Nothing is agreed until everything else is agreed
Over the past week or so, a great deal of routine housekeeping work has been achieved on various agenda items under the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol. The texts of most of this work are now, as is customary, bracketed (this is how Governments signal discontent with the texts) and being thrashed out in informal meetings to attempt to resolve the remaining issues. Negotiation is about shaping the text as much as possible in your favour. This is achieved in various ways but often through swaps, deals and compromises. The process moved up a notch or two in the past few days as Ministers arrived to kick lead negotiators out of their driving seats to try to finalise the details of the Copenhagen deal. The phrase ‘horse trading’ is often used at this point.
Another stock phrase that comes out at this point in the negotiations is “Nothing is agreed until everything else is agreed”. You’ll find it at the top of one of the key negotiating documents for example here.
It’s a wonderfully befitting bit of philosophical logic for a problem as complex as attempting to stabilise the earth’s temperature at 1.5-2 oC above the pre-industrial.
Meanwhile, we are expecting over 100 Heads of State/Government to arrive at the Bella Centre in the next few hours. This is the so-called ‘High Level Segment’. This is where Heads of State/Government fly in, make nice speeches and then, normally, fly off again as quickly as they came. At COP15 things are a little different. This time, the Heads of State are going to stay around for a couple of days. They are going to have a Summit. It is unprecedented for a COP to turn into a full-blown summit. According to Friday’s schedule, at 3pm there will be a “Plenary Session of the COP to adopt the outcome of Copenhagen Conference in the presence of Heads of State and Government”. This suggests a slick choreographed exit, but I just don’t believe it. I hope I am wrong, but I have a feeling that things will go on into Friday night and perhaps Saturday morning.
So what is actually happening overall on the substance? We don’t know right now. These negotiations are incredibly complex – even by climate treaty standards.
If we just had, say, the Convention, then we’d have about a dozen agenda items (e.g. targets, funding, adaptation, capacity building, technology transfer etc). Each would be on a separate track and the trick would be getting parties to horse trade bracketed text within and between these different streams of negotiation. But things aren’t that simple. We have a Kyoto Protocol that has some of the same agenda items but also some unique issues of its own. At the same, thanks to the Bali Road Map, we have two additional streams of negotiation the AWG LCA (link to) and the AWG KP . And to top it all, we now have a Summit of world leaders that wants to crash the COP finale. If you can today, log onto the live web streams from 3pm. This could be some show and, who knows, even possibly the event we’ve been expecting.