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A Party-Driven Process: Kyoto Protocol? Copenhagen Accord?

Bonn, Germany -- Already at the last UNFCCC meeting in June, the majority of nations -- aside from airing their grievances over how the negotiating process was hijacked in Copenhagen -- expressed anew their commitment to transparent negotiations and to the Bali Action Plan.

The Bali Action Plan, established in 2007, put forward two negotiating tracks: the ad hoc working group on the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) and the ad hoc working group on long-term co-operative action (AWG-LCA). Support for the Bali Action Plan thus means de facto support for the Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol establishes emissions reductions for industrialized countries. With the first commitment period set to expire in 2012, talks about closing the gap between its end and the beginning of a second commitment period to start in January, 2013 have dominated the current conference.

On Tuesday, the AWG-LCA began discussing a revised draft negotiating text circulated last month by chairwoman, Zimbabwean diplomat Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe.

U.S. Climate negotiator Jonathan Pershing responded to it, stating: "We do note that there are a number of elements in the text that reflect essentially a transference of the Kyoto Protocol activities and as a non-KP party, we would not accept these."

So if the Kyoto Protocol were to be renewed, the United States would not sign on.

While most nations are focused on working out a new draft negotiating text that includes provisions of the Kyoto Protocol, the U.S. clings to the Copenhagen Accord. At Tuesday's meeting Pershing insisted "It's important to achieve a significant, comprehensive and operational outcome in Cancún that advances implementation of the Copenhagen Accord."

This afternoon, lead European Commission climate negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger affirmed that "The U.S. has been proposing very concrete text ... coming from the Copenhagen Accord and ... are trying ... to make operational the Copenhagen Accord."

At a press conference this afternoon hosted by Friends of the Earth International, Professor Stabinsky, science adviser for Greenpeace International, criticized the U.S. position, arguing that the "U.S. is continuing its old practices ... of stalling, of watering down ... basically practices that they established with the Copenhagen Accord."

Developing nations had already candidly expressed their strong opposition to it in June. Tuvalu stated it does "not support language from the Copenhagen Accord ... We do not consider it appropriate to include any Copenhagen Accord language, as this does not represent a consensus decision."

What's the hitch? The Kyoto Protocol agreed that Annex I countries would take responsibility for greenhouse gas reductions, since they are historically responsible for producing the bulk of CO2 emissions. Developing countries are not subject to the same commitments. And on this issue, the U.S. would like to see change.

As Pershing put it: "The U.S. continues to support a legally binding regime, provided that regime is symmetrical, imposing legally binding obligations on all major players in a balanced way." On Tuesday, his emphasis on balance throughout his comments intended to underscore the need to share the burden of reining in emissions reductions.

To some extent, the debate hinges on historical responsibility versus current emissions.

Pershing articulated this concern when he said, "Things have changed since 1990. We need to reflect in the text explicit mechanisms to accommodate such changes." The Kyoto Protocol uses 1990 as a baseline: countries that were not deemed to be industrialized in 1990, such as China and India, therefore do not have to commit to emissions reductions under the Kyoto Protocol.

No one - not Pershing, not UN Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres - was willing to indicate precisely who was responsible for slowing the talks down in backroom discussions. Yet at the EU press conference EU President Peter Wittoeck indicated that China had emphasized concerns about its rights as a sovereign nation, intimating that it was balking at the pressure being applied.

Lead European Commission climate negotiator Runge-Metzger stated that he felt he was witnessing a repeat of Copenhagen.

Bolivian climate negotiator Pablo Solón put it, by contrast, argued that the negotiating balance has swung "back to developing countries and to all parties."

To avoid a repeat, Mexico has suggested implementing separate tracks of treaties. Currently, having two or three treaties is being considered. That is, the Kyoto Protocol could be extended; a second accord could be set up for countries that are not signatories, such as the U.S.; and a third agreement could be established for developing countries.

What is needed, Dessima Wiliams (Grenada), chairwoman of AOSIS, argued: is a "synergistic impact" whereby countries put forward ambitious emissions reductions. Georgina Woods, Climate Action Network (CAN) Australia, underscored this position, stating that "governments need to arrive with offers not demands."

The IPCC, the UN's scientific body, has called for 25-40% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and stated that such a reduction offers a 50% chance of keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees.

The EU, which includes 27 nations, has committed to a 20% reduction in emissions based on 1990 levels by 2020, and offered a 30% reduction if other industrialized nations were willing to offer comparable targets. It remains to be seen whether other nations will offer a matching bid.

Williams (AOSIS) stated, "We decided to have the press conference ... to bring you the following message: The situation on the ground for all of our countries is worsening ... And the negotiations are not matching ... the urgency on the ground."

Grenada has suffered a seven-month drought, which brought its water supply to one of its lowest levels in decades; then, it received water in such abundance that it caused landslides and loss of topsoil. And now Grenada is on the brink of what is predicated to be a very active hurricane season. Additionally, the increased ocean temperatures, which are responsible for rising sea levels, threaten to drown low-lying and small island states, such as Grenada.

As Mohamed Adow, Christian Aid, said: "Rather than being held hostage ... We need to be more pro-active ... We should not be bound to the lowest common denominator." He added: "We need to appreciate the difficulties of people who live at the frontlines." He referenced the severe drought and food crisis in West Africa.

The situation on the ground is severe in many nations; this week's headlines are dominated by climate change catastrophes: the floods in Pakistan, which have affected 12 million and left 1600 dead; and the drought in Russia, which has unleashed devastating fires and decimated wheat crops, leading to a 75% increase in wheat prices.

It remains to be seen whether countries can reach agreement to prevent a future increase in such catastrophes.

A revised 45-page draft text has been circulated to all 194-member nations for discussion at the last one-week UNFCCC meeting, which takes place in Tianjin, China from October 4-9, 2010.

Subsequently, the COP 16 will take place in Cancún, Mexico from November 29 to December 10, 2010.

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