With just four weeks of negotiating time scheduled before the year-end Climate Conference in Copenhagen, negotiators are scrambling to trim the 300-page negotiating text for a post-Kyoto accord down to a more manageable 80. Tony La Vina, who is overseeing the portion of negotiations dealing with reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD), has taken matters into his own hands.12 August 2009 | Anyone following Tony La Vina on Twitter knows that his Tuesday Tweet was simple and to the point:
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“It should be fun facilitating agreement on the role of forests in climate change,” he wrote – just before walking into this week's climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany, and asking a big favor of negotiators responsible for hammering out agreement on how to handle financing for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) under whatever global climate-change pact replaces the Kyoto Protocol at the end of 2012. That pact is supposed to be finalized by the end of this year at a massive December climate-change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. That's 17 weeks away, but only four of those weeks are reserved for negotiations. Even UNFCCC Boss Yvo des Boer expects Copenhagen to yield more of an “agreement to agree” than an actual pact – and at this point, even that is looking optimistic: negotiators are wrestling with 300 pages of largely incomprehensible and repetitive gobbledygook (that's by design – such 'negotiating texts' are an amalgamation of every submission and rebuttal, so they are by nature contradictory; something similar existed just months before the Kyoto Protocol was finalized) that has to be whittled down to around 80 pages before being handled off to high-level negotiators in the second week of December. Roughly 20 of those pages are given over to REDD – and most negotiators say we shouldn't need more than five to cover the topic. So La Vina, the Filipino lawyer and professor who's now acting as 'facilitator' for the REDD portion of the negotiations, on Tuesday asked for – and received – a mandate to corral negotiators from countries that have submitted submissions into meeting rooms in twos and threes until they can agree on verbiage that leaves their desires on the table but in a shorter and more manageable form. He expects to have it down to less than ten pages by Thursday evening (Note: he originally promised delivery by Friday morning), but it's not clear exactly how he'll achieve that. The first 15 pages of the text are a mash-up of parenthetical sentence fragments embedded within other fragments and separated by colons, semi-colons, and dashes: to the uninitiated, pure gibberish, and to the initiated, mostly gibberish but with chunks of comprehensible thought floating in it. The last five pages, however, are clear and concise. That's because they came from Norway, while the previous 15 came from everywhere else. The Norwegians delivered their long and comprehensive “submission” in an effort to provide some clarity, while other countries have been inserting sentences, words, and punctuation marks to underline their negotiating positions. So, La Vina can either use Norway's five pages as a base onto which he can cleave other submissions, or he can bang heads until the 15 pages of gibberish resemble ten pages of prose. Some countries (primarily Saudi Arabia) raised concerns that the process of whittling via bilateral negotiation would undermine the current process and create negotiations out of sight from countries that hadn't submitted submissions. After all, the past two months were supposed to be for bilateral, while this week is supposed to be for open debate. Other countries (primarily Switzerland, Bolivia, and Tuvalu) feared the bilateralization would takes the process another step away from indigenous groups; they won a promise from La Vina that he would post a non-paper on the web for transparency. Negotiators – as one might expect – are split over whether La Vina's hands-on approach can deliver a workable text in time for the next round of negotiations, which begin September 28 in Bangkok, Thailand. Kevin Conrad, who represents Papua New Guinea and heads the Coalition of Rainforest Nations, says negotiators are not as far apart as many outside the process perceive – a sentiment echoed by Ghanaian observer Yaw Osafa. “There's more convergence than divergence,” he says. “Afer all, we've been listening to each other for 3 ½ years now – we're all saying the same things, and we know what we're each going to say.” Steve Zwick is Managing Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace. He can be reached at SZwick (at) ecosystemmarketplace.com. Please see our Reprint Guidelines for details on republishing our articles.