COP15 Countdown

12/16/2009 06:33 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Here is another post from my friend Bill Liao, who is reporting on the COP15 conference from his unique vantage point as a Small Island States delegate.

If I never see another "square bracket," it will be too soon.

There are three levels to the negotiations that are happening here in Copenhagen at the COP15 Conference, the fourteenth Conference of the Parties since Kyoto. Over those 14 years the COP's have been primary meetings seeking consensus, and in between there have been additional conferences such as Barcelona.

Various plans and protocols have been established and named after the locations in which they were agreed, such as the Bali Action Plan and the Poznan Protocol.

The three levels I mentioned start with the technical drafting: meetings and contact groups where the documents are worked on by the technical representatives of the the parties (countries), and the documents and meetings are broken into various interest areas that certain countries are keen on. For example, in St. Kitts and Nevis, we are interested in capacity building.

Whenever a line of document text that is being discussed in a meeting cannot be agreed upon by some of the parties, that line is put in "square brackets" to indicate it is not part of the consensus. This is where I am getting tired of seeing square brackets chip away at the fate of the world in the name of consensus.

The second level of the COP, which has begun today, is the so-called "high level" section where some heads of state and various ministers and ambassadors to the UN show up to give political guidance to their respective technical representatives. As if the mix wasn't already bad enough, we now add politics.

The final level of the COP is where the heavy hitters turn up, such as heads of state: the Gordon Browns and Barack Obamas of the world. Unresolved issues are supposed to be dealt with at the higher levels, but there is no time for that here. I have been told President Obama will only show up if there is a deal he can take back with him that the US is happy with, so really the technical representatives and environment ministers need to make things work now or we will not get to this place.

Everyone tells me that all of the previous COP meetings have been a bit like Scotty in "Star Trek," pulling something out of the hat at the very last second before is all goes horribly wrong.

Having seen from the inside how the process operates -- how difficult it is to gain consensus while producing a document that actually has some teeth, and that will be binding and signable -- I now understand what has been going on for 14 years.

The fact that you need a full consensus and not a 3/4 majority makes it very tough from the outset. Add in that most Index 1 countries seem not to feel the urgency of the G77 plus China (there are 130 countries in the G77 by the way) and you have a recipe for gridlock that is guaranteed to stop progress.

Still, everyone here knows the world expects something concrete and workable out of the conference, and the survival of many countries literally depends on progress, so I see some hope that consensus will be reached. Note the COP president firmly pointed out today that consensus and not negotiation was the order of the day. Yet, even with consensus of some kind, I am only going to be able to sleep at night because of the work I am doing with For only when we have sustainably re-forested 20 million square kilometers of the Earth by 2020 will we have truly handled the problem, regardless of the conclusions of COP15.

Still... it would be great if the UN could seal a meaningful deal by Friday!