Climate talks in 2010 might get bogged down over the role of the Copenhagen Accord - with the US on one side and the EU and major developing countries on the other.

Last week the UN announced the 9th Session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action (AWG LCA) under the UNFCCC will take place in Bonn, Germany from 9-11 April 2010. This is the negotiating group of the UN under which a successor to the Kyoto Protocol has been discussed over the past two years and which produced a series of thematic decisions at its 8th session at COP 15 in Copenhagen.

Binding legal outcome in Mexico?

Leading up to the recent formal announcement of the Bonn talks, a number of parties made submissions to the UNFCCC with respect to the AWG LCA's work programme for 2010. Notably, the US indicted its support for a legally binding outcome in Mexico "provided that the legally binding elements in an otherwise acceptable agreement would apply in a symmetrical manner to all major economies."

Copenhagen Accord as starting point?

The US highlighted the importance of the Copenhagen Accord as the "basis for an agreed outcome in Mexico", submitting that "the Copenhagen Accord is expressly operational and calls for work to be carried out in a number of areas that should be launched without delay," including: Mitigation, Transparency, Long-term Temperature Goal and Review, REDD-Plus, Adaptation, Finance/ Copenhagen Green Climate Fund and Technology.

However, not surprisingly, submissions from other major economies indicate a lack of consensus on the role of the Copenhagen Accord as the basis for new talks. The BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India, China ) appear to favour the two-track approach set in motion at Bali in 2007 (the AWG LCA and the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP), notwithstanding their subscription to the Copenhagen Accord.

In its submission, China called for the AWG LCA Chair's text to remain on the table as the "only legitimate basis for further negotiations under the AWG-LCA". China said the "political agreement in the Copenhagen Accord may be considered and where appropriate, be translated into texts that can be incorporated in the negotiating text of the AWG-LCA."

India made a similar submission, saying the "political understanding among the participants as reflected in the Copenhagen Accord should facilitate the two-track process of negotiations under the Long Term Cooperative Action and the Kyoto Protocol and lead to a successful conclusion of ongoing negotiations in Mexico."

In addition, theEU, which was largely left out of the last minute negotiation of the Copenhagen Accord, also emphasizes the two-track approach that pre-dated Copenhagen. Its submission reads:

"As agreed in Copenhagen, both AWG-KP and AWG-LCA should continue their work in a comprehensive and balanced manner and any future meeting should bear in mind the need to maintain a coherent approach between the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol. Both tracks should continue working in full negotiating mode to deliver a substantive and coherent outcome in Mexico at the end of this year.."

Not surprisingly, the US submission makes no mention of the AWG-KP. With respect to the AWG-LCA the US noted "that LCA texts have been vehicles for facilitating consensus on key issues, and their contents do not reflect specific agreements or understandings in the negotiating process. And, significantly, it was not agreed that the LCA texts would be the basis of any future negotiation."

In what appears to be a direct response to the BASIC countries, the US submission goes on to say:

"Those involved in the development of the Accord negotiated in good faith with the intention that it result in an agreed outcome in Copenhagen, and understood it to be a package - one that, like all difficult compromises, is ideal to no Party, but which was acceptable to a diverse range of Parties."

So the saga continues. Hopefully, the Parties at Bonn will be able to focus more on substance than on procedure. Much of the Copenhagen Accord and the results of the AWG-LCA overlap. Even then, the US call for a legally binding agreement in 9 months in Mexico looks overly-ambitious.