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Copenhagen report: Day 3

09 December 2009

Copenhagen experienced its first real taste of negotiating drama today with a request by small island countries to completely suspend talks taking place under the Convention negotiation track. Unlike yesterday' sensationalism over the so-called 'Danish text' - which most seasoned negotiators and observers were either aware of, or unsurprised by - the suspension request highlighted a rare public split amongst a key group of allies.

The high drama began when the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS), supported by several other developing countries, proposed the establishment of a formal 'contact group' to discuss a proposal for a new protocol to the climate convention. As AOSIS explained the purpose of this protocol is to complement, not replace Kyoto, by codifying the outcomes of the negotiations taking place under the Bali Action Plan. What made the ensuing debate unique was that it pitted developing country against developing country. On one side stood AOSIS and its allies and on the other, the large developing nations including China, India, South Africa, Brazil and others. The latter oppose a new protocol over concerns that it would lead to binding commitments for developing countries and undermine the effectiveness of the Kyoto Protocol. 

With both sides refusing to budge, AOSIS played its ace and requested the COP President - Danish Minister Connie Hedegaard - to suspend the entire COP process. An audible murmur rippled across the entire auditorium in surprise. Hedegaard, however, skillfully dodged the request and, while suspending the meeting, managed to steer the debate to informal consultations, thus averting a full meltdown. Despite this, the heated discussion finally brought to the surface long simmering tensions amongst developing countries, where the priorities of the most small and vulnerable states are increasingly at odds with those of the emerging industrialized economies. Developed countries, who failed to make a single intervention (and who themselves have tabled several proposals for new protocols), no doubt took some satisfaction in the developing country division.  However, unless a workable solution can be found, this issue will remain a potentially fatal fault line in the negotiations.

Elsewhere, closed-door negotiations continued on the core elements of the Bali Roadmap and officials also began to tackle regular agenda items relating to the UNFCCC's ongoing areas of work. The only negotiating meeting open to observers was the Kyoto contact group dealing with emission targets for developed countries. It reported back on informal discussions on base year and length of the next commitment period. Agreement on neither had been reached. Much of the meeting was taken up with debate over the status of existing pledges on the table. Both Japan and Russia attempted to clarify what their offers did and did not mean. Developing countries strongly criticized the continuing lack of ambition. News from the independent ENB reporting service ( - the only organization with official access to closed door sessions - suggested that progress was also limited in other areas.

Observers continued to be entertained with a plethora of side events. Lisa Jackson, head of US Environmental Protection Agency, presented to a packed house on the EPA's announcement this week of its 'endangerment' decision, which unlocks the door to using the Clean Air Act for regulating greenhouse gases. The decision determined that scientific evidence clearly shows greenhouse gases are endangering Americans' health and the environment, and means the EPA could regulate these gases without the approval of the US Congress.

Ms Jackson emphasised that any regulation of greenhouse gases will be complementary to US legislation being considered by Congress, and that 'reasonable and common sense' efforts will be made under the Clean Air Act. She emphasised that work under the CCA had already been completed on emissions reporting and was well progressed for automobile standards. The next area of focus will be for larger stationary sources (>25 kT CO2) to apply 'best available control technology'.

Her presentation also emphasised that need for legislation to provide the necessary certainty for business, and the range of initiatives that EPA is undertaking to address emissions/energy use from the built environment.

With three days now gone, thoughts of negotiators will have no doubt turned to whether things are on course. While it remains a mugs game to predict an outcome, the first signs of movement will need to emerge in the coming few days to ensure ministers are presented with something reasonably close to a final package. The alternative is not an option.

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