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COP18: Week one analysis by Damian Ryan

03 December 2012
COP18: Week one analysis by Damian Ryan

COP18 takes place in Doha, Qatar, from November 26 to December 7, 2012. As part of our involvement in COP18, Damian Ryan our Senior Policy Manager, is providing news and analysis, as well as live tweeting from Doha.

This is Damian's summary of the first week of COP18 and will be followed by daily reports for the rest of the week.

Week one of the annual UN Climate Conference (COP18), held this year in Doha, Qatar, followed largely expected lines, with few, if any surprises.

Going into the conference, the key challenges and fault lines were well known following earlier meetings in the year (see my pre-COP18 briefing).

As a result negotiators spent much of the week in so-called ‘informal consultations’ as a way of encouraging more open discussion in order to prepare draft decisions for ministers to finalize and adopt in week two.

Measures for success

This year’s COP has three basic goals and measures for success. It must complete negotiations on a second commitment period (‘2CP’) for the Kyoto Protocol, wrap up parallel talks on so-called ‘long-term cooperative action’ among all countries, and solidify the shape and direction of negotiations on a new global climate treaty to be agreed by 2015.

According to various reports, the Kyoto track talks have progressed reasonably well, in the sense that officials have narrowed down options for ministers to consider.

Tough negotiations are likely in week two however, as ministers grapple with what are essentially political decisions.

The five key issues on which they need to reach agreement are:

  • the length of the new commitment period (5 or 8 years)
  • its entry into force (and the legal nature of this)
  • what to do with surplus carbon credits (carry them over or cancel them)
  • access to the Protocol’s ‘flexibility mechanisms’ (for everyone or just 2CP signatories)
  • what trigger should be used to increase ambition over the 2CP.

In contrast to the Protocol talks, the negotiations on long-term cooperative action have gone less well.

Different ambitions

As expected, divisions over the level of mitigation ambition, differences in interpretation of what constitutes ‘equity’ among countries, and disagreement on scaling climate finance before 2020, are all slowing progress.

Although a Copenhagen-style breakdown seems unlikely (although not impossible), it appears that a serious amount of heavy lifting will be required early in the second week to wrap this process up, as all countries have stated they wish to.

To do this, negotiators have three options for dealing with each outstanding issue. Either they resolve it; find a new home for it within the broader UNFCCC process; or agree to drop it from all negotiations.

On a brighter note, discussions on the negotiation process for a new global treaty (the so-called ‘Durban Platform’) have apparently been constructive. Views still differ between countries about what precisely the process should look like, but with the discussion remaining at a general, rather than specific level, achieving consensus on a broad program of work from 2013 seems realistic in Doha.

Such an outcome, however, is dependent on agreement in the other two tracks. Developing countries remain adamant that any talks on a new global treaty can only proceed once a 2CP is in place and all outstanding issues are addressed under the long-term cooperative action track.

Building bridges

Bringing all three of these strands together in an acceptable Doha package in week two will hinge to a large degree on the diplomatic skill of Qatar as holder of the COP Presidency.

An apparently lackluster performance in week one has raised concerns among some countries about whether the COP President can build the necessary political bridges to bring parties together.

With luck, the arrival of ministers over the weekend, and the political focus this brings to the process, will provide the impetus for unlocking the key deadlocks in the coming week.

Photo by UN Climate Change.


Damian Ryan will also be writing news and analysis and live-tweeting throughout COP18, and providing a more in-depth post-COP Briefing after the events. Keep up to date on our website and by following him on Twitter during COP18. 

In the run up to and during Doha we will also be posting a series of articles featuring analysis from our teams in the USEurope, India and Australia on their nations' COP negotiating positions.

Read Damian's pre-COP18 briefing paper now.

Follow a live feed from COP18 below.

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