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Bangkok: First stop on the road to Copenhagen
 

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Bangkok: First stop on the road to Copenhagen

The first round of United Nations climate change talks in 2008 got under way in Bangkok at the end of March, with the tough but successful negotiations in Bali still fresh in everyone’s memory. Parties had agreed at Bali to jointly step up international efforts to combat climate change and get to an agreed outcome in Copenhagen in 2009.

The talks in Bangkok thus marked the beginning of a new negotiating phase, drawing delegates from 162 countries tasked with fleshing out the Bali Road Map. This involved drawing up a work programme to craft a future international climate pact that will successfully halt the increase in global emissions within the next 10-15 years and dramatically reduce emissions by mid-century. The two-stranded talks also involved taking forward important work under the Kyoto Protocol process.

Working group on the future
The Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA), meeting for the first time, succeeded in getting off to a good start. By the end of the week, Parties had agreed on the work programme that structures the two-year negotiations on a long-term climate change pact, breaking up the immense task of reaching this agreement into bite-sized, manageable chunks of work.

Parties engaged in a rich and substantive debate on all five main elements of the negotiations - adaptation, mitigation, technology, finance and a shared vision for long-term cooperative action. Given the strong interlinkages between them, they also agreed to discuss all five issues in conjunction with each other at each of the three sessions due to take place this year.

Focused discussions will also be devoted at an early stage to financing and technology, with the latter addressing research and development as well as technology transfer. Furthermore, work on the issue of adaptation, which is broadly recognised as a priority, will start with consideration of how to advance action on adaptation through technology and finance. The fact that such critical issues are being discussed at an early stage can only bode well for the process.

Kyoto Protocol Working Group
The Ad hoc Working Group under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) began the second phase of its work, aimed at revisiting the rules that govern and define the emission reduction commitments of Annex I Parties. While at Kyoto a deal was struck before establishing such rules, which were only agreed upon four years later, the aim this time is to have a clear set of rules before a political deal is reached.

A thematic workshop was the chosen setting for the Kyoto Protocol Working Group, which allowed for expert input and an open discussion among Parties. One of the main outcomes of this Working Group's discussions was an agreement that the use of Emissions trading, the Clean Development Mechanism and Joint Implementation should be continued and improved as a way for developed countries to meet emission reduction targets, and at the same time contribute towards sustainable development.

The Bangkok meeting thereby sent a clear signal to businesses, which have been asking for clarity on the issue of these market-based mechanisms, enabling them to plan their investments accordingly. The Group also agreed to include forest-related activities as a means to achieve emissions reductions in the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period.

An important area of discussion were the international aviation and maritime transport sectors, both of which were excluded from greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets set out in the Kyoto Protocol. There was a strong divergence of views on whether or not to include these sectors under the UNFCCC in the next phase. Some countries called for tougher global regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from ships and aeroplanes, which they said should be included in any new climate pact alongside pollutants from power plants and agriculture. Others opposed the plan, saying it could hurt their economies, while some felt the issue was already being tackled by the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the International Maritime Organisation.

The long road ahead
At the three major climate change meetings still to come this year, Parties will zoom in on the details of the main themes under discussion. The next meeting, taking place in Bonn in June, will pay special attention to the issue of advancing adaptation to climate change through finance and technology. The third major gathering in 2008, to be held in August, will examine more closely a number of crucial issues related to enhanced action on mitigation. These include reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries, which account for around 20% of global emissions.

2008 will culminate in the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland. It will address research and development of technology, risk management and risk reduction strategies, and the key elements of a shared long-term vision for joint action on climate change, including a long-term target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Poznan meeting will also be an important opportunity for stocktaking on progress made during the course of the year.

First milestone reached
Looking back, the objectives set out for the Bangkok talks were achieved, with a work plan put in place to negotiate the crucial elements of a future climate change pact and essential work under the Kyoto Protocol taken forward. The all-important first milestone has thus been reached on the journey to Copenhagen. With less than two years remaining to complete that journey, there is certainly no room for complacency. But the Bangkok outcome augurs well for achieving the kind of agreement we need in order to respond to what many say is the greatest challenge ever to face humanity.