Bridges Durban Update #3 | Tone of Urgency Escalates as Time Runs Short in Durban

8 December 2011

With less than 48 hours left to clinch a deal at UNFCCC COP 17 in Durban, many analysts are now saying they are feeling less than optimistic. Following the arrival of ministers earlier this week, there was enough movement on key issues - most notably the Green Climate Fund - that several negotiators were upbeat and positive. But discussions on the Fund appear to be unravelling and positions on the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol seem as divergent as ever.

The main issue plaguing the Green Climate Fund talks reportedly focuses on the details surrounding what the Board of the Fund will look like and who will sit on it. Negotiators have described the talks on the Fund in recent days as “hard” and say they are cautious of watering down the text so much so as to agree on an “empty shell.”

It was already established last year in Cancun that the Fund Board will be made up of 24 members, with an equal number of members from developing and developed countries. Positions appear to be divided over what role, if any, the private sector will play in the Board. In general, developing countries are reportedly uncomfortable with the private sector playing a role in the fund. Several developing countries have also expressed their discomfort with the COP’s invitation of the Washington-based World Bank to act as the interim trustee of the Fund.

With most countries looking to strike a “balanced package,” where positions on certain issues can be softened in return for flexibility on other issues, it is unclear whether any party is in a position to offer a ground-breaking shift to get the ball rolling. China’s announcement late last week that they may be willing to agree to binding commitments - under certain circumstances - appears to have not been enough to trigger any major movement on the Kyoto Protocol. And while the EU is the most likely developed country party to help encourage their counterparts to sign on to a second commitment period, UK climate secretary Chris Huhne said they would not back away from a deal with “hard, bankable” commitments.

But Brussels has also said it would not cut a deal on Kyoto unless countries not currently bound by the pact - notably the US and China - begin serious negotiations on a legally-binding treaty under the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) track. The LCA Chair introduced a new “amalgamated” text on Wednesday morning, but discussions have been detailed, procedural, and glacial in pace. With “big picture” LCA issues sitting on the back burner for now and the US and China not moving from their familiar positions, the EU desire for broader commitment may have to go unfulfilled.

The next two days will be the most crucial for the two week Durban meet. The closed-door meetings, high-level “indabas,” and informal, unannounced huddles have already created a frenzied atmosphere with those in attendance constantly asking each other if they’ve heard any news. This will only escalate as the closing plenary approaches. In the end, clarity will only truly come at sunrise on Saturday.

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