I’ve been participating since last Monday in the global warming negotiations in Bonn, Germany.  This is the second session of the year. There are 53 days of official negotiations before Copenhagen and Monday was day 17 (the first 10 days were held in the first session in Bonn in March — as I discussed here — and days 11-16 were held last week).

The first week slowly worked its way through the things that need to be addressed at this stage in the negotiations.  The pace will need to pick up the rest of the week and, most importantly, the rest of the year if we are to secure a strong agreement in Copenhagen.  (As an aside, there is a clock that sits on the front screen of every session that is the “Countdown to Copenhagen” reminding delegates of how little time is left.)

Granted, not all the negotiations are occurring in the official sessions as a number of key efforts are occurring outside the UNFCCC framework — such as the Major Economies Forum which brings together the 17 largest emitting countries (as I discussed here) and the U.S.-China bilateral effort (which I discussed here).

So what has occurred in day 11-16 of the global warming negotiations?

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Starting to Stake out Firm “Opening” Positions
We’ve been slowly going through the draft negotiating text that was released prior to the session (as I discussed in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) — the so-called “first reading.”  This is where countries flagged which issues they want deleted (by suggesting that it be [bracketed]), where they have an issue that isn’t reflected in the existing text (by suggesting they will bring forward a specific proposal), and where they are open to discussion (“we can work with this option”). 

This can be painfully slow (especially to outsiders), but it is a necessary process.  After all, you can’t get agreement if you don’t know exactly where you disagree or where there might be room to talk.  And that is just what occurred.

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Divisions, [Brackets], and Some Consensus
Countries are clearly in “opening bid” mode.  At this stage in the negotiations you have to take everything with a dose of reality: “Are they flagging that because it is a real concern or is that just their opening position which they will trade in exchange for movement on other things?”  These are the thoughts that are running through every negotiator’s head.  Of course this is not a game, but securing a deal amongst 180 plus countries requires these dynamics, especially at this stage.

As we get closer to Copenhagen and as Heads of Government start to make some tough decisions, consensus on things will start to emerge more clearly.  Here are the things that I think have some [division right] now but where there is a potential emerging consensus.

“Binding” Commitments.  As I discussed in a separate post, there is a debate right now on the “nature of developing country commitments” — are they internationally binding, only domestically binding, or somewhere in between?   I don’t see this getting resolved this week (and maybe not until either this is resolved between the U.S. and China in a bilateral agreement or in the final moments of Copenhagen).  But there is a large amount of focus (and in some cases anger) on the push to get some developing countries to undertake “binding commitments.” 

In one exchange I had with a delegate (who I know very well) he was furious at the U.S. for pushing “binding commitments” for developing countries so front-and-center as he was concerned that the U.S. was just trying to blow up the agreement by pushing the rest of the world way past where he thought they would go.  When I told him that President Obama, the U.S. negotiating team, and U.S. environmental groups were committed to pushing adoption in U.S. law of an international global warming agreement, he was less mad.  This is just one example of the huge toll that eight bad years has had on the U.S. ability to lead in this negotiations.  Everyone thinks the U.S. has some sneaky motive … after all that is what they did for eight years.

Incentives for Cutting Deforestation Definitely in the Copenhagen Agreement.  While there has been an emerging consensus for awhile that incentives for reducing deforestation emissions has to be a part of the new agreement, it wasn’t until we actually went through the text that this became really clear. 

No country suggested completely eliminating incentives for deforestation reductions for the negotiating text.  Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of differences on how best to do that, but no country essentially said: “if deforestation incentives are included in the agreement I walk.”  That is huge progress since 1997 when that is effectively what occurred.

Developing Countries will Undertake Action to Reduce their Emissions.   Some countries are playing semantic games (such as the Philippines and to some extent other developing countries) and still trying to hold back this consensus, but most major developing countries are hinting at: “we will undertake some action to reduce our emissions.”  This is sort of what China said at a very high level last week as I discussed here

How much action developing countries do without developed country incentives and how much is supported with incentives is still under serious debate.  But there is still progress as this notion — that developing countries will (1) take some action on their own and (2) go further with incentives — is at the heart of the developing country negotiations.

Waiting for Clarity from the U.S.

This isn’t surprising to say, but it is still worth repeating: “without clarity from the U.S. by capping its own global warming pollution, no serious agreement in Copenhagen is possible.”

While the passage of the bill out of the House Energy and Commerce committee provides some serious momentum in the U.S., it is like having a megaphone but with a lid on the end.  The U.S. negotiators can’t take pieces of this bill and start to negotiate on this basis until the consensus in Congress crystallizes more. 

And that is kind of how I feel right now: the U.S. can’t help lead this process to solving this challenge if it can’t get its own house in order.  I believe the world is waiting for U.S. leadership, but the question in everyone’s mind is: “will they lead us to a higher ground” to solve global warming.  It is clear from conversations I’ve had with both developed and developing countries that the more the U.S. does, the more they will be willing to do. 

Clamoring for More Clarity from the Other Developed Countries
It isn’t just the U.S. that other countries are still waiting for as some other developed countries are holding out on what additional emission reduction targets they will commit to — namely Russia, Ukraine, Japan, and Canada.  And what some other countries are putting on the table — such as the range proposed by Australia — has sparked some grumbling. 

Some of these countries are hiding behind the lack of clarity from the U.S. and others are using the efforts under discussion in the U.S. as an excuse for not taking stronger commitments.

Push for Urgent! Action
A number of brave souls (not me as I was at another meeting) suffered in the rain of Bonn to pose in the shape of an exclamation point that said “YES YOU CAN!”  

I have to think optimistically that if these people can brave “rough weather” and “get organized” to form such a picture, then the world’s leaders can brave the rough weather of different negotiating positions and organize around a deal that puts the world solidly on the path to solve global warming.  [Sorry for the cheap analogy but I couldn’t resist].

This week negotiations will be focused on getting a negotiating text that includes all the key proposals, [brackets] the contentious issues, and lays out clearly the work ahead.  This way all the countries can move towards consensus and then commit to serious actions to solve global warming.

But much more global political will need to be generated over the next months if the world is to truly move in a clean energy direction, and one that begins to solve global warming.