Friday, 7 October 2011

Interview with the Chair of the Alliance of Small Islands States and Grenada’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Dessima Williams.

As negotiations reach the half way mark here in Panama City, the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) shares her insights about the highs and lows of the negotiations with Makereta Komai, Editor of PACNEWS and Journalist for Climate Pasifika
Ambassador Dessima Williams
Q: It’s now half-way through the negotiations here in Panama, what is your take on the current negotiations so far?
Ambassador Williams: Slow progress but positive energy. I think there is a willingness to use Panama to seriously prepare for Durban. AOSIS is working at three levels – within our group we are working to streamline our positions, within G77 we are working to get our positions on board and we are also working on more common grounds with Annex 1 and other partners. In AOSIS you will find an eagerness for helping Durban be a success. The South Africans are here at many levels, as participants and also as incoming presidency. They are leading the way in calling for ambition and providing a space to discuss idea. I think Parties here are impressed and encouraged by South Africa’s initiative. The Mexicans have not pulled back and are also leading the conversations in some areas, especially in the legal form and legal outcomes. However, there are still wide gaps in the negotiations but there are lot of conversations going on now.

Q: Is that conversation enough, given what you just said about the wide gaps that still exists in the negotiations?
Ambassador Williams: It seems to me the closure comes very late. On Friday, we will see how far we’ve come with the negotiations. We still have two or three political opportunities to finalise an agreement before Durban. The pre-COP meets in two weeks time and this would be another occasion where what we cannot agree technically here will be discussed politically and fed into the process. We have seen some movement amongst G77 partners. I think everyone believes the mitigation is very weak. There is some agreement that we cannot have the gap between the second commitment period and the first but not enough parties are convinced yet. I don’t see universal agreement on that yet and that remains a problem. I think AOSIS, the African Group, the LDCs and others are in conversation and are committed to that. We are working with the European Union. We have had conversations with the Environment Integrity Group, Australia its capacity as chair of the Umbrella Group and we will be meeting with the U.S on Thursday. So there is a sense that everyone is in dialogue. It’s not enough but it’s a starting point.

Q: With only two days, is that enough? The expectation is to get some draft text for Durban at the end of the Panama talks?
Ambassador Williams: The draft text is progressing on the long term co-operative action (LCA) side and we have some text around adaptation, technology transfer, global environment fund (green climate fund). The text is slow in coming but I think we will get there on the building blocks of the LCA. The difficult areas remain with the mitigation.

Q: How can the problem of mitigation can be best resolved?
Ambassador Williams: I think there is no magic solution. This is a slow multilateralism. But I think we are clear that we must have a rules based multilateral system that is consistent with our commitment under the Bali Action Plan and almost all delegations agree to that but it is how they want to implement it that is causing the difficulties. Parties are now submitting proposals and how to implement the Bali Plan of Action. So Panama is awash with proposals. There are lots and lots of ideas, proposals and texts and that is really where the work is – to see common ground. We have a joint consultation between G77 and the European Union on the way forward for a Kyoto Protocol (KP) and we will be taking to them some common positions of our groups We want a KP that is five year, we would like to see real mitigation and not a carry-over of commitments of emissions reduction and we are still stumbling about new market mechanisms. There is still some weakness and divisions but we will get there. My point is that with a structure of 190 plus member states, it is very difficult to reach agreements. We have limited and good but insufficient agreements in Cancun and we are now trying to build on them because there are new submissions and that is what is slowing us down.

Q: Any compromises along the way in terms of positions?
Ambassador Williams: Not yet, not yet, everything is on the table. Some of the major emitters in the developing countries are showing flexibility around KP that we haven’t heard before so watch out for that. 

Q: On the second commitment period for KP, there are some discussions of transition period after 2012. Is that good enough?
Ambassador Williams: No, I don’t think we have to consider that. We have in fact over a 100 countries that are ready to sign and I know there is an argument that KP represent a very low level of emissions captured underneath it but the truth of the matter is that KP is one and the LCA is another and we need to take them together as two distinct conventions as a package to give us the level of certainty at this stage. What I do really have to say is that we need to scale up, particularly developing countries, the level of ambitions in relation to mitigation and financing because we are witnessing more extreme events and that mist be the signal for faster and more rapid reduction of gases in the atmosphere and the faster and more decisive intervention for mitigation and adaptation.  

Q: And that is exactly the European Union position- it is willing to take a second commitment period in KP on the condition that both developed and developing countries step up on their levels of ambition.
Ambassador Williams: The legal obligations are different. The developed countries who are historically the cause of the problem have to take obligatory actions under the Conventions. The developing countries under the Bali Plan of Action have two points – one, we must focus our priority on poverty eradication, that’s our main obligation. Our second obligation is to move away from business as usual.  If you notice, developing countries are doing both. We cannot do that – eradicate poverty and disrupt business as usual until and unless we get some support. We’d like to acknowledge and thank Denmark for making available assistance to 24 AOSIS countries in renewable energy projects. That will make a lot of difference and allow us to have carbon neutrality and take on more initiatives of greening our economies. If we can get more fast start finance to help us out of poverty and move into something that is cleaner, then that’s the way for us to meeting our obligations under the convention.

Q: I notice that in your AOSIS statements, you mention the support of the African Union and the Least Developed Countries. Does collective diplomacy helps in climate change negotiations?
Ambassador Williams:  Yes, enormously. As I said before, we have almost 200 countries trying to come to an agreement on a wide range of topics. The key is we work by consensus to build alliances, build common positions which we have had in the last three years. We have been having common dialogue, common conference with the LDCs because of the poverty eradication priority with island states, the vulnerabilities that we share and climate resilience that we want to build. Now we have that dialogue extended to another 50 countries in the African group and we are negotiating technical points on the level of finance, scale of commitments and various areas. We believe that when come as a group of 100 already with the common position that helps the process as opposed to just 43 of us with a common position. So what AOSIS is doing is taking citizenry responsibility within the negotiating process to be able to bring with LDCs and with Africa 100 plus agreed parties so that we can make more rapid progress.

Q: You are still optimistic that by the end of the week something can come out of Cancun?
Ambassador Williams: Yes Panama will produce texts for the different negotiating groups but we won’t get everything we want but some agreed text. We would get clarity on where the differences are and I am confident that within the developing countries we would have a very strong agreed to positions for going into Durban.

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