This Week’s Tripping Points

photo: james.thompson on flickr

photo: james.thompson on flickr

With the US still holding out on a couple crucial bits of information (mitigation targets and finance numbers) that make real progress on the Long-term Cooperative Agreement (LCA) track just about impossible, the UN talks this week in Barcelona are circling around a couple other troubling tripping points.

First, there’s the question of what’s to become of the Kyoto Protocol. Many developing countries are accusing industrialized nations of sabotaging the agreement, which isn’t–as many believe–supposed to end in 2012, but requires new commitments to be agreed upon for a second phase that runs through 2020. Brendan Demille’s got a solid account of the fireworks the erupted Monday over this when 50 African nations “suspended” any further Kyoto Protocol talks until developed countries start taking them more seriously and deliver some numbers that are long overdue.

Second, there’s quite of bit of unease in the air over the flood of recent comments–from everyone from the Danish Prime Minister to the U.N. Secretary General–that a “legally-binding agreement” isn’t likely by the time Copenhagen wraps up. From Reuters:

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen told Reuters he was optimistic that a politically-binding agreement could be agreed at the conference next month in Copenhagen but that the final legally-binding decisions would have to be taken later.

Observer orgs, activists, and the world’s more vulnerable nations are furious about this, seeing these statements as a lowering of expectations that more or less ensures a weak, toothless, and ineffective agreement. And, to be sure, a “politically-binding agreement” is ultimately worthless. But as others have pointed out, a “politically-binding” agreement isn’t the ultimate goal, but rather a temporary patch while the legal aspects are worked out early next year.

So where does this all leave the US? Well, American delegates don’t have much business being an influential part of the Kyoto discussion, though the delegation has called for a single treaty going forward, to the outrage of plenty. On the “legally-binding” bit, Pershing & Co. are being pragmatic as always, agreeing that time is likely too tight to negotiate a legal structure that’s acceptable to all, but urging that this doesn’t mean the legal aspects can’t be agreed on later.

Tomorrow I’ll follow up with some more feedback on the legal issue–it’s looking to be the hottest-button item for the rest of the week, and possibly straight through December. At least until Congress shows us a little something and the heat is turned up on the US again for those pesky missing numbers.

  • Josh Wyndham-Kidd

    Interested to hear how the ‘schedules’ proposal is going down at the talks. I know there are many delegates saying that it’s an attempt to water down Kyoto, but I gather that it includes compulsory economy-wide binding targets for developed nations, so it’s got the essential part of the Kyoto framework included and provides a mechanism for non-Annex 1 parties to commit. Sounds like a good idea from here!

    The African walkout of the AWGKP is fantastic news – the targets issue is vital and needs to come first. Then, financing (block #2). Once those two items are resolved, we should be able to hammer out the key details in Copenhagen. Now all we need is countries like the States and Australia to stand up on both! (Europe, the LCDs and AOSIS are already there…)