The lesson from the first week in Bangkok was this: negotiations don’t go anywhere without U.S. numbers on the table. Meaning, everyone’s pretty much dancing around the real discussion until Pershing & Co. lay down a couple crucial bits of information–-namely, what America can offer in terms of emissions reductions and straight up cash for adaptation. Minus these corner pieces, there’s no way to start putting the puzzle together.
In their absence, we’ve seen a lot of fidgeting over structure, fretting over language, and very little actual progress. From my perch-–and, granted, us “observer” organizations only have access to the public sessions, and there are all sorts of “informal” sit-downs behind closed doors where (hopefully) more could be getting done–-it seems as if the only real headway has been the consolidation of some text related to basic structural elements of how this thing is written. What do we talk about when we talk about financing?
Which might be fine under normal negotiating circumstances. I’d guess it’s pretty typical to keep kicking the can down the road until crunch time, to keep your cards pressed against your chest as the whole table calls (or whatever other metaphor for delay you want to use). But these are not normal circumstances, and typical tactics shouldn’t apply. We’re down to under two work weeks of scheduled negotiation before the Big Dance in Copenhagen kicks off, and the draft text still weighs in hefty at around 200 pages. Ideally, it’s down to no more than 30 by the time everyone convenes in Denmark.
Everyone’s waiting on America. In the U.S. delegation’s defense–-their hands have been tied pretty tight. The State Department hasn’t wanted to write a check that our domestic politics can’t cash. If Kyoto taught us anything, it’s that nobody can trust the U.S. until they see what we’re actually going to do. (Quick history lesson–the U.S. signed the Kyoto Protocol back in 1998; eleven years later, it has not been ratified. All but three UNFCCC Parties have ratified the Protocol, from Russia to Rwanda to Australia to Iraq. Iraq!) So there’s a massive trust gap. To be a credible player going into Copenhagen, the U.S. has to show something concrete coming from the home front. Pershing has not been at all coy about the fact that he needs to bring home a treaty that will be signed and ratified.
But such a treaty is a transparent fantasy until the U.S. lays its two big cards down. The Kerry-Boxer bill will help, but it needs to be perceived here on the international stage as being strong (which it really isn't) and that it has a good chance of passing. But until American delegates here in Bangkok start throwing some numbers around, everyone's pretty much just arguing over words. And so the first week of talks wrapped up, not with a bang, but with a whimper.