Copenhagen report: Day 8

14 December 2009

The second week of climate negotiations in Copenhagen got off to a bumpy start today with both Convention and Protocol talks suspended for much of the day. 

Despite reportedly constructive informal discussions amongst a group of 48 ministers on Sunday, developing countries, led by the African Group, requested the suspension of the Convention track negotiations.  Developed countries in turn asked that the Protocol talks also be halted arguing that the two tracks had to proceed in tandem.

There appears to be at least two reasons for triggering the African request.  First, the lack of progress in agreeing new emission targets for developed countries  and second, dissatisfaction with how the negotiation process was evolving. 

Since the beginning of the conference the smaller developing countries have consistently called for an inclusive and transparent negotiating process.  As pressures have mounted, however, and with the arrival of ministers, the key discussions have begun to move into smaller, more intimate groups.  This is often to the exclusion of smaller countries, but is seen by the main players as a necessary step in cracking the tough political issues.

Much of the day's work was therefore conducted behind closed doors, with ministers and the COP president attempting to resolve the impasse.  This appears to have been successful with various contact groups resuming their work late in the afternoon.  As both negotiating tracks are scheduled to conclude their negotiator-level discussions tomorrow, officials may be in for a late night.

With yet more negotiating time lost many officials and observers will no doubt have begun to look anxiously at their watches.  However, COP President Connie Hedegaard while briefing NGOs today stressed that the political process shouldn't be underestimated.  Negotiations are always tough, but this didn't mean that a successful outcome couldn't be delivered.  The current window of opportunity could not be wasted delaying agreement would not make the negotiations any easier. 

Focusing on the issue of finance, Hedegaard highlighted how agreement on innovative sources of funding, such as from the international shipping and aviation sectors, was within reach of the conference. 

Whether such optimism is justified remains to be seen.  However, the apparent public admission today by China (see article) that it was unlikely to need or seek climate finance assistance by developed countries is hopefully a harbinger of other potentially game-changing concessions. 

Week 2 in Copenhagen may not have got off to the best start, but as Minister Hedegaard noted, don't underestimate the political process.

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