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3 Key Issues to Watch During the Bangkok Climate Talks

The U.N.’s current round of climate change negotiations continues this week in Bangkok. While the last intersessional in Bonn yielded more lows than highs, the Bangkok talks have the potential to make real progress and set the tone for COP 18 in Doha, Qatar later this year.

The Big Picture

As with any U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) session, negotiators will need to manage political controversies while trying to make progress across a large volume of complex, technical issues. The political debates will likely center on ambition and equity, specifically countries’ collective will to speed emissions reductions in order to hold global mean temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The negotiations in Bonn earlier this year were acrimonious, with Parties pointing fingers over their respective failures to cut emissions in line with science. This, coupled with the recent controversial remarks from the United States on the need for a more “flexible” agreement, creates a delicate environment going into this latest negotiating session. On the technical front, the challenge is to conclude talks on three major, long-standing issues before the clock runs out at the end of this year.

3 Key Issues to Watch During the Bangkok Meetings

1) Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP)

The Durban Platform (ADP), created in December last year, is tasked with creating a vision for a new climate agreement that will come into effect in 2020. The broad contours for what this agreement should contain have already been identified. It should facilitate the widest possible cooperation amongst all the Parties, close the emissions gap in order to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and be grounded in transparent, effective rules. Bangkok needs to make progress on the details. Bonn failed to agree on a clear work plan for the ADP, and so the conversation in Bangkok needs to develop milestones and working procedures that will allow the ADP to be effective.

In addition, there will likely be a vibrant discussion on the role of equity and Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC). Both of these fundamental principles were notably absent from the final Durban Platform text last December. This has spawned a vigorous debate during the past nine months on how best to maximize emissions reductions amongst the widest possible number of Parties, while at the same time recognizing differences in capabilities and historical responsibilities. The session in Bangkok will feature two prominent workshops on these principles.

Importantly, the ADP discussions will also focus on ways to increase ambition in the short-term (up to 2020) and over the longer-term (post 2020). Over the past few months, numerous suggestions have been tabled, ranging from eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and promoting energy efficiency to creating a global carbon market. It is imperative that Bangkok lands a draft text that includes clear steps to increase efforts in the short-term (up to 2020), with longer-term ambition captured in the new agreement by 2015.

2) The Kyoto Protocol (KP)

The Kyoto Protocol is due to enter into a second commitment period in January 2013, but a number of key decisions still need to be resolved. First, Parties need to finalize the numbers related to their absolute emissions targets and associated rules (e.g. access to Kyoto Protocol mechanisms, review of requirements, and compliance). They also have to decide on the length of the 2nd commitment period. The Europeans favor an eight-year window to bring the commitment period in line with their own E.U.-wide targets for 2020. Others are pushing for a five-year period, fearing an extension would delay action by other major emitters. This series of issues is highly political and unlikely to be resolved without the intervention of Ministers.

Second, negotiators will have to resolve a contentious debate on how to use surplus allowances from the first commitment period. There is broad agreement on the principle of carrying over a portion of unused allowances from the first commitment period, but divergence on how many allowances should be eligible.

Third, negotiators will need to recommend a solid legal form for implementing the second commitment period. A number of options are on the table in Bangkok, and these will need to be narrowed down for adoption at COP18 in Doha this November.

One outstanding question is whether Australia and New Zealand will join the E.U. in a second commitment period. Opting in will bring renewed momentum and credibility to the KP. A decision to stay out could deflate the talks.

3) Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action (LCA)

The ongoing work program on Long-Term Cooperative Action (LCA) aims to mobilize financial resources for emissions reductions, adaptation to climate change’s impacts, and technology deployment. It further seeks to establish solid rules for monitoring, reporting, and verifying existing emissions-reductions pledges, while also encouraging an increase of ambition in line with science. This scope of work runs to more than 55 concurrent agenda items. We do not expect much progress on finance and technology at this session, because much of the implementation is expected outside the formal UNFCCC negotiations rather through a series of UNFCCC workshops and financial and technology standing committee meetings.

One significant issue to watch concerns the creation of new carbon mechanisms. In Durban, Parties decided to create a new market-based mechanism to promote and enhance the cost-effectiveness of mitigation actions for both developed and developing countries. In Bangkok, further discussion about the process and the role of the new market-based mechanism is expected. Beyond this, the controversial issue of accounting features heavily under the LCA. Will negotiators be able to go beyond the usual presentations and converge on the need for common metrics and methodologies?

The challenge for the LCA in Bangkok is how much of these outstanding issues can be concluded successfully and whether any of them need to be transferred to the ADP. It would seem wise for negotiators to strongly resist transferring any issues into the ADP, which could dilute its work, but rather address them through the UNFCCC technical and implementation subsidiary bodies. Draft texts that highlight how the remaining issues on all the different agenda items should be dealt with should emerge in Bangkok.

Why Progress Is Needed

The Bangkok intersessional is an important session, as its sets the tone for negotiations at COP18 in Doha. A repeat of the divisions in Bonn could stall momentum and undermine much of the progress made in Durban last December. And as farmers from the Punjab to the Midwest—not to mention communities across the world currently impacted by drought, wildfire, violent storms, and flooding—can attest, we could all use some climate progress.

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