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The final stages in the game
posted by Bryony on 18th Dec 2009

These negotiations are like a multi-player game of three-dimensional chess played blindfolded. The sheer number of issues and degree of interconnectedness are mind-boggling. Keeping track of them all is incredibly difficult and it would seem that time has run out to reach a comprehensive and coherent agreement here in Copenhagen. There has been some progress over the last 24 hours and some less contentious issues have been agreed. However the gulf between where ideally things would stand entering the last day of formal negotiations and where they actually are is still enormous.

Yesterday the USA made the first move with Hilary Clinton making a statement in support of the idea of long term financing of around $100 bn per annum by 2020. There was little clarity about where this money would come from and how it would be distributed but nevertheless it was seized upon as a welcome sign of progress.

In return stories began circulating that China was prepared to give ground on the issue of how its targets are monitored and verified. The US wants them to be recorded at an international level and subject to appropriate scrutiny. Of course this would bring the requirements on China quite close to those the US wants to see imposed on itself – a loose compliance regime based on reporting applied to voluntarily decided national targets. Given that what China says it will do it generally does do the concession to report on progress is not a huge one but it does at least show that China is playing the game and not just stonewalling.

Neither offer is a great leap forward in terms of the most important issue at stake – namely how to bridge the gap between what countries are offering as emissions cuts and those that are needed to get the world on to a more sustainable path. The UN’s analysis of the situation was leaked yesterday – it wasn’t really news to many: the pledges on the table so far add up to a 3 degrees scenario but the fact that this information has been conveyed so clearly to the negotiating parties is welcome. No-one can claim they didn’t know.

The EU met last night in a mini-summit to decide on its final position. This was the chance for them to re-enter the game by agreeing to move to their more ambitious target. Hopefully today we will find out they did. The EU’s game theory strategy should be to lead by example since this is the only way to build trust and encourage others to do the same. Trying to be the last to act will appear cowardly and lead to failure especially since it is now their turn to move given the USA and China’s meagre but politically important efforts yesterday.

So the end game begins today. Judging from the report backs from the smaller negotiating groups very early this morning many things remain unresolved and world leaders will not be greeted by a comprehensive agreement to read over their breakfast. The groups on mitigation, appropriate actions for developing nations and the use of market mechanism all still have multiple options on the table and appear stalled. The finance group failed even to provide a report back and the chair of the shared vision group appeared stressed. The groups that are proceeding and which are therefore likely to form the bulk of any new agreement are on avoided deforestation, action on emissions from agriculture, technology co-operation and adaptation. Though all important issues they do not address the critical question of how and how quickly the world will act to decarbonise the global economy.

Obama has now arrived and maybe the world leaders can find time to sort key issues out between their extended lunch and group photo. Somehow I fear not. We should not expect anything concrete to emerge until Saturday and even then unfortunately it may not be worth the wait.

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