We are headed into Week Two of international climate negotiations here in Bangkok. Progress is slow…but there is some progress. I asked Andrew Deutz, The Nature Conservancy’s director of international government relations, to provide some context on what’s going on…and what it means for a climate-change agreement in Copenhagen this December:

Q: What progress has been made in the first week of these discussions?

Deutz: While the week started out with optimistic and hopeful speeches, buoyed by the international momentum coming out of the UN Climate Week in New York, it’s been challenging to bring that high-level momentum into these negotiations to really break through the major political sticking points.

While there has been some progress on certain aspects of the text, for example reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD), the pace is not nearly fast enough to get where we need to be by Copenhagen.

There has also been a lot of talk about the “elephants in the room” – such as what overall emissions reductions targets and financing will come from developed countries, how much common responsibility developing countries should share, and whether the Kyoto Protocol will continue independently or be merged with a new agreement. These political issues are also getting more clearly defined and out on the table, which helps the negotiations move forward in other areas.

Q: What needs to happen in the next week in these negotiations?

Deutz: We are going into Week Two with some consolidated texts and hopefully some energy to find the key areas of convergence that will make up an agreement in Copenhagen. But the elephants in the room could rear their heads at any point and prevent further progress. Parties must continue to look for areas of agreement, move towards reduced texts, and provide a vote of confidence that the elephants will start moving by Copenhagen.

At the same time, it’s important is that everything that has been agreed to date is not lost as parties work to shorten the text. We don’t want to through the baby out with the bathwater. Guiding principles and annexes that capture what has been learned should be retained to support a political agreement — and to facilitate implementation once an agreement is reached.

We should come out of Bangkok with a single consolidated negotiating text or a clear mandate to the chairs to put such a text on the table before we get to Barcelona [the next stop for the negotiations]. If negotiators can get a series of elements in place by Copenhagen – around REDD, adaptation, technology transfer and other areas – it will create a foundation for a political deal to be struck in Copenhagen.

Q: Looking outside the negotiations, what needs to happen in the next months to reach an agreement in Copenhagen?

Deutz: Getting a solid foundation in place for Copenhagen will push ministers and heads of state to focus on the overall level of ambition of the whole agreement, and keep them from blaming the negotiations for not paving the way for a decision.

In particular, leaders need to deliver on a strong emissions reductions targets and a clear commitment for public financing from developed countries. The G20 did not provide substantial guidance on finance, so leaders must quickly find a forum where they can pull a solution together.

And progress in the United States is crucial. The prevailing opinion here is that momentum is slowing for comprehensive climate legislation in the United States being adopted before Copenhagen. Without that, the U.S. will not be able to bring emissions reductions targets or billions of new dollars to the negotiating and those are the twin keys to unlocking the negotiations.

So much of the first week was characterized by delegates reassessing the perspectives of U.S. leadership and recalibrating their expectations for Copenhagen. The best possible adrenaline shot for these negotiations would be for the U.S. Congress to adopt the climate bill.

Q: What can negotiators here do to facilitate an agreement in Copenhagen?

Deutz: Resolving the legal structure and how to merge the two negotiating tracks (one for the Kyoto Protocol and one for Long-term Cooperative Action) is also a crucial step to bring clarity around the level of overall emissions targets:

  • Developing countries want to keep the Kyoto Protocol alive because it defines the world into two simple camps — developed and developing countries — with developed countries carrying all the responsibility for emissions reductions.
  • Developed countries are keen on the agreement on Long-term Cooperative Action because it opens the door for counting developing countries actions to reduce emissions as part of an overall agreement.

Finding a structure that brings together the commitments from the Kyoto Protocol with efforts undertaken by the U.S., China, India and others would create a global framework that captures efforts from all of the major emitting countries.

(Image: Elephants at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (LWC) in the Laikipia District of Northern Kenya in East Africa. The Conservancy is partnering with LWC to help protect the grasslands and savannas of Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. Credit: Josh Knights/TNC)

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