Late on the evening of Tuesday 5 April, the Parties got down to what they do best - talks about talks. This represents an awesome opportunity to reopen wounds, remind each other what they have (or haven’t) done, and debate what they really meant by “agreement” and “Decision”. Discussing agendas (which are arguably not necessary given that everyone knows what needs to be negotiated) provides the perfect backdrop.

The AWG-LCA work programme

It became apparent early on in the session that there were critical differences in opinion about what needs to be achieved this year, and the process that needs to be followed to get there. Two opposing views came forward:

  • that the Cancun Agreements narrowed the focus for this year and provided us with a path forward towards developing the frameworks for the key aspects that need to be brought together for agreement in Durban later this year.
  • that the Cancun Agreements provide agreement on the way forward for only some aspects of the breadth of the work of the AWG-LCA as defined in the Bali Action Plan, and as such the agenda for this year needs to be broadly inclusive of the other matters referred to the AWG-LCA in Bali so as to have a comprehensive package agreed in Durban.

The provisional agenda proposed by the chair of the AWG-LCA reflects the former view. It was added to on five occasions before the meeting, and even more agenda items were proposed from the floor at the beginning of the meeting.

This draft agenda was (perhaps unsurprisingly) not acceptable to many developing countries, leading to the G77 and China (a group representing some 131 developing countries) proposing an alternative agenda. This proposal was a brief statement reflecting the broader authorities of the AWG-LCA as laid down in the Bali Action Plan, rather than the narrower developments in Cancun.

A number of parties, including Switzerland on behalf of the Environmental Integrity Group, Norway and Tajikistan, expressed the view that the G77 proposal was too broad, fragmented, and would dilute efforts to achieve what is required by the end of the year, a comprehensive agreement in Durban. The USA was the most strongly opposed to the G77 proposal.

Towards the end of negotiations for the evening on the agenda, there was increasing support for a compromise position. The European Union in particular noted that the agenda should not treat the Cancun Agreements as a ceiling that should form the basis of what is worked upon throughout this year, but rather it should be a floor upon which to build a more comprehensive agreement.

The session was adjourned with no agenda agreed. The session will be resumed on Wednesday afternoon.

The AWG-KP work programme

Just as the gavel was falling to formalise the agreement of the parties to the AWG-KP agenda (much less controversial than that of the AWG-LCA), Tuvalu objected! Tuvalu was of the view that there should be one thing on the agenda only, namely ensuring that there should not be a gap between the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and any subsequent commitments by developed country parties under the Kyoto Protocol. The interjection raised significant applause; however the agenda was passed while noting the objection of Tuvalu. Tuvalu’s suggestion of not breaking off into small groups to continue circular discussions that have been unfolding over many years was clearly not going to gain traction. With Tuvalu’s comments still ringing in the air, the parties began their opening remarks, pantomiming Tuvalu’s prophecy of failing to obtain political commitment on the one big issue.

Of all the developed countries, only the European Union noted its willingness to agree to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol. The Umbrella group (made up of Australia, Norway, Canada, Japan and Russia, among others) stressed that the work of the AWG-KP should be considered alongside that of the AWG-LCA, meaning basically that agreeing to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol is contingent upon agreements reached by all parties to commit to a framework for further action under the UNFCCC and outside of the Kyoto Protocol. This view was rebuked by Saudi Arabia and others, with the statement that discussions surrounding a second Kyoto commitment period under the AWG-KP should not be contingent upon developments in the AWG-LCA. The delegate from Saudi Arabia summed it up with the Shakespearian phrase “to KP or not to KP, this is not a question”. If only!

Those who attended last year’s Bonn talks immediately post-Copenhagen will recall similar discussions about the “legitimacy” of the Copenhagen Accord and objections to its integration into the formal UNFCCC negotiations. As the Accord has now largely been integrated into the negotiations by way of the Decisions coming out of Cancun, many parties now appear to be attempting to reverse out of agreements at Cancun by referring back to the negotiations at Bali. This is unsurprising, but indicative of the challenges faced this year.