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Heated Bangkok talks leave much to discuss in Barcelona

09 October 2009

The Climate Group's Damian Ryan reports from the Bangkok Climate Change talks

BANGKOK - The latest round of UN climate change negotiations conclude today in Bangkok. Despite two weeks of intensive talks, officials will leave with many of the key issues unresolved. With just two months until the Copenhagen Climate Conference and only one more round of formal negotiations planned for November, the likelihood of securing a new global deal on climate change hangs increasingly in the balance.

Although consensus started to emerge in certain areas (such as adaptation and deforestation) and progress was made in reducing parts of an otherwise lengthy negotiating text, negotiators largely avoided the tough issues.

Developing countries again voiced frustration, if not anger, at the failure of developed countries to commit to ambitious emission cuts. The former continue to call for reductions of at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2020, in line with the upper range of cuts recommended by climate scientists. For their part, developed countries stuck to the position that the rules governing emission reductions needed to be agreed first, particularly with respect to emissions trading and offsetting.

The uncertainty about the US's position on a target, due to the continuing absence of a negotiating mandate from Congress, provided another sticking point. Norway's announcement during the talks of a 40% unilateral cut by 2020 was a notable bright spot in otherwise difficult negotiations.

The question of financing to support emission reduction and adaptation efforts in developing countries also continued to generate heated discussion.

Developed countries generally support a combined public-private sector approach to financing, with carbon markets playing a substantial role in driving low-carbon investment in developing countries. This approach is opposed by many developing countries, who believe that carbon markets won't be able to deliver the predictable and guaranteed level of financing they require - particularly if developed countries don't take on ambitious targets necessary to drive carbon market demand.

Developing countries also wish to see the establishment of new, centralised funding mechanisms to enhance and streamline access to funds. Developed countries' preference is to use existing institutions.

Suggestions by the US and a number of other developed countries that the Kyoto Protocol was best replaced with a new agreement didn't help the negotiating atmosphere. Developing countries consider such suggestions as an attempt by developed countries to avoid their legal, environmental and indeed moral obligations. One long-time observer of the process observed that the politics of the negotiations were the worst he had seen in 10 years.

Despite all this, many of the key players reiterated their committed to reaching a deal in December. The US's lead negotiator stated that they were working towards an agreement "with numbers", while the EU delegation was adamant that "there was no Plan B". However, with so much still on the table, and so little time remaining, it is increasingly unlikely that Copenhagen will deliver the final, comprehensive deal envisaged in Bali two years ago.

For embattled climate negotiators a busy 2010 awaits.

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