The Verbal Battle of Durban

Durban, December 6: The verbal battle of Durban was fought in a plenary at the Nkosi Albert Luthuli Convention Centre.

It was fought on December 5, 2011, 10:00 am to 11:30 am.

Here is a no-holds barred version of the battle.

We apologise for this rather lengthy posting.

It was, after all, a verbal battle.

If you only want to know how India weighed in, rhetorical mace and all, scroll to the last bit.

Thanks for your patience. Here goes:

On Monday, 5 December 2011, the AWG-LCA—one of the two negotiating tracks at CoP 17, Durban; the other track is the AWG-KP—met at a plenary first thing in the morning.

The meeting room where the plenary was held is huge. Inside, you feel as if you are in a stadium. But it got packed to the rafters by the time the AWG-LCA Chair cleared his throat, thus announcing the plenary was about to begin.

The meeting was held to get reactions of various countries/negotiating blocs to a document on the state of AWG-LCA negotiations—it was an amalgamation of the result of negotiations in the AWG-LCA. It was put together to create, from it, the text for a ‘balanced and comprehensive outcome’ to be adopted as a set of decisions at CoP 17. It was circulated on Saturday, 3 December, 2011.

It is a 131-page document, a collection of the work done by the informal groups that are discussing the various agenda items that comprise AWG-LCA negotiations.

Among the matter put together, three areas are considered  most crucial:

--a comprehensive and balanced outcome on long-term co-operation among nations to combat climate change, and how such an outcome would be implemented. Such an outcome should have been agreed upon at CoP 15, held in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009. So it was decided at the Bali CoP, CoP 13. In other words, climate negotiations are running really late on this issue.

--the legal form that such an outcome should take: discussions on this issue have been based on the Bali Action Plan. Here, too, time to agree on the legal options has run out. Here, too, the CoP is running late.

--further defining the scope of a review of the 2oC threshold. To stem temperature rise to 2oC was a decision nations took at CoP 13 in Bali. They initiated a process that must be finalised by 2015.

Work has now begun on creating a more refined, or compact version of this document (let’s call it the draft AWG-LCA decisions). This version will be released on Wednesday 7 December, 2011, according to the LCA Chair.

Who said what: the AWG-LCA Chair

Suggesting “work has been constructive”—meaning fractious and unbalanced—the Chair did a kind of overview on how he thought the negotiations were progressing. 

He pointed out AWG-LCA negotiations were proceeding in 3 ways:

--discussions on agenda items that could be completed by Tuesday 6 December, 2011. Let’s remember the CoP 17 ministerial begins on this day, and it is imperative there be some text, at the least something for the ministers to deliberate upon.

--discussions on agenda items that could be resolved at Durban

--discussions on agenda items that would not be resolved at Durban

This means some agenda items are not going to be part of the Durban outcome. This means differences are running deep.

The Chair then went on to outline what he thought were the options in creating a more compact text. He outlined 3 options:

--Option 1: Simply set aside issues on which there is no agreement

--Option 2: “explicitly agree” to resolve some issues

--Option 3: Agree on an agenda where work should continue

For option 1, the Chair presented the precedent of the outcome at CoP 16, Cancun. It is a dangerous precedent, for the Cancun Agreements were all about keeping up the integrity of the CoP process, somehow, an act of desperation and delay.

For option 3, the Chair presented the precedent of what negotiators did at the meeting held in Bangkok, in March 2011. Again, a telling precedent. At Bangkok, there was complete disagreement on AWG-LCA issues. No outcome at all.

Beyond these tricky precedents, the Chair’s options show the impossibility of closure on this negotiation track. Indeed, the options the Chair has chosen merely expand the CoP’s universe of possibilities: it is a trajectory where action and commitment (which create closure) are being discarded in favour of flexibility, posturing and disorder. If we compare the CoP to a Greek tragedy, then the Chair’s options encourage villainy.

Urging nations not to “criticise the shortcomings” of the draft amalgamated text, the Chair invited comments from delegates.

Who said what: Argentina

Argentina, speaking on behalf of the G-77 and China negotiating bloc (the bloc comprises 131 countries), expressed “great concern” at the state the text was in. “The text does not reflect the agreements coming out of meetings facilitating different agenda items”, Argentina said, clarifying why there was concern. “Though we don’t want to take a lot of time here, we are ready, through our co-ordinators, to exactly what we say when we say there are shortcomings.”

Argentina’s point was simple: “All text and all parties’ positions should be reported.” 

Since this was an ongoing process, “ we kindly ask that in order to fix the shortcomings for the 2nd issue [meaning: the text that will be released on Wednesday 7 December 2011], the discussion and agreements we had in informal meetings be included then.”

Then came the real rub: “This is a concern because this is a CRP document and those are [the] basis for negotiation. We don’t consider this amalgamation a useful text to go on negotiating.”

Who said what: Japan

Japan is part of a negotiating bloc that is called the Umbrella Group. The other countries that comprise this group are: Canada, Iceland, Kazakhstan, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Ukraine, the United States and Australia.

