A tense day of climate negotiations in Barcelona

There are just two days of negotiating time left in Barcelona at the last round of talks before Copenhagen begins. Three items are dominating proceedings.

There are just two days of negotiating time left here in Barcelona at the last round of UN climate talks before the Copenhagen summit begins. The talks are being dominated by three items: who will commit to what emission cuts; what the legal nature of the deal will be; and how much money rich countries will pledge to help poor countries adapt to climate change.

There has been high drama here in the last 48 hours as the entire African block walked out of the negotiations after developed countries failed to offer carbon cuts that were anywhere near what the science dictates would be required to keep below global temperatures from going beyond two degrees of warming.

The last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) outlined how cuts of 25 to 40 per cent on 1990 levels would be required by 2020 to provide a 50:50 chance of stopping more than two degrees of warming. But the offer on the table from developed countries is currently for cuts of between 11 and 15 per cent. There is no indication that developed countries will offer greater cuts unless the US steps up its ambition.

Since the Guardian reports today that the Democrats are now acknowledging there is no chance of their climate bill passing before Copenhagen, and since the Obama administration has so far indicated it will not offer anything beyond what is outlined in the Kerry-Boxer bill currently before the Senate, it is not clear what will happen next. The world is waiting to see what signal will come from the White House as to whether or not the US is willing to change its positions on anything related to the deal, and whether or not Obama himself will step in.

Some analysts suggest the stand taken by Africa has strengthened the hand of poorer countries and signaled to the world how the Copenhagen process is being paralyzed by the unwillingness of rich countries to increase their ambition. For example, Saleem Huq of the International Institute for Environment and Development said, “Their move leaves Africa in a much stronger position. So far Africa has not been recognised in the talks at all.” Certainly it is obvious developed countries have been rattled by the move. Rumours abound that African heads of state are now under huge pressure from the West not to walk out again and this evening the Algerian delegate here has been recalled to his country.

Another issue causing huge strain is what the legal nature of the Copenhagen agreement will be. The dividing lines look crudely something like this:

  • The US wants an approach whereby there is no international legal compliance regime. Under a so-called ‘Implementing agreement’ there would be no international rules on, for example, reporting of reductions or on carbon markets. A ‘political agreement’ like this also relies upon there being no significant changes in government in any key countries – otherwise the entire deal could unravel.
  • China and India wants to maintain the Kyoto protocol legal architecture (which is relatively strong) and for any new Copenhagen agreement that includes the US to run alongside Kyoto and to have rules that are at least equally as strong.
  • Europe wants to take parts of the Kyoto Protocol and to “copy and paste” them into the new agreement but says there’s no way this will happen by the end of this year and is giving no indication of how much longer international talks could drag on.
  • For countries such as the Small Islands whose survival is literally at stake, they are extremely alarmed at the prospect suggested by Ban Ki Moon to the Times today that there will be no legal agreement at all from Copenhagen.

Finally, the finance question which most people think will be key to a breakthrough. The only developed country grouping to indicate the sort of money they are willing to offer is Europe which has suggested there should be a €100 billion fund, of which €22 to €50 billion should be public money. However, European nations cannot agree how the money should be raised, who should pay what and how the money should be distributed and what it should be directed towards. Lord Stern has suggested greater amounts will be required, and today Ban Ki Moon said Europe’s offer was not enough. But Europe is proposing more than Japan, Canada, the US, and Australia, none of whom have indicated what scale finance they agree should be raised or what they themselves would be willing to put forward.

UN Climate Chief Yvo de Boer told AFP this evening, “Unless we see some substantial movement from industrial countries on targets and finance, the problem will remain the same today as it was yesterday.”

More as it happens.

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