecosystems like coral reefs need urgent action to keep them from their tipping point. And we’re seeing again, with typhoons in the Phillipines and Vietnam, the vulnerability of people in developing countries around the world. All sad reminders of how important it is that we are here.

So, my question when I woke up today: has any of this created some movement in efforts here to reach a global climate agreement in December?

Here’s what I’ve found so far:

In the negotiations, we’ve come into Bangkok with hundreds of pages of text, with hopes of narrowing to 30 – 40 pages by December. Parties are working towards structuring the text into something that is negotiable — combining and consolidating where similar ideas are appearing in multiple places. From this work, it’s hopeful that we will see some new texts by Saturday, which will enable parties to do some real negotiating next week.

Meanwhile, some hot issues seem to have been taken up more vigorously than in the past. Earlier in the week, one of the central tensions in this negotiation came to the fore, regarding who is responsible for doing what. Developed countries want to push for actions that all countries will undertake, including major developing countries like China and India whose emissions are likely to grow significantly in the future. Those countries, however, want to keep the focus on what developed countries will do, since developed countries are historically responsible for the majority of global emissions to date. Although this issue wasn’t fully resolved, the general feeling is getting these perspectives out on the table is leading to more frank discussions between parties.

And still, everyone is waiting on the United States to put some hard numbers on the table in terms of its own actions. What the US can do globally will be shaped by what it does nationally in climate legislation back home.

I think many people, here in Bangkok and back home in the States, don’t quite recognize how crucial and urgent it is that the Senate move on a climate bill by December. Today, Duncan Marsh, our director of international climate policy, moderated a press conference about the Senate bill, to provide this perspective to reporters here. One reporter asked, if so much is dependent upon what happens in the US Senate, then aren’t negotiators here wasting their time?

Not true, was Duncan’s response. While there is rightfully a lot of focus on the “big numbers” (i.e., emissions reductions targets and financing for developing countries), he said, those numbers are unlikely to become clear until the final days of Copenhagen when a political deal is agreed. Meanwhile, very important work can be done here and now to create a framework for a new agreement, into which those numbers can be slotted. If parties hold off and wait for the numbers, there will be no foundation to hold up the urgency and tension that is expected in Copenhagen.

So what is clear right now is that negotiators here in Bangkok and legislators back in Washington must all focus and move forward towards the end goal of keeping global warming to below 2 degrees C.

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  1. What is there left to negotiate? They have been talking for years. It’s time for a little less conversation, a little more action please.

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