Copenhagen negotiating text: 200 pages to save world?

Activists hold placards as they sit near a hoarding with a world map during a press conference to mark the hundred days countdown to the Copenhagen summit, in New Delhi on August 28, 2009. The Copenhagen draft document includes sections on the traditional sticking points that have delayed progress on climate change to date.

Activists hold placards as they sit near a hoarding with a world map during a press conference to mark the hundred days countdown to the Copenhagen summit, in New Delhi on August 28, 2009. The Copenhagen draft document includes sections on the traditional sticking points that have delayed progress on climate change to date.   | Photo Credit: Manish Swarup

It is a blueprint to save the world. And yet it is long, confusing and contradictory. Negotiators have released a draft version of a new global agreement on climate change, which is widely billed as the last chance to save the planet from the ravages of global warming.

Running to some 200 pages, the draft agreement is being discussed for the first time this week as officials from 190 countries gather in Bangkok for U.N. talks. There is only one meeting after this before they meet in Copenhagen aiming to hammer out a final version.

The Guardian’s environment correspondent has analysed the draft text which consolidates and reorders hundreds of changes demanded by countries to the previous version, which saw it balloon to 300 pages. It must be formally approved before negotiators can start to whittle it down. Here are the key, edited sections with their meaning.

Traditional sticking points

The text includes sections on the traditional sticking points that have delayed progress on climate change for a decade or longer:

— How much are rich countries willing to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, and by when?

— Will large developing nations such as China make an effort to put at least a dent in their levels of pollution?

— How much money must flow from the developed world to developing countries to secure their approval? How much to compensate for the impact of past emissions, and how much to prevent future emissions?

According to U.N. rules, for a new treaty to be agreed, every country must sign up. The treaty is designed to follow the Kyoto protocol, the world’s existing treaty to regulate emissions, the first phase of which expires in 2012. Because the U.S. did not ratify Kyoto, the climate talks have been forced on to parallel tracks, with one set of negotiations, from which the U.S. is excluded, debating how the treaty could be extended. This new text comes from the second track, which lays out a plan to include all countries in cooperative action.

Edited extracts from the current draft of the U.N.’s global treaty to tackle climate change, officially called document FCCC/AWGLCA/2009/INF.2 from the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action Under the Convention. The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change has the ultimate objective, set at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, to prevent “dangerous anthropogenic interference” with climate.

I.27. [the parties shall work towards]:

Option 1. [as a stabilisation of GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at [400] [450 or lower] [not more than 450] [450] [least 450] ppm carbon dioxide equivalent (CO 2 eq) [and a temperature increase limited to] [so that there is a very low or low level of risk that the global mean temperature rise will be] 2 oC or below above the pre-industrial level [with a probability greater than 50 per cent] [which requires reversing the trend of increasing global greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 at the latest].

Option 2. [as a stabilisation of GHG concentrations in the atmosphere well below 350 ppm CO 2 eq [and a temperature increase limited to below 1.5 oC above the pre-industrial level] [with a probability greater than 50 per cent of a temperature increase of less than 2 oC from pre-industrial level].

Option 3. [as a global temperature increase limited to 2 oC above the pre-industrial level.]

Option 5.6 [on the basis of economic and technological feasibility.]

What this means ... Sets up the intended goal of controlling greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The square brackets contain text that is provisional and often controversial. The options here span the full spectrum, from option 2, an ambitious goal of 350 parts per million CO 2; [equivalent] — which is below today’s level — to option 5.6, making carbon cuts only if they are economically feasible.

I.31. [To this end, [developed country parties]..., as a group, [shall] [should] [reduce their [domestic] GHG emissions] [deeply cut their GHG emissions]: (a) [By at least 25-40] [By 25-40] [By more than 25-40] [In the order of 30] [By at least 40] [By 45] [By at least 45] per cent from 1990 levels by [2017] [2020], through domestic and international efforts.

What this means ... Introduces the 25-40 per cent range of cuts by rich countries that campaigners want to see by 2020. The distinction between domestic and international efforts is critical. The latter allows rich countries to buy offsets from abroad to count towards their target, rather than make cuts at home.

I.34. [Supported and enabled by technology, financing and capacity-building from developed country parties, the GHG emissions of [developing country parties]... as a group, [shall] [should] [could] realistically change their emission patterns by: (a) [[Significantly deviate from the baseline by 2020] [Deviate in the order of 15-30 per cent below the baseline by 2020] [Deviating from the baseline by 2020]; (b) [And] be reduced by 25 per cent from 2000 levels by 2050.]]

What this means ... This asks developing countries to reduce the growth of their emissions by 2020. Clause (b) is significant because it would commit China, India and others to binding cuts, albeit by 2050. Expect very stiff resistance.

III B.5 [The extent of mitigation actions undertaken by developing countries will depend on the extent of effective provision of financial and technological support by developed country parties.]

What this means ... Strong stuff from the developing world. Pay up or we won’t act.

III A.17. [All [developed country parties] [shall][should] [individually or jointly, ensure that their aggregate anthropogenic carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of the GHGs listed in (x) do not exceed][take leadership to] adopt [legally binding] [measurable, reportable and verifiable] [[nationally appropriate] mitigation commitments or actions] [expressed as] [including] [economy-wide] quantified emission limitation and reduction [objectives] [for [up, to and beyond 2012] the period from [1990][2013] [XXXX] until [2017] [2020] [XXXX],]] [as inscribed in Annexure X] [of at least 40 per cent relative to 1990, by 2020] while ensuring comparability of efforts among them,[ based on their historical responsibility,] [[taking into account] [national circumstances for parties “with economies that are highly dependent on income generated from the production, processing and export and/or consumption of fossil fuels” as specified in Article 4.8 (h)] [differences in their national circumstances]]. [These commitments or actions shall be inscribed in [Annex ...] [[Appendix ...][Schedule ...][...]]] [with a view to collectively reducing their GHG emissions in the order of 30 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020]

What this means ... A key section. Just how much will developed countries cut their emissions and by when? On what baseline? All options remain open. There is a world of legal difference between whether they “shall” or “should” take on cuts. And “nationally appropriate” targets are weaker than if they are “legally binding.”

III A.11. [[Developed country parties] shall achieve their quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives: Option 1 [exclusively through domestic action.]; Option 2 [primarily through domestic emission reductions efforts.] [A maximum of [X] per cent of their commitments should be achieved through the use of [flexible] [carbon market] mechanisms, including offsets]. Option 3 [through a combination of domestic emission reductions efforts and [flexible] [carbon market] mechanisms.]

What this means ... Sets out whether rich countries must cut carbon at home or whether they can buy offsets from abroad.

II.33. By 2020 the scale of financial flows to support adaptation in developing countries must be [at least $67bn] [in the range of $70-140bn] per year. [Sources of new and additional financial support for adaptation [must meet the full agreed incremental costs of adaptation and initially be within a minimum range of $50-86bn per annum and regularly updated in the light of new emerging science, financial estimates and the degree of emission reductions achieved.]

What this means ... Rich countries will have to pay hundreds of billions over the next decade to help poor nations adapt

IV.4. Highlighting that financial commitments have not been met by developed country parties... and emphasising the ... need for these parties to honour their commitments ... by providing resources to support adaptation ... in developing countries.

What this means ... Bad blood and mistrust remain. Rich countries including Britain have failed to keep past promises on climate funding. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

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