Framing the work in Bangkok

Harald Winkler at Bangkok intersessional
Harald Winkler at Bangkok intersessional

The climate talks in Bangkok have framed the future of climate change talks. Many observers and negotiators were frustrated that all the discussion seemed to be on the agenda. What is important to understand is that this was about establishing a framework for discussion. The “agenda” is an agreement on what Cancún means. Bangkok was about fundamental questions – where we are coming from, where we are going and where we want to end up. The decisions in Cancún were adopted by acclamation, but when negotiators woke up the next morning, there were very different interpretations. Some understood Cancún as a new mandate for a process that would focus on making incremental progress. Many developed countries understood Cancún in this way, informed by an assessment that a new climate treaty is ‘politically unrealistic’. Few would disagree that the US is not ready to take on a treaty any time soon. But many others interpreted Cancún as a step in saving the process – a process that still needs to lead to a legally binding agreement. A comprehensive agreement. In short, a treaty.

Most developing countries hold this view. Certainly all developing countries support a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. Not only is the US not a Party, but Japan and Russia have been adamant they will not join Kyoto for a second period. What Bangkok made very clear is that this is now a fundamentally political issue. The question is simple: Is there a future of the Kyoto Protocol? Many would have said before Bangkok that the answer is no. After Bangkok, the voices for Kyoto are re-gaining strength. This is important not only for the most sophisticated system of rules that the world has to address climate change, but for the climate itself. Durban will be the last chance to answer this question, given tha the first commitment period ends in 2012. The second and related big political question is whether Durban will launch a process to negotiate a new treaty. This is another reason why the fights about the agenda were tough. A treaty would be the most obvious legal form for a comprehensive agreement. In this respect, the G77&China made an important contribution to defining the “agenda”. The group was not willing to downgrade the comprehensive agendas defined in Bali to incrementalism. Certainly developing countries want to undertake the work programme that will deliver funding, adaptation and technology. But it must be clearly understood that this should form part of an overall agreement, addressing key issues that remained unresolved in Cancún. The agenda proposed by the Chair simply did not address those unresolved issues. The G77 comprises 132 countries. Despite the huge diversity of views that this implies, the group was able to table a single agenda. Brazil, one of the BASIC countries and coordinating for the G77, understood the different views and facilitated a compromise approach. It was these interventions that delivered an agenda at the end of Bangkok, which uses the Bali building blocks, advanced implementation of the Cancún agreements and works towards a comprehensive agreement.