Japan’s comments were a swift rebuttal to what Argentina said. In stark contrast, Japan welcomed the amalgamated document. There was a qualification, though, which quickly became a diversionary tactic: “What is now important is moving forward and working together to make the text more readable and compact and adoptable as draft decisions.” Remove the brackets, Japan said; “make it shorter.”

The Japanese negotiator then chose to speak about controversial transparency measures, such as MRV (measurement, reporting and verification) and ICA (international consultation and analysis)* Japan wants these measures to be adopted. This way, what developing countries do to reduce emissions can be tracked, or found wanting.

Then came the real rub: “We hope that countries don’t see it as a burden but as a way to strengthen their own climate change policies.”

Transparency measures are a cornerstone of the debate/action on mitigating climate change. In this context, it must be clarified that developing countries find these measures burdensome simply because the developed world has really shifted the goalposts. Read more on this here. 

But naturally, Japan didn’t mention these regressive shifts in rich country positions. It instead urged the CoP: “This issue is very important part of the Durban outcome and we have a chance to have good guidelines on this decision.”

 Who said what: Switzerland

Switzerland is part of a negotiating bloc that is called the Environmental Integrity Group. Formed in 2000, it comprises two other nations, Mexico and the Republic of Korea (South Korea).

Switzerland characterised the amalgamation document as “indeed useful”. “We think the paper shows that some progress has taken place and gives a broad overview of the situation. 

“The document also makes evident,” Switzerland then said, in an obvious snub to developing countries, “the unevenness in the process. In some areas we are close [to a decision] and in many others we are still on the conceptual basis.” 

That said, Switzerland declared, it “was ready to take [the document] as a basis for future work”.

Crucially, Switzerland declared that it fully agreed with what Japan had said. Like Japan, it wanted decisions. But the one area it really singled out was what is called ‘peaking’. Its reference was to the fact that the IPCC fourth assessment report suggests that, in order to keep temperature rise below the 2oC threshold, emissions must peak by 2015. “If we can’t agree on peaking, for example, this is the moment. It doesn’t make sense to postpone it. We have to agree on it here.”

Appreciating the three options the Chair had oqtlined, it wanted option 1 to be the direction the CoP ought to take. That is: decide, decide, decide.

Then came the real rub: on legal form, the shape the climate regime of the future should take, Switzerland declared: “We will not agree [to the existing formulation].”

“Announce a new process in Durban,” it said.

Who said what: China

Chinese lead negotiator Su Wei’s comments were a complete rebuttal to Japan and Switzerland.” We fully associate ourselves with Argentina,” he said.

He then explained why. On the Chair’s efforts to get a single document, “maybe we need some clarification as to what you have just said.” China, in fact, wanted full clarification of the process whereby the text for an outcome would be finalised. The substance—what that outcome would actually contain—simply wasn’t good enough to talk about. 

China made it clear that “we don’t want an amalgamation document. We think maybe this CRP [document] is not a faithful reflection of the discussions of the Contact Groups and in the formal discqssions.”

Then, the Chair was very politely scolded: “I heard you say that you know there are imperfections in the text. Because we have only 4 days left, we need to concentrate...I don’t know what way you are going to lead us: are we going back to the informals [the informal groups constituted to discuss each agenda item] or are we giving the paper to informals to see what is not reflected? Or are we going to negotiate on the real issues?” 

“We don’t want to add new burdens on us...We want to continue the substantive discussion instead of perfecting the CRP paper [the amalgamated document the Chair had circulated on Saturday]. It shouldn’t be the basis for further discussions. The basis is in the informals.”                       

He then expressed his disbelief at the way the Chair was managing the process. “I also hear about an update of the text [the one the Chair had said would be released on Wednesday]. Are we going to submit that updated text to the CoP or to the ministers? I don’t know if it is the richt procedure to hand it over to the ministers or the Indaba.”

‘Indaba’ is what the CoP 17 president, from South Africa, has named the outcome she’s expecting.

Finally, came the snub: “We don’t want an acclamation document.”

This was a real snub. Su Wei was referring to the manner in which the Cancun Agreements were adopted, via a text that received applause. 

For China, then, the outcome “should be a report with descriptions of where the disagreement is and how we are going to continue. We need to be clear on these issues.”

Who said what: Ecuador

Ecuador is part of a negotiating bloc that is called ALBA, acronym for Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas. Other countries that belong to this bloc are Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Antigua and Barbuda and St Vincent and the Grenadines are nominal members.

Like China, Ecuador did not want a package text adopted by acclamation. Like Argentina, he expressed concern that many of the agenda items needed much more work.

Who said what: Australia

Again, it was time for the ‘developed’ side of the negotiations to rebut earlier arguments.

Australia welcomed the amalgamation text, saying “we don’t care what it’s called”. It identified technology, adaptation and review (of the 2oC pledge) as important issues.

Then the cannonade began.

For Australia, “transparent mitigation” was the “absolute cornerstone” of the Durban outcome. It wanted IAR and ICA guidelines finalised: “postponing [decision] is meaningless.”

