What Happened?

What Happened?
As the COP got more chaotic, it got harder and harder to figure out what and when things would happen. We had to check these monitors, and they were not always helpful.What Happened?
Map showing CAN’s interpretation of each countries position on the Kyoto Protocol. The US, Australia and Canada are labeled as “heart breakers”.

What Happened?
Sidebar meeting about NAPs that is happening Saturday night, likely to iron out details so it could pass through the plenary session.

As of 10:45pm on Saturday Dec. 10, 2011, the only big decision of the COP process was a recommendation by a working group that the next Kyoto commitment would be 8 years. They also suggested that the commitment would allow for a range of 20-40% reductions from 1990 levels by the major industrialized nations. Many of the developing countries were not satisfied by this level of “ambition” and therefore wanted a 5 year commitment so they could ratchet up the standard for the next one. Parties additionally wanted to change language of the proposal, and probably could have fought over the exact wording forever. At the end of the day, the chairman of the working group decided that the 8 year, semi-weak reductions were better than nothing, and forced it through. He made a quick motion, no one objected in a half-second (literally), and down went the gavel signaling the close of this particular session until COP 18.

The length and term of the Kyoto Protocol was just the first of four major sessions that needed to take place to wrap everything up. The next session was not making any progress, so I headed home. I therefore did not see the end, but the word from reporters I talked to on Sunday was that the deliberations went until 5:30 in the morning. The sun rises at like 4:45 AM here, so it was light by the time they got everything done. I have no idea how the delegates and negotiators stayed up for all of this, especially considering they had been up all hours of the night for the past two or three days.

In any case, there are few people other than delegates who actually were there until the end, and who knows what anybody will remember from the deliberations because everyone was exhausted. The reporters I talked with who stayed until the bitter end said that a deal to a second commitment period was made, and it closely resembled the option proposed by the European Union. This is basically the proposal I witnessed in the first of the major sessions on Saturday night.

I am very relieved that some sort of Kyoto Protocol will continue, but it will take some serious research to figure out what exactly changed in the 6 and half hours after I left, and who proposed those changes. Most parties were thinking this was about as good as we could get, but my feeling is many parties and scientists think we need more to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius. Time will tell us the answer, although I’d feel much better being safe than sorry. The real question continues to be how to achieve the emission cuts necessary to avoid wild climate change, and this is a question that will continue to be asked through to COP 18.

I’ll end on a positive note by recounting one of the most reassuring statements I heard all conference, which was said by Bill Breed of USAID at the last session put on by the US Center. I’ll need to paraphrase, although it was something along these lines: “Whether or not we get a Kyoto agreement, governments will still do what they need to in order to deal with climate change.” I understood this to mean that even if we can’t all come together to decide a good international agreement, each nation still has the potential to do what is necessary. The Kyoto Protocol just lists out what each nation is legally required to do, and any nation can go above and beyond with more meaningful emissions cuts. Especially with the US, which is unlikely to sign onto the new Kyoto commitment, Mr. Breed’s statement gives me real hope that we’ll still do what we need to.

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