The first global warming negotiations post Copenhagen have just wrapped up here in Bonn (as I discussed here). It was a 3 day session and was mostly focused on establishing the process and expectations for negotiations this year. While there was some complaining about the Copenhagen Accord from some quarters, the complaining was timid compared with my expectations. That was positive so countries could focus more on what could realistically be achieved in Cancun (the expectations for the year) and how to get there (the process).

So where do things stand on the process and expectations for the year?

Process — how are things organized and what “text” do we use? Countries are grappling with two questions related to the process of the negotiations this year.

Could you streamline the negotiations by creating a more formal “smaller group” negotiating session? One proposal would have created a 40 country negotiating group that would sit around the table and be the only ones speaking in the formal plenary. These countries would get input from the other countries not “sitting around the table” as they would be representing some regional or other country grouping (e.g., the least developed countries, Alliance of Small Island States, etc). This would create a format where not all 194 countries provided input at every moment in the process. Such a smaller setting is critical to achieving progress in global warming negotiations but lost a lot of trust in Copenhagen (as I discussed here).

How would you integrate the Copenhagen Accord into the other negotiating texts that were produced throughout the year and were presented with lots of [brackets] — disagreements — in Copenhagen? Since the Accord was “taken note of” by all 194 countries and only some 110 of the 194 countries have “associated with the Accord” (as I discussed here) there is pushback from some countries to inclusion of the Accord agreements into the process in a more formal manner — notably the ALBA countries (led by Venezuela with Bolivia and Cuba also weighing-in for this group) countries and League of Arab States (led by Saudi Arabia with Egypt as their spokesperson). Saudi Arabia has a long track record of blocking progress in the global warming negotiations (as Andy Revkin discusses here) so this was no surprise.

So given these divisions countries agreed to let the Chair produce a text “under her own responsibility” and present it before the next meeting of this process — back here in Bonn this coming June. There was a huge debate about whether she could draw upon the Copenhagen Accord to inform the development of this text (I tweeted the play by play on this at jschmidtnrdc). It was painful and there were times that it looked like we weren’t going to agree, but the Chair basically said I’m going to produce whatever text I think appropriate no matter what texts you allow me to look at. So that framework was agreed and she’ll produce a draft negotiating text which will help the world focus on the implementation of key building blocks. Luckily many countries aren’t waiting for this text before implementing actions to address global warming as I discussed here.  

Expectations for the year — “all or nothing” (comprehensive) or make progress on what can be agreed? As I discussed here, there is huge value in agreeing to the details on individual pieces — such as deforestation reductions, transparency, and finance — at the meeting in Cancun this December. I would call this the “agree to what can be agreed” method. I’m skeptical that we can agree to everything in Cancun and also to the legal form of the future agreement, which is why I argued to implement key building blocks necessary for international agreement and to focus on actions in Cancun. Under the alternative framework — “all or nothing” — agreement on one piece is only allowed if everything else is agreed (this stalled getting agreement on deforestation and adaptation in Copenhagen and we can’t afford that again).

This wasn’t expected to be resolved in Bonn, but there were some emerging themes. The U.S. argued that the Copenhagen Accord reflected a balanced set of agreements and were all woven together — you can’t eliminate one without the others also falling apart.

Stay tuned on how this debate unfolds this year as it will be critical to determining whether Cancun can be used to rebuild trust and to begin the critical work of implementation. Too much dependence on “all or nothing” will likely result in stalemate as some individual pieces are unlikely to progress as far as others this year. I think this comes down critically to ensuring that there are decisions to implement the transparency (a key for the U.S.) and finance (a key for developing countries) provisions of the Copenhagen Accord. So those two interwoven issues need to be agreed with greater detail in Cancun in order to provide confidence to the U.S. to move on finance and for the developing countries to move on transparency. Once those two groups feel comfortable that these issues are resolved, the other “building blocks” of the international effort — reducing emissions from deforestation and adaptation — can be resolved this year.

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All of this effort towards Cancun depends on whether the U.S. passes a comprehensive clean energy and global warming legislation this year. Without the U.S. driving forward with implementing solutions to global warming it will be hard to have any positive outcome in Cancun this year.

I feel like a broken record, but please leader’s in the Senate now is the time to act. You have ample reasons to find solutions that put the U.S. on a path to creating clean energy jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and reduce our global warming pollution.

Others are acting whether or not the U.S. does (as I discussed here), so it is time for the U.S. to get in the game for real.