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Divide and rule: paving the way to an unjust deal

As climate talks enter their final phase, Oscar Reyes outlines the hardball negotiating tactics being used to force a weak deal that favours industrialised nations

December 16, 2009
8 min read


Oscar ReyesOscar Reyes is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and is based in Barcelona. He was formerly an editor of Red Pepper. He tweets at @_oscar_reyes


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With thousands of activists gearing up to ‘turn Copenhagen into Seattle’ at protests on 16 December, the UN climate negotiations are increasingly driven by the type of divide and rule techniques that are commonplace in discussions on world trade. ‘It seems they are using WTO tactics,’ says Angelica Navarro, Bolivia’s chief climate negotiator, who also represents her country at World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks, ‘The WTO is very well known for its exclusive and untransparent, undemocratic processes, and that is what is happening here right now.’

Inner circle

Connie Hedegaard, President of the Conference and former Danish environment minister, convened a closed door meeting of ministers from 48 countries on Sunday, with a broad remit covering emissions targets and short term climate funding for the poorest countries. It marked the return of the ‘Circle of Commitment’ format, which caused controversy early in the talks when a draft declaration coordinated by the Danish government was leaked to the Guardian.

The Danish hosts defend such moves as a technical means to speed up negotiations. But the flip side of this is the exclusion of a majority of countries from a key part of the negotiating process, including many of those most vulnerable to climate change and the economically poorest of the 194 signatories to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

‘We want to be part of the decision-making process, and we want our voices to be heard at all levels, not a solution crafted by a handful even if they are the more powerful,’ said Navarro.

The informal meetings hosted by the Danish Presidency are similar to the mini-ministerials used by the WTO to set the agenda for global trade talks. Such meetings are typically coordinated by a grouping of rich, industrialised countries, with the participation of a regionally balanced (but unrepresentative) selection of developing nations.

No criteria for inclusion or exclusion from these meetings has been published, although an anonymous source close to the negotiations told the Climate Chronicle that the developing country participants were hand-picked for their willingness to sign up to short-term financing at the expense of longer-term climate finance and the ambitious domestic reduction targets that are central demands of a majority of developing countries.

Partisan summaries

The mini-ministerial over the weekend followed the surprise release on Friday morning of new negotiating texts by the chairs of the two main working groups through which the Copenhagen negotiations are being conducted. The Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) saw a draft of over 180 pages whittled down to a seven page proposal, while the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) weighed in with a 27 page text, in which the commitments of Annex 1 (industrialised) countries remains blank. The AWG-LCA text will then be supplemented with a series of proposed decisions to be circulated in a draft on Wednesday 16 December. A number of these, including proposals on international aviation and shipping, have remained stuck in closed working sessions with no channel for public scrutiny.

Initial reactions from developing countries indicated support for the paired down texts within the UN framework, but concerns were expressed about the timing and process that had gone into producing them. ‘I don’t know who was consulted because even the Africa Group and the Alliance Of Small Island States (AOSIS) were not,’ stated Navarro, while Third World Network reported ‘surprise’ among many delegates at the issuance of draft outcomes so early in the process.

The chairs of the Working Groups are mandated to offer impartial summaries that can help formulate consensus, and a variety of such proposals exist that could form the basis of ‘a real bottom up process and approach,’ says Navarro. These include texts from AOSIS, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the Africa group. But the current summaries set out a trajectory that pre-judges the outcome.

This pattern has been repeated in several of the contact groups, which are organised to gain clarity on key issues before their re-insertion into a unified negotiating text. In a recent meeting on market mechanisms, for example, the chair overruled several countries who objected to the draft text even though all negotiations are meant to be based on consensus.

Moving up the ladder

The arrival of heads of state in Copenhagen this week is presented as an opportunity to ‘seal the deal’, but the majority of the key issues in the climate negotiations remain unresolved. These include the size and timescale for emissions cuts, the extent of the use of offset markets, and commitments on long-term climate finance. The form of any new agreement is also in dispute, with the EU and Japan leading the charge to scrap the Kyoto Protocol, while pushing for a new framework that would expand the carbon markets that were brought in under Kyoto.

