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The road to COP-6

Lavanya Rajamani identifies some of the contentious issues that negotiators must confront if COP-6 is to have any success.

The author is a doctoral student at the Law Faculty at Oxford University, a Project Director at the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and Writer/Editor for the Earth Negotiations Bulletin.

One of the few significant achievements of the Fifth Conference of the Parties’ (COP-5) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was a decision to intensify the process of negotiations in the lead-up to the Sixth Conference of the Parties (COP-6).

Parties agreed to hold two meetings of the two Subsidiary Bodies (SBI, for Implementation, and SBSTA, for Scientific and Technological Advice) and a spate of workshops on, inter alia, adverse effects, compliance and mechanisms before COP-6, to be held in November 2000 in The Netherlands.

Two distinct concerns arise here.

First, the greater the intensity of the process and the technicality of the issues, the greater the disempowerment and marginalization of developing countries.

The human and financial resources that developing countries are able to devote to this, among other environmental processes, is necessarily limited. The process so far, with several weeks of intense negotiations every year, has taxed most developing countries’ resources to the limit. An “intensification of the process” throughout the rest of this year may well push them over the edge.

Second, the intensification of the process is accompanied by the emergence of a clear though false division between technical workshops and political negotiations.

The line between the technical and the political, especially in the climate change arena, is a thin one.

While the recent technical workshop on adverse effects witnessed hectic lobbying and negotiation from the OPEC group, COP-5 witnessed, on controversial issues such as compliance and mechanisms, a mere exchange of views.

Indeed, COP-5 concluded almost a day early seemingly because Parties had little left to say to each other. Yet, given the purportedly uncontroversial nature of technical workshops and the exigencies of time, developing countries may well choose to miss technical workshops rather than negotiating sessions.

Through the intensification of the process, Parties have heightened the pressure for results at COP-6 directed at bringing the Kyoto Protocol into force by 2002.

While working toward self-imposed deadlines is a recognized strategy for success in international environmental negotiations, in an area as riven with interest-group politics and economic uncertainties as the climate change one, this strategy may have counterproductive results.

Deadlines could work on Parties to either propel them with frenetic energy towards their goal or induce them to give up in frustration and backslide. With the admitted inability of most Annex I countries to reach their targets in the 2008-2012 commitment period and the growing ideological rifts between and within industrial and developing countries, Parties may well be tempted towards the latter.

Meanwhile, familiar and increasingly tiresome battles continue to be waged within the G-77/China group, the most serious of which is the difference in ambition levels between the OPEC group and the rest of the world.

Through the two weeks of COP-5, the OPEC group displayed remarkable consistency in blocking progress on most issues.

Saudi Arabia, the G-77/China group spokesperson on the Bunker Fuels issue, failed to appear at the negotiations despite repeated reminders by the Chair of the contact group to do so. They also refused to let either the discussion on mechanisms or compliance advance unless parallel progress was made on the issue of “adverse effects of the implementation of response measures” (see Tiempo, Issue 34, December 1999).

Saudi Arabia’s truculent positions occasioned serious rumblings of discontent and frustration even within the G-77/China group. Matters are likely to come to a head in the coming months with Nigeria taking over as the Chair of the G-77/China group. If, indeed, Nigeria, as the G-77/China Chair, does seek to push the OPEC agenda, the Alliance of Small Island States may well spearhead a movement to leave the OPEC group behind.

A host of complicated issues awaits the Parties’ consideration in future sessions. Despite the intensification of the process, most controversial issues are likely to remain unresolved until the last few days of COP-6 or perhaps not even then. In the meantime, the world will be no doubt be witness to hectic lobbying and dramatic posturing driven by sharp ideological divisions.

The Sessions of the Subsidiary Bodies will be held in Bonn, Germany, June 12-16th and September 11-15th 2000. The Sixth Conference of the Parties will be held November 13-24th 2000 in The Hague, The Netherlands.

Further information

Lavanya Rajamani, Hertford College, Catte Street, Oxford OX1 3BW, UK. Email:

On the Web

Comment on the climate negotiations and news of ongoing developments can be accessed via the Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary Newswatch service.

On the Web: The climate negotiations lists further links.

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