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Bangkok 2012 – Confusion reigns at UN climate talks as negotiators prove inflexible over flexibility but agree to disagree

Chris Wright is a climate researcher and activist from Australia. He has been following the UN climate talks in Bangkok negotiations on behalf of Adopt a Negotiator. Below is his review of the the past few days – as he tries to peer through the mists and fog and establish exactly what everyone is talking about.

By Chris Wright 

Jonathan Pershing (USA): “In this forum, we don’t highlight the capacity which we don’t agree, we highlight where we agree and let the rest be silent.”

Burhan Gafoor (Singapore): “We need to think not just agree to agree, but agree to disagree, but at this point we are disagreeing about what we disagree about.”

Khalid Abuleif (Saudi Arabia): “I think we need to consider a space to agree to disagree.”

“I think we have consensus”…???

Yesterday was certainly an interesting day in the UNFCCC. And if you can understand the quotes above, you’re doing better than me.

But in many ways, it may be seen as a microcosm of the broader divides that were “crystallised” in the stock taking plenary of the Ad-Hoc Working Group  on Long-term Cooperative Action.  As you may have read, the Ad-Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action is due to close in Doha at the end of the year.

In actual case, it was due to close last year, but was extended this year to deal with ongoing issues involved in streamlining all the discussions, or “the work”, as negotiators like to call it, in order to figure out if there is more “work” needed in the future (that would be “worked on” in the Durban Platform one of many standing committees).

At this stage, looks like there’s more “work”

The AWG-LCA was given a mandate in the 2007 Bali Climate Change Conference to undergo a “new, comprehensive process to enable the full, effective and sustained implementation of the Convention through long-term cooperative action, now, up to and beyond 2012, with the aim of reaching an agreed outcome”.

And as Bernarditas Müller, lead negotiator for the Philippines and G77 +China coordinator for the AWG-LCA (pictured right) highlighted yesterday, “an agreed outcome” has not yet been reached. While she later noted that “no-one in here wants closure on the LCA as much as I do” she also hammered home the fact that there was still “much work to be done on the means of implementation,” and that this was a critical aspect of the LCA discussions that developing countries feel has been left out.

These comments were supported by China and a swathe of other developing nations early on in yesterdays plenary, as a heated debate ensued between developed and developing parties. In response, Australia, the EU and the US hammered home the fact that they were unwilling to compromise on extending the LCA’s life-span, and while euthanasia is illegal in Australia, it was time to take it off life-support.

In the end, everybody’s favourite former tash-taming AWG-LCA chair highlighted, “all parties wanted closure of the LCA” but also that in yesterday’s debates “we have crystallized the divisions” within the UNFCCC.

This then lead into one of the strangest exchanges I have ever seen (pictured above) between a number of parties who seemed to be arguing over whether the UNFCCC has the capacity to “agree to disagree”. At this stage, things got a little confusing, but the debates raised some interesting points.

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As Jonathan Pershing (or J.P as I like to call him) highlighted in yet another thrillingly patronizing lecture on the history of the UNFCCC, which included a strange new US interpretation of “Common But Differentiated Responsibility” and “Fairness” that has nothing to do with equity, but also included a momentary insight -  that there is no space within the UNFCCC to “agree to disagree”.

In historic J.P style, this was meant to close the door on this idea. But as my new muse has so often done this week, he opened a new door in my mind.

So J.P, Why can’t we agree to disagree in the UNFCCC?

As Khalid Abuleif, the Saudi Arabian negotiator who was also “inspired” by Pershing’s comments highlighted, if we don’t have a safe space to agree to disagree, the same issues keep coming up and up again, 20 years later. And then we just go round and round the merry-go-round that we’re currently on. On one level, it might help to progress a number of issues that are currently holding up the negotiations, including the fact, that no-one knows what’s going on in the AWG-LCA.

In any case, as the Mr. Aysar Tayeb AWG-LCA chair highlighted, “there is a lot of work to be done over the next 2 days” – unfortunately, Aysar wasn’t talking about re-growing that tantalizing tash…

Will they agree to agree on disagreement? Or disagree for agreement’s sake? Do they even know what this means?

I don’t know, and I don’t think they do either. But I thought I would ask an old friend of mine, Donald Rumsfeld on what he thought was going to happen in the LCA over the next two days.

Here was his response.

The blog first appeared on the Adopt a Negotiator website and has been reposted with the author’s permission. You can follow Chris in Bangkok here.

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