Today marks the beginning of the first major international climate talks since last December’s meeting in Copenhagen. That meeting, of course, ended in a storm of controversy and uncertainty with the United States hailing its non-binding political declaration as a “breakthrough” and much of the rest of the world expressing disappointment that there was not a legally binding agreement to deal with the climate crisis.
The United States has always maintained that the Copenhagen Accord is a first step on the way (perhaps) to a legal agreement, but as the weeks proceed to the next major meeting scheduled for December in Cancun, there seems to be little movement.
In Bonn, the parties will be taking up an actual negotiating text that is supposed to serve as the basis for an agreement. However, the text does not come very close to resolving the key issues around the acceptable global temperature rise, greenhouse gas emissions reduction levels, which parties should reduce emissions, and the time line for reductions.
Additionally, the negotiations are still proceeding on two separate tracks–one involving the parties to the Kyoto Protocol (which excludes the US) that is trying to figure out how that agreement will function after the first phase of its implementation finishes in 2012 and another on “long term cooperative action” which includes the major emitters.
Fundamentally, the negotiations are at much the same stage as they were last year at this point. Given the fact that all of the major issues are still outstanding, it is unclear what sort of progress will be made in the next two weeks in Bonn.
Last year’s climate negotiations in Copenhagen left much to be desired. Instead of a comprehensive global deal with a legally-binding treaty, we saw a voluntary political agreement with weak mitigation targets. For those who attended the negotiations, simply participating as an observer, delegate, or journalist was equally frustrating. The venue–Copenhagen’s Bella Center–did not have the capacity to accommodate the 40,000+ attendees; and the management of the crowds was not done with much efficiency. Many observers and media had to wait hours in the frigid Danish cold for their accreditation and subsequent access to the venue.
For the last four days of the two-week negotiations, civil society was essentially blocked from the venue, making it difficult for indigenous groups, environmental NGOs, and others to monitor and influence the talks.
As a response, civil society groups waged protests which were quelled by heavy-handed Danish police. Both the Danish government and the UNFCCC endured criticism for the chaos that ensued and pledged to make participation smoother at the next big round of negotiations taking place in Cancun this December.
The Mexican government recently launched the website for the conference and it is beginning to provide a glimpse of how the negotiations will be managed.
It looks as if there will be two venues: the exclusive Moon Palace Resort will hold the actual negotiations while a brand new conference center, “Cancún Messe,” will accommodate the side events and exhibitions . The implication of this arrangement is that access to the major negotiators and decision makers can easily be restricted. Unlike the Bella Center, which was relatively accessible via rail, Moon Palace is isolated and situated behind a bunker of golf courses, making it even easier to seal off.
This is clearly going to frustrate many civil society groups. One of the amazing things about these UN meetings is the relative accessibility civil society has to negotiators. Many of the country delegations meet with NGOs throughout the negotiations to hear their concerns and to provide updates about how discussions are proceeding. In Copenhagen, once inside the Bella Center, you could basically roam freely throughout the complex as an observer, sitting in on open negotiations, visiting countries’ temporary offices, meeting negotiators in the hallway, etc…In fact there is even one NGO that shadows negotiators to inject the process with a degree of transparency.
With two separated sites these types of interactions will be difficult to pull off. The unfortunate result will be a lessening of transparency and public understanding of a complex and crucial political process.