IAR and ICA refer to ways of doing MRV—measuring, reporting and verifying—for emission reduction measures taken by countries. The guidelines of doing this are under discussion. It is an extremely controversial issue, because developed countries say they won’t take up mitigation actions until developing countries also do so, in a way that their actions can be measured and verified.

The politics here is part of a concerted effort by developed nations to erase the principle, enshrined in the climate treaty, of there being a difference in the way they approach the challenge of mitigating climate change and the way developing countries do.

Australia is very much a part of this concerted effort. This also became clear in the way Australia wrapped up its comments on the amalgamation text. 

It praised the fact that there was a “good start” on MRV. It said “it’s disappointing there’s no progress on paragraphs 48-51”. This was, Australia said, “the weakest part of the text”. 

The reference here was to paragraphs in the Cancun Agreements that requires the CoP to speed up work on the question of mitigation action developing countries should take up.

What Australia wanted was that the CoP should “present clear choices”. It wanted “a single legal platform by 2015”. It wanted that all major economies [read: India, China, Brazil and South Africa] to take legally binding targets.

Who said what: Bahamas

Bahamas is part of a negotiating bloc called the AOSIS, acronym for the Association of Small Island States. It comprises 43 countries.

At the plenary, Bahamas brought up just one issue: so far as the high-level package was concerned, where was the review on 1.5oC being the real threshold at which temperature rise should be limited?

It is an issue AOSIS has long been talking about. It said that this question had to be reviewed “by a new body”. The technical advice wings of the CoP process, the SBI and SBSTA, were not good enough.

Who said what: EU-27

The EU-27, predictably, welcomed the amalgamation text. Some sections in it, though, were “not ambitious enough”. Some were “too long”.

It said that the text “was not mature” on mitigation, thus unsubtly clarifying its stance was—like Australia—to erase differentiation between developed and developing countries.

It said “we need to work on the global gap”. The reference here was to the fact that between the mitigation pledges countries have made and the quantum of emissions reduction, there exists a huge gap.

But by calling it a global gap, the EU glossed over the fact that the mitigation pledges of developing countries count up to more than that of the developed countries.  

No wonder it wanted a list of global ambitions on mitigation to be created. Moving on, it said the text had to be clearer on the question of pledges: the text, it said “does not say anything about developing countries.”

Beyond that, it reiterated its demand for “new, scaled-up” market mechanisms to be created in order to better mitigate climate change. 

Its rub came last: at the level of the CoP itself, on its shape and form, a new treaty had to be adopted by 2015.

Who said what: India

India’s rebuttal to the developed countries is worth reading verbatim:

Mr. Chairman,

We associate ourselves with the statement of Argentina, on behalf of G-77 and China, and we would like to address four issues as we take up our work for the remainder of this week.

First, the issue of the Review. We had some useful discussions on this issue, both in the Contact Group as well as in the informal consultations. We believe convergence on this issue is indeed possible. Review is a critical element in the overall process. It will be a very important marker of the overall progress in implementing our collective actions to address climate change so far, and give us insight into the way forward for a more purposeful implementation of the Convention. In this regard, we would like to highlight the importance of the 'scope' of the Review. Both 1CP16, and the agenda we adopted in Bangkok give a clear direction to "further define the scope of the Review and develop its modalities”. Therefore, we feel concerned that some parties are not prepared to engage in discussions on the definition of the Review. We believe, and this should be self-explanatory, that you cannot purposefully discuss the ‘how’ without clearly identifying the ‘what’. We would urge you Chair, and through you, to the other Parties to urgently engage on this critical piece of the Review discussion.

The second issue we would like to address is the discussion on ‘Legal Form’. We need clarity on the mandate of the group, which is to further discuss the legal options of the agreed outcome of the LCA process. The mandate is not to include the broader elements of the evolution of the future climate regime. These discussions are going on in other fora, including the Indaba. We are concerned with the direction that the discussions in the ‘legal form’ group are taking. It is important to carefully focus on the mandate and refrain from mixing up with other discussions in the process.


Mr. Chair, the balance between the two tracks is also important in this context. Kyoto Protocol discussions on the 2nd commitment period are in a logjam and we have not seen any light at the end of the tunnel so far.

Third is the discussion on the Green Climate Fund. We are not in favor of re-opening the GCF text that was forwarded to us by the Transition Committee. We would like the GCF to be established here in Durban, and therefore all decisions necessary for this purpose should be agreed to. We also agree that any clarification, if necessary, may be added as a covering text to the TC report which itself, I reiterate, need not be reopened.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, the fourth and final issue is that of IAC and IAR. We need to reach agreement on, and decide on the IAC and IAR decision texts. We believe that the aggregate targets of Annex-I parties should be part of the text. We also believe that guidelines for IAC and IAR should be part of the decision, but they will necessarily have to be brief and concise at this point given their technical nature and the paucity of time. The elaboration and further detailing of the guidelines can be done so as to be completed by SB 36 and could be part of the revised NATCOM guidelines.

Thank you Mr. Chair.