Bali Conference, Day 9: Brackets, [friend][foe] of the consensus process

When sea level is rising and there’s no common ground in sight,

Packed Conference Room “...the second review of the Kyoto Protocol…shall aim to enhance [implementation][the effectiveness][the effectiveness and implementation] of the Kyoto Protocol…”

This is the kind of sentence that appears after 16 hours of debate at the UN climate conference yields no consensus. Instead of letting the contentious text stall the entire process, negotiators just put the options in brackets and deal with it later, when it’s more convenient [hopefully]. Brackets represent roadblocks that could stall negotiations indefinitely, but they also represent hope.

Confronted today by so much bracketed text, I find myself wondering: When, precisely, over the next three days is likely to be more “convenient”? When are Parties likely to be more agreeable?

Thus far, I haven’t noticed a great deal of mind-changing on the part of Parties. Determining whether to allow new hydro-chlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) facilities to apply for Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects has been on the technical body’s agenda for two years. The decision to allow carbon capture and storage in the CDM has been pending for even longer. Actually, on these less-pressing issues, negotiations have now arrived at a fate worse than brackets. Talks have concluded simply with statements that no agreement was reached and the issue will be taken up again at the next meeting. No brackets.

So having some of the more critical issues of the day safely tucked away in their brackets is not the worst place they could be. Brackets mean there’s still hope for finding compromise language, or that one Party will set aside its demands in deference to the greater goals at hand. In addition to the bracketed text referred to above, key issues popping into and out of brackets include [with some interpretation on my part]:

  • Whether a process to add emission-reduction commitments for developing countries will be on the negotiating agenda; and
  • Whether a range of industrial countries’ emission-reduction commitments will be referred to in the text.

The persistence of these two, particularly contentious issues is probably no coincidence. The United States delegation has made no secret of the fact that they see no place for talk of targets at this stage, and in this reticence they appear to have found a friend in Canada. At the same time, major emerging economies are quick to decry any reference to a process by which they might adopt binding reductions. So when one of these issues rears its ugly head, the other is likely to follow—tit for tat. Brackets.

When the high-level event begins tomorrow, finding common ground where it [seldom] exists, softening language, and setting aside the most contentious issues are the tools likely to be deployed for removing the bracketed text.

Inuit Game Demonstration One thing is for sure a lack of people engaged in this debate is not the problem. Today, there were lines of people everywhere—lines to go through security, lines to get into the conference center, lines for food, and lines to obtain documents. Frankly, I’m hoping that the crowds have reached their apex, because if they grow much more, I’m likely to pass on the squeezing through doors and seek out a surfboard followed by a beer on the beach. I sampled the latter option on Sunday and it ain’t half bad!

Of course, the upside of the crowds is that issues are beginning to get the attention they merit. I attended two side events today, one focused on the activities of indigenous peoples to cope with climate change and the other making the economic case for greater funding of climate change adaptation programs. Both of these events exceeded the room capacity.