A day of optimism and anger

Food & climate change article written on the 06 Oct 2010

Things are stirring at these negotiations. Participants are getting impatient. The Australian delegation is getting impatient.

At the conclusion of yesterday’s negotiations there was a stocktaking plenary. These sessions happen every so often and provide a space for the different working groups to report back all nations and all observers. Today was marked by impassioned interventions, including from Australia and the United States. Jonathon Pershing, the lead negotiator from the US, publically declared his impatience in a speech that bordered on anger. I think many in the room sympathised with him.

Whilst there has been substantial progress on components of a final agreement like adaptation and technology sharing we have been slowed on mitigation commitments and issue called MRV. This increasingly used acronym stands for Measurable, Reportable and Verifiable. In essence, it is about transparency– keeping track of countries greenhouse gas reduction and financing commitments. The real sticking point in MRV is the Verification component (there is another acronym within this called ICA… but I will save you the pain and not on that). Verification involves international observers being able scrutinise mitigation and financing commitments and reporting.

In short, the international community needs confidence that commitments and actions undertaken by developed and developing countries are being undertaken and fulfilled. We need to ensure, for example, that money for adaptation for the most vulnerable is, in fact, new and additional. (by the way, I do want to be on the record and say that I don’t like the terms ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ and only use them because it is the language of the negotiations).

To state this more simply, using the example of China and the US. The US wants to be able to externally verify China’s greenhouse gas emissions to ensure that they are doing what they say they are doing. And, China wants to be able to verify the US’s adaptation financing (particularly the ‘fast-start’ financing) to ensure that it is new and not just recycled aid commitments.

This may all sound a bit pessimistic but I actually think there is an upside to this emerging debate. It demonstrates that we are getting to some of the nuts and bolts of a final agreement. Issues are surfacing that will need to be resolved if we are to achieve a fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement.

In other news, I have an article coming up soon on ABC’s ‘The DRUM’ based on an interview I had with Australia’s Ambassador on climate change Louise Hand. Her comments provide a unique insight into Australia’s game plan as we move towards Cancun. I will post it when it goes up. Stay tuned!

Tracking from a city that has a larger population than my country,
Phil.