Global Policy Forum

Bangkok Climate Talks Progressing Smoothly So Far

Integrated Regional Information Network
April 1, 2008

Climate negotiators from more than 160 countries are in Thailand's capital this week to hammer out an agenda for a series of meetings over the next two years designed to culminate in a comprehensive deal on emissions cuts in 2009. Through the first few days, UN officials and country representatives in Bangkok have stressed the urgency of the talks and the need to build upon the momentum created in Bali last December, when 192 countries agreed to reach a new climate deal in 2012. "This is a huge responsibility," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told delegates via video on 31 March. "I know you represent a diverse range of concerns and time is short, but the state of the planet requires us to be ambitious. Decisive action in the next decade can still prevent the worst predictions from becoming a reality." Delegates are focused on agreeing to a work plan on the four so-called "building blocks" of the negotiations: mitigation, adaptation, technology and finance. In these proposals, countries are forming the rules and definitions that will shape any deal that comes into effect after 2012. The European Union came into the talks with a proposal to cut emissions by a fifth by 2020 from 1990 levels. Japan has proposed cutting emissions by 11 percent in 2020 from 2005 levels, a stance that UN climate change chief, Yvo de Boer, likened to "measuring the length of a marathon from a different starting point."

What is the Bangkok climate change meeting about?
. The United Nations-sponsored meeting in the Thai capital, from 31 March until 4 April, will develop a work programme for the next two years to help countries draw up a deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions after 2012, when the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires.

. The Kyoto Protocol is a commitment made in 1997 by 36 industrialised countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least five percent against the baseline of 1990.

. Countries need to come up with a deal in 2009, giving them another two years before the first phase ends, to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The first phase of the Kyoto Protocol took eight years to get ratified.

. The Bangkok meeting is the first since a UN-sponsored conference on the Indonesian island of Bali three months ago to negotiate a new deal on climate change to be put in place after 2012. The Bali meeting was attended jointly by the 192 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 177 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.

. Reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have warned that if greenhouse gas emissions are not cut by at least 30 percent in the next 10 to 15 years, global temperatures would be set to increase by two degrees Celsius. Specialists say this would destroy 30 to 40 percent of all known species and bring bigger, fiercer and more frequent heat waves, floods and droughts.

Encouraging signs

But despite some indications of just how tough it will be to reach a deal, negotiators in Bangkok appeared to be displaying the same goodwill that prompted the breakthrough in Bali. Even the United States, which signed but never ratified the Kyoto Protocol and has been seen generally as an obstacle to a global deal, put forward a "very interesting" proposal for moving forward with the talks, de Boer said. "I think it's quite common for a wedding vow to lead to a certain degree of nervousness on both the part of the bride and the groom," he told reporters on 1 April. "We are only in the second day, but I'm very encouraged by how things are going. We potentially could've had a big fight over the agenda. We didn't," de Boer said. "I take it that countries really want to get down to work rather than fight procedural wars."

Building on Kyoto Protocol

The five-day conference is building on the Kyoto Protocol, in which 37 industrialised countries and the European Community committed to reducing emissions by at least five percent against 1990 levels by 2012. New scientific findings show that even if the Kyoto targets are reached, it would still not be enough to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change, including water stress, agricultural changes, severe weather, urban displacement and the possibility that low-lying island nations will be completely submerged. Developing countries are very concerned that the developed world will not provide the estimated US$28 to 67 billion in funds and technology needed for them to adapt to climate change that is already taking place. "Poor countries like Guyana will suffer the most from measures to stop climate change, even though they have contributed the least to the problem," Andrew Bishop, Guyana's delegate, told the conference.

Activist groups are encouraged that meaningful climate change talks are taking place, but they also fear that some large, developed nations will try to worm their way out of tough cuts to protect national interests. Most NGO representatives say they will accept nothing less than a commitment in line with the findings of UN scientists, which call for a 50 percent reduction in emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. That requires global emissions to peak in 10-15 years and means rich nations will need to cut emissions by between 25 and 40 percent. "I was really struck by the emergence of voices of concern from countries who have been silent for a very long time," said Bill Hare, Greenpeace International's climate policy director. "We heard from Bangladesh, Egypt and others that we need to keep temperatures well below two degrees Celsius. This is highly significant and will build momentum in these negotiations."

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