The first week of official COP15 negotiations has passed and environmental ministers from the 192 countries participating in the talks will now review several draft texts in order to seal a deal before heads of state arrive this week.
So what is the current state of negotiations?
Two issues are driving talks – emissions targets and money – with an agreement on deforestation emerging as important sub-issue.
Prior to the start of COP15, the possibility of a deal in Copenhagen lurched forward ever so slightly when several countries, most importantly the U.S., India and China, committed to emissions cuts. And Gordon Brown proposed a funding source to help poor and developing countries adapt to the impacts of climate change and to help them produce greater amounts of clean energy. At the same time, though, many heads of state sought to tone down expectations that COP15 would lead to a legally binding treaty, focusing instead on achieving a "political agreement" that would be finalized in mid-2010.
Amidst these new offers and plummeting hopes of what would be achieved at COP15 came news that emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, where several leading climate scientists are based, had been hacked and published on the internet. Although in no way undermining the soundness of climate science, the tone of the emails and suggestion that scientists had used "tricks" to explain recent cooling of atmospheric temperatures, was seized upon by the climate change denial movement. Sarah Palin editorialized about it and Congressional Republicans promised to take the issue to Copenhagen. The emergence of the hacked emails has had little impact, though, on the summit itself.
Another revelation, however, did shift the tone of the talks. The Guardian published a draft Danish text from the eerily named "Circle of Commitment" that was chaired by the Danes and included the U.S. The contents of the draft were of little surprise but angered many delegates from poor and low-lying countries in confirming that developed countries were secretly negotiating outside of the UNFCCC process and seeking to ram through an agreement at COP15. The talks didn’t fall into "disarray" as the Guardian article asserted but there was a palpable sense of crisis in the halls of the Bella Center. Many delegates and negotiators from poor and low-lying countries that I spoke with following the leak argued that they came to negotiate – openly and in good faith – at COP15 and were disappointed by the emergence of the Danish text.
And what are the concerns of those countries from Africa, South America, and the low-lying countries close to the world’s oceans? A draft treaty proposed by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) on Friday best articulates them. The document is really two treaties – one that would extend the Kyoto Protocol to 2017 and a "Copenhagen Treaty" that would commit the U.S. to a binding agreement among many other strong proposals. The AOSIS proposal has become a rallying point for countries most at threat of desertification, drought or flooding and most in need of assistance to adapt to those threats and to build clean energy infrastructures.