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It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again: The Endgame After A Leaked Agreement

Nitin Sethi, Business Standard

On Thursday night, climate negotiations had turned into a script for a thrilling film on international intrigue. A document so far held secret was inadvertently leaked well before it was planned to be released by the United nations climate change convention secretariat. That set off a series of high-drama sequences which by night time, when talks were suspended again, had plunged the conference into uncertainty.

The two co-chairs of the negotiations and the secretariat had planned to time the release of the document with the opening of talks on Thursday morning.

The document was a replacement of the original draft agreement text that countries had negotiated over the past 10 days. Upon arriving in Lima, all countries had become aware that the agreement in Peru could potentially lock in critical features and content of the global climate change compact to be signed by the end of 2015 in Paris. These features would decide how the economic burden of reducing emissions, adapting to inevitable climate change and financing the entire exercise over the next few decades would shift between developed and developing countries.

The realisation made all countries negotiate furiously over 10 days to insert their ideas and interests in the draft Lima agreement. Consequently, the draft bloated to a 100-page document.

On Wednesday, pointing to the unwieldy draft, several developed regions, including the European Union EU, asked that the co-chairs of the negotiations produce a concise version. Several developing countries, including India, objected immediately. They had become wary of the role of the co-chairs. Over the past week, they had appraised the two — one from the EU and another from Trinidad & Tobago — as being biased in favour of the developed countries. Some had said as much in language that bordered on abuse in the world of international diplomacy.

As talks came to an end on Wednesday night, the co-chairs remained ambiguous about how they would proceed next morning.

The lack of a straightforward commitment that the draft discussed by countries would continue to be the basis for negotiations aroused suspicion in many developing countries.

“It’s an old game in multilateral forums. Start with a biased document, make countries react defensively to put their clauses in and make negotiations unwieldy and prolonged, then claim lack of time to produce a new document out of thin air at the last moment. This pressurises countries into a take-it-or-leave-it situation. You can then only do so much to protect your interests in the hours that are left,” said a seasoned Indian negotiator at Lima.

But Thursday morning held a twist to this old plot. Just as the meeting was to begin, the G77+China group asked for a sudden temporary halt to the discussions on the Lima decisions. They said they were working on a proposal which would break the impasse at the climate talks.

The real reason was that the G77 had got wind of the co-chairs’ plans even before the meeting began. They accessed a leaked draft decision text when it was inadvertently put on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change website for a brief while and then withdrawn. It set alarm bells ringing. A first appraisal made several key G77 countries realise that it was again heavily biased against their interests.

The negotiators assessed that the new document did little to demand higher financial and emission reduction commitments from the developed world in the pre-2020 period. It delinked their existing commitments to provide enabling finance and technology from future commitments of the developing world. It let the developed countries escape any solid roadmap to scale up financial support over the coming years.

The G77+China, which often suffers fissures dividing the 137-country group, came together quickly. As the formal meeting remained held up they strategised to counter the co-chairs’ secret text. They narrowed down their own differences on some of the elements of the agreement to present a united front.

So far the leaked draft was being shared only among select negotiators and advisers. Business Standard accessed and reported on this draft. With the leaked draft now in the public domain, the debates became more furious in the gathered civil society groups as well.

When the formal meeting restarted the G77+China showcased how they had reduced their differences and it was possible to do so sitting with the developed countries too over the original document. But the EU, Japan and many others hinted or asked that the co-chairs produce a new text and discard the original one. Everyone’s cards were now on the table. Developing countries knew well that the text had already been cooked up.

But the leak and subsequent moves by the G77 group were only a minor glitch in the plan, it became apparent soon.

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