Thirty ‘Cartagena Dialogue’ countries work to bridge Kyoto gap

The Cartagena Dialogue meeting here in Malawi has just wound up, and delegates from 30 participating nations are on their way home after a particularly constructive set of informal discussions. For anyone who doesn’t know, here is the brief on what Cartagena is about:

The Cartagena Dialogue for Progressive Action is an informal space, open to countries working towards an ambitious, comprehensive and legally-binding regime in the UNFCCC, and committed domestically to becoming or remaining low-carbon economies.

These countries are willing to work positively and proactively together, within and across regional groupings and traditional negotiating blocs in the UNFCCC. The aim of the Dialogue is to discuss openly and constructively the rationale behind each other’s positions, exploring areas of convergence and potential areas of joint action.

As this suggests, the big draw for Cartagena Dialogue meetings is that they offer an informal, safe space for different countries to explore possibilities in the climate negotiations which do not necessarily reflect their national positions or those of the various blocs (like the G77 or the Umbrella Group) to which they belong. As this was a closed meeting of governments, I cannot be specific about what was discussed or by whom – and of course I would never dream of breaching these kinds of levels of confidence.

The other great value is that the countries attending represent a whole spectrum of different regions and levels of development. Here is the full list:

  1. Australia
  2. Bangladesh
  3. Chile
  4. Costa Rica
  5. Denmark
  6. Democratic Republic of Congo
  7. EU
  8. France
  9. Gambia
  10. Ghana
  11. Germany
  12. Grenada
  13. Indonesia
  14. Kenya
  15. Lesotho
  16. Malawi
  17. Maldives
  18. Marshall Islands
  19. Mexico
  20. Netherlands
  21. New Zealand
  22. Norway
  23. Panama
  24. Peru
  25. Samoa
  26. South Africa
  27. Spain
  28. Sweden
  29. UK
  30. United Arab Emirates

The Cartagena Dialogue (CD) has so far been very much an under-the-radar development, which is part of its success: there are no media scrums at these meetings, so no danger of countries being misrepresented or otherwise feeling slighted. CD chalked up a major success in helping make the negotiations last December in Cancun, Mexico an unexpected success – the Mexican delegation here was clear that much credit was due to the way in which CD meetings had built up trust during the preceding year.

Now all eyes are looking forward to Durban, the next big event in the climate negotiations, though intermediate milestones will be crossed in ‘intersessional’ meetings in Bangkok in April and Bonn in June. The elephant in the room for everyone is the question of so-called ‘legal form’ – how we move together to get a legally-binding outcome which both preserves the gains of the Kyoto Protocol whilst also bringing the large emerging emitters in the developing world into the overall framework. I will post more on some of the options we discussed in due course. For now, suffice to say that Kyoto is certainly not dead – but that some creative thinking is going to be needed if Durban is to build on the success in Cancun. Kyoto’s ‘first commitment period’ of carbon cuts is due to expire in 2012, so the clock is ticking.

Ultimately the central challenge of the climate negotiations is how to break down the so-called ‘Berlin Wall’ which divided the world into mutually-antagonistic rich and poor blocs way back in 1992 when the Framework Convention on Climate Change was first agreed. In Bali, in 2007, an ‘action plan (pdf)’ was agreed which launched a second track in the negotiations aiming for ‘long-term co-operative action’ (known as the LCA track) to run alongside negotiations for a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol. The point of the LCA track was to recognise migitation (i.e. emissions reductions) in developing countries for the first time. (And also to keep non-Kyoto rich country parties involved – step forward the US.)

But how developing country mitigation should be brought into a legally-binding framework, and how this fits with the existing Kyoto Protocol is the thorniest issue in the whole negotiations. Cancun succeeded precisely because it sent a signal that the issue would be dealt with soon (there were two mentions of the ‘legal’ word in the Cancun Agreements) but not there and not now. My feeling is that if the Cartagena Dialogue cannot cut this Gordian knot, then no-one can.

For now, we have some work to do. The Maldives is helping take forward discussions both on legal form and on – together with Sweden – the idea of how we can further get low-carbon development to be a central part of the group and its plans. Can CD countries be a ‘low-carbon club’? Many of the developing country participants have ambitous plans – Samoa, the next hosts, want to be carbon-neutral at the same time as the Maldives, in 2020. How can they and others be helped to make these plans a reality? And how should we go about convincing the rest of the world that a low-carbon future is a more prosperous, energy-secure future, which will bring the greatest rewards for the earliest adopters? Watch this space.

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