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UN-Speak Lesson #1: KP and LCA Tracks


Today I went to my first “US Youth” meeting at the Climate Consortium, a large, open, well-lit area for reporters to interview important people. The lights were hot and the background noise loud, but we did benefit from media coverage. Interested photographers took pictures of the gathering as a veteran youth from COP conferences gave a rundown of the negotiations.

As Matt Maiorana explained, one of the most important questions facing delegates is whether to keep a two-track negotiating process through Copenhagen. Don’t know what that means? That’s ok, no one else does either. Take a deep breath and dive with me into the confusing, acronym-rich sea of UN processes.

After the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in 1997,  the countries who signed the Protocol–AKA almost everyone besides the US—met regularly to discuss proper implementation of the Protocol’s goals and programs. Since the US didn’t ratify Kyoto, they didn’t participate, which made the talks analogous to holding an anti-bullying meeting on the playground without the six-foot-tall ten-year-old with pockets full of crinkled lunch money and Gameboys.

At Bali in 2007, the delegates tried to remedy the problem.  The “Ad Hoc Working Group for Long-Term Cooperative Action” (AWG-LCA) was created to compliment the Kyoto Protocol (KP). Now everyone but the US could talk about implementing the KP, while everyone including the US could envision future goals through the LCA.

Come up for air, take a deep breath, and back under we go.

Fast forward to 2009. Developed countries, especially the US, are looking to scrap the KP track, and replace it with a Copenhagen Protocol of sorts. They argue, convincingly, that the Kyoto Protocol is not popular in the US and it does not include binding commitments from China and India, the fastest growing emitters, therefore, all focus should be put in one, new track with low-carbon development plans from developing countries. That way, there won’t be two sets of negotiations at one time.

However, the countries most vulnerable to climate change aren’t buying it. They look to the failure of developed world leadership in the past and cling to the Kyoto Protocol as their only hope. If it took eight years just to ratify Kyoto, starting over will result in more delays for actively fighting against climate change.

Which side will win? What compromises will be made? Whatever the case, perhaps you’ll be able to swim through the UN bureaucracy and understand what the announcements actually mean!

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