“Бары дерутся, а у холопов чубы болят.”
When powerful people are quarrelling, it’s the commoners that suffer.
Just a week ago before the Bonn climate talks resumed, I highlighted here the opportunities at the UN climate talks for several discussions addressing the human impacts of climate change and climate policies. Alas, most of these discussions have not yet started as Russia opposed starting the work of the relevant negotiating track… The following paragraphs introduce the background of this dispute, the current state of play as well as the consequences on the talks.
What are we fighting for?
The negotiations between Russia and others has become so polarized that it is easy to loose sight of the substantive issue at stake: improving the process of decision making in the climate change talks.
In the final hours of Doha, Russia – as well as Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine – attempted to raise concerns related to the terms defining the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol. In practice, this objection would have resulted in a further weakening of the environmental integrity of the protocol. Still, the adoption of the amendment to the Kyoto Protocol by consensus despite these four objections raises important procedural questions (I already discuss this matter in more depth in a previous post).
One should note that the definition of consensus is the subject of discussions in other UN processes. Just a month ago, the notion of consensus was also tested in the process leading to the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty. In this case, the formal objections of to Syria, Iran and North Korea were considered as not sufficient to prevent the reach of a consensus (see this post on duplibico for more details on these negotiations).
Down the rabbit hole
This session is far from being the first round of negotiations stalled by agenda fights. The intersessional session that took place in Bonn twelve months ago also witnessed very long delays due to procedural issues. Many insiders emphasized last year that the procedural discussions were important as they could provide a necessary common understanding on HOW to negotiate WHAT the final climate agreement of 2015 will look like (see this post for more background). However, the situation this year is quite different as delegates have spent a week discussing HOW can the negotiations tackle the issue of HOW to make decisions – reaching a level of abstraction totally at odd with the urgency to take climate action.
The discussion to accommodate the Russian proposal to include a new agenda item on decision-making has now reached a stalemate. While many countries are actually interested in discussing this particular issue, the vast majority of them opposes strongly to the idea of creating a precedent in enlarging the agenda.
The G77/China suggests discussing the issue proposed by Russia at this session but within an existing agenda item. Until a compromise is found between these two diverging views, there is no chance for parties to adopt the agenda. The G77/China has also proposed to move forward on the basis of the “provisional agenda”, thus trying to resolve the procedural issue in a side conversation while negotiators address each of the 18 other agenda items, a proposal also refused by Russia.
Implications for the negotiations
Russia has not only opposed the adoption of an agenda but also the possibility to move forward with other substantive discussions under the related body. Therefore, since six days, many important agenda items have been put on hold, such as mitigation, reconsidering the adequacy of the global goal or establishing a mechanism to deal with the irreparable impacts of climate change on local communities. Even if the body were to begin its work on Monday, the crowded agenda (containing 18 different agenda items) would mean that each issue would receive very little discussion time. The secretariat already indicated that this situation was expected to lead to a more condensed agenda during the upcoming Warsaw Conference, reducing the time available to discuss some of the issues that might be considered less crucial for the talks.
On the other hand, the inability of the SBI to move forward has resulted in parallel negotiating tracks to move forward with more energy. The Body for Scientific and Technological advice was able to make more progress than expected on issues such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation (REDD) and adaptation.
What will happen next week is not yet clear, as much is hanged at the capacity of the Russia (or perhaps rather of its lead negotiator) to accept to compromise. By insisting that its fancy be resolved exactly as it has proposed before anyone moves forward, the country is only making a little more urgent to find a solution to enable the international community to move forward even in the presence of a lone objection.
About the authorSébastien Duyck
Passionate environmental advocate, PhD student (Human Rights and Environmental Governance). Following particularly UNFCCC, UNEP and Rio+20 processes