The deferral of these issues is a sign that significant political disagreements remain, which tend to be divided along North-South lines. The leaked Danish text already signaled that closed-door negotiations with handpicked countries are a recipe for an unambitious and unfair agreement, reflecting a lack of ambition by industrialised countries.

Holding over these issues to the high-level segments of the talks can have tactical advantages, too, in a technique that Oilwatch International dubs ‘moving up the ladder’. Delays in announcing key finance and reduction figures, or industrialised countries’ intransigence to compromise, have left several issues backed up for resolution at the end of the negotiating process. This can, in turn, be used ‘to marginalise and overturn the positions of developing country negotiators who “know too much” and are therefore seen as obstacles by developed countries to achieving their interests’, explain Oilwatch. This tends to work in conjunction with strategies to ambush Majority World countries by pushing a sudden deal before they can assess the full implications.

Such concerns are already starting to be raised in Copenhagen, ‘The industrialised countries want to hammer out a large part of the deal on the last day, when the heads of state arrive,’ one senior African negotiator told the Guardian. ‘It’s a ploy to slip through provisions that are not amenable to developing country efforts. It’s playing dirty.’

Another tactic involves organising pre-summit discussions away from Copenhagen, which could yield a mix of trade-related threats and modest financial sweeteners to encourage a selection of developing countries to split from their counterparts. Most notably, Germany is likely to host a meeting of Pacific Island Heads of State early this week in advance of their arrival in Copenhagen, reported a source close to the negotiations who spoke to the Climate Chronicle on condition of anonymity. Short-term ’emergency’ financing is the likely inducement for cooperation, while connections established through bilateral free trade agreements are equally likely to come into play.

Bought support

Concerns have also been expressed that certain developing country delegations have been subjected to undue influence in the form of ‘support’ measures for their participation.

The UK Department for International Development put together a £75 million ‘Awareness Kit’ aiming to ‘firm up Bangladesh’s negotiation positions and action plans’, including a series of policymaker seminars in Dhaka and London. The Embassy of Denmark has chipped in a further DKK 1.14 million towards the costs of hosting a 126 member Bangladeshi delegation in Copenhagen. The money is being channeled through the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is headquartered in Geneva.

What is the return on this investment? The Danish COP15 website tells part of the story, ‘Bangladesh: Let the World Bank manage fund for nations at risk.’ The story reports that Ainun Nishat, a Bangladeshi delegate, has indicated that his country ‘might let World Bank manage the fund for a short term as per a condition set by the development partners.’ Nishat’s day job is Senior Advisor on Climate Change for IUCN Asia.

Box of tricks

Exclusion and undue influence take a variety of other forms, too. Several negotiations have been conducted in English with no translation, despite an estimated one-fifth of all UN interpreters being present in Copenhagen. Rescheduling is also commonplace. ‘Everyone in my negotiating team reports sudden room changes which they are only told about last minute, so they therefore arrive late and have to sit at the back’, says Navarro of Bolivia, ‘It seems to be more than a coincidence that the EU officials always know where the room is and get good seats where they can easily be seen by the chairperson.’

Ultimately, though, the biggest problem is the hardest to shift. An expanded set of carbon markets lies at the centre of plans to implement any agreement on reduction targets and finance, which would help the industrialised countries to continue avoiding their obligations. The pledges from Annex 1 countries remain entirely inadequate relative to the science, while little of substance has been presented on anything but short term ’emergency’ climate finance. These issues are unlikely to be resolved within a negotiating framework that adapts the problem of climate change to fit the assumptions of market economics, and one in which industrialised countries seem intent on dodging their disproportionate responsibility for causing the climate crisis.

www.carbontradewatch.org

Oilwatch International’s Divide and rule: the politics of climate negotiations provides further information on negotiating tactics, see www.oilwatch.org

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Oscar ReyesOscar Reyes is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and is based in Barcelona. He was formerly an editor of Red Pepper. He tweets at @_oscar_reyes


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