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Signs of thaw in positions on climate heat talks

December 18, 2009 10:00 IST

Co2With last-ditch efforts to save the Copenhagen talks on climate change from failure in full swing, the Danish presidency made it clear on Thursday that there would be no Danish draft-II and that the two-track process of negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol and a long-term cooperation agreement would form the basis for any political agreement signed by heads of state and government on Friday.

Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh said he was 'happy' at the development and believed it to be the result of 'sustained pressure brought to bear by developing countries'.

Negotiators trying to remove the brackets from the latest drafts of the two texts under renewed discussion also received a fillip, when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played a new card late on Thursday morning, pledging US participation in a planned fund to finance poor country's climate change mitigation efforts.

"The United States is prepared to work with other countries towards a goal of jointly mobilising $100 billion a year by 2020," she announced, though she stopped short of mentioning any specific contributing figures. She said the money would be a mix of public and private funds, including 'alternative sources of finance', which she did not specify.

The US has thus far been mum on the sticky issue of medium and long-term financing.

With America showing its first sign of flexibility the pressure is now on other key players to respond in kind. Already, India appears to be softening its position on MRVs (monitoring, reporting and verification), the issue that has been at the heart of the divergence between the BASIC (India, Brazil, South Africa, China) countries' stance and that of the Americans.

India and other BASIC countries have repeatedly asserted they will not accept any international monitoring of their voluntary, domestic, mitigation measures.

But, Ramesh said on Thursday that India and the US had now narrowed their differences of opinion on MRVs, with 75 per cent agreement and only 25 per cent divergence. "We have proposed a four-point plan to the US, of which they accept three points," he said.

The remaining point of contention has to do with the proposal that domestic MRVs are to be given to the UNFCCC for informational purposes. The US wants the word 'information' to be replaced by 'consultation.'

The matter is not only about semantics. The real worry is that if developing countries agree to go beyond sharing details of their efforts for informational purposes alone, they might open themselves up to trade penalties if found lacking in effort and transform a voluntary commitment into an international one.

Ramesh seemed confident that an agreement on MRVs could be reached. He said he was 'hopeful' of finding a compromise.

Hillary Clinton once again reiterated the US stand that financial assistance from the US was contingent on 'transparency' from China.

"It would be hard to imagine, speaking for the United States, that there could be the level of financial commitment I have just announced in the absence of transparency from (China), the world's second biggest emitter," she told reporters.

Some analysts however said, it was significant that she used the word 'transparency' rather than specifically referring to international monitoring and verification, suggesting it indicated further US flexibility on an issue they have thus far been intransigent about.

In a press conference held by He Yafei, the Chinese vice-minister for foreign affairs, China continued to categorically reject international MRVs of its voluntary, domestic mitigation measures that are unsupported by foreign money.

But, Yafei added China was willing to 'enhance and improve' its national communication to the UNFCC on the issue to make it more 'transparent'.

The use of 'transparent' by both China and the US could possibly indicate some prospect of reaching a consensus that had till now looked impossible.

Although there is now some renewed hope that the talks will not end in a fiasco, sources in the Indian delegation warned against complacency. The text of the political agreement that world leaders will be expected to sign on Friday, that will be a distillation of the conclusions of the two track process, is yet to be drafted.

"Even though the Danish draft by that name may be dead, there is no guarantee that some of the provisions of that draft might not be sneaked into the political agreement,' said one negotiator.

And, even by the most optimistic analysis, the talks will be unable to produce a binding legal treaty. Some sort of interim political agreement is what is far more likely, that would then have to be operationalised into a legal text over the next year.

In the details of the substance, or lack thereof, of that agreement, however, will lie the devil, that will decide how the world intends to save the planet from potential disaster while ensuring the right to development of poor countries.

Pallavi Aiyar in Copenhagen