Robert Hill: Last night, yeah.
RH: Well I haven’t seen much of the city. I’ve basically just come to the meeting which is outside of the city, but, reading the press and looking at the billboards and so forth, there’s no doubt that the city and the Danish government have taken the opportunity to heavily promote their green credentials and their global leadership in this issue. The meeting itself is huge, and almost unmanageable. There have been queues. People have been waiting eight hours to get in the front door in freezing conditions, today. I think they totally underestimated the numbers, and there’s going to be a lot of irritation, because tomorrow they’re going to start cutting back the passes as new delegations come in, and each day the number of passes to be cut back will be increased in numbers. I think it’s going to be quite tense. I’ve got no idea how many are here, but the story I’ve been told is about 40 000, and when I compare that with the Kyoto Protocol, I reckon in Kyoto we had about 2 000.
JB: So we’re looking at twenty times the size?
RH: Yeah, I reckon. And so, it’s in many ways like a huge circus, and we’re going through this… all the working groups are continuing but the background to it all is that their work is just as likely to be torn up later in the week, so there’s a bit of tension surrounding that as well.
JB: You don’t sound very optimistic about the process.
RH: No, I think I’ve always been realistic about what is achievable and I think there is, I still think there is the likelihood of a reasonable outcome by the end of the week. Cause you don’t get 110 heads of government stroke heads of state to turn around travelling from all corners of the world to turn around and go home with nothing.
RH: It just doesn’t work that way. They haven’t arrived yet, that’s why I think what’s going on at the moment is really a touch removed from what is going to happen later in the week, and that will be what determines the outcome.
JB: I understand a lot of the G77 countries are eager to get a firm agreement in place before the leaders come. Is that true; have you found that?
RH: That what, that they’re eager to…
JB: They’re eager to get a lot concrete in place before the leaders arrive later in the week. That’s what I’ve been reading.
RH: You would have also read that they were walking out of meetings, too.
RH: So all of that is not unusual at this stage because the people have been working on this project for two years now, a lot of them very intently, and there’s a certain amount of frustration and the tension is building up. But the reality is there won’t be agreements until the leaders have signed off. And some people think the leaders will be presented with drafts to rubber stamp, but I don’t think that’ll be the case as well, because that sort of diminishes the role of leaders. Leaders like to turn up and say that they’re going to rescue the process, take control, and I think the final agreements, uh, final agreement, will be put together by a relatively small group of players, probably some time on Friday, and then there will be the usual hand-wringing, and then it will be adopted.
JB: Who’s going to be included in that group, that relatively small group of leaders you expect to hammer out the final deal?
RH: Well, in UN practice, small groups are detested, and obviously the G77 has the numbers, and they detest small groups more than anyone, because they say it undermines the power of their numbers. But in the real world you can’t get outcome in the UN without the work of small group. So in the end it will be the United States, it’ll be the EU, it’ll be China, probably India, probably Brazil. Australia might be in there because of its unique position. There’ll probably be an AOSIS representative and one or two of the major G77 countries and that’s really the only way you can get an agreement.
JB: Can you talk a bit about Australia’s unique position?
RH: Well, Australia has led one of the major negotiating groups since the start of this process. We did it in Kyoto and we’ve done it ever since so that gives us a special place. And we also have a special place because we’re the world’s largest coal exporter. We are the developed country that doesn’t easily fit the pattern because of our developed economy is very resource-based and in some ways… talk about forestry issues for example, our position is closer to that of a developing country than a developed. So for a whole range of reasons, we have sort of carved out a unique space and that’s why we tend to be included in the small groups in this negotiation, whereas sometimes within other negotiations in the UN, we’re not.
JB: Do you find this is making for odd bedfellows in the negotiations – you’re ending up with countries you may have not expected to find common ground with?
RH: Well, again, if you take the forest issue, for example, Australia’s position would be closer to the rainforest countries, which are nearly all developing countries. So there are issues where we don’t easily fit within traditional groups. That gives a certain credibility if we use it well.
JB: Has the Parliament’s failure to pass the emissions trading scheme hampered your ability to negotiate at all?
RH: I haven’t seen any sign of it. I don’t think too many here would even know it?
JB: So all the discussions are happening at a bigger level than that?
RH: I just don’t think the mass of people here are focused on what’s happening domestically in Australia. I mean, what they’ll be interested in is what Mr Rudd brings in terms of a target for Australia, and what he commits in terms of a process of implementation. People are very interested in not only targets but evidence that countries who are making targets, who are committing to targets can actually deliver on them. So that’ll be more of the focus than what’s happened in the past in Australia.
JB: Australia’s five per cent cut on 1990 emissions, and the U.S.’s offer of a four per cent cut on 1990 emissions, what’s the response on those kind of offers?
RH: A lot of countries are expecting Australia and the U.S. to increase their commitment here. So in the case of Australia, Mr Rudd has said a minimum of five per cent, up to twenty five per cent. I think that the expectation is that he will be making an offer greater than the five per cent. How far he’s prepared to go, I don’t know.
JB: Do you think…?
JB: Go on.
RH: Well, the theory is you’re supposed to look for an equivalence of effort, and that’s not always easy to calculate because the cost of carbon is different in different economies. The cost of carbon in Australia is higher because the fact we are a natural resource-based economy, and quite a major agricultural economy. So, you need to take that into account in working out what is a fair share of the burden. So he [Rudd] will say that’s somewhere between five and twenty five, and whatever he goes for will disappoint some and will please others, but in the end it’s a consensus process so nobody can impose a target on you that you’re not prepared to accept.
JB: How important is the U.S. and China in this process? Does everything rely on what they do, or is there room to manoeuvre around them?
RH: No, they are the key players because they are two largest emitters. The largest developed country emitter and the largest developing country emitter. In terms of moving beyond Kyoto, what they are prepared to agree is – it’s really only the U.S. can bargain with China on this issue, and obviously a lots been happening behind the scenes for months now, and people will certainly be very interested in what both leaders have to say. Now, having said that I think that the general feeling is that what China has been offering is not unreasonable. And so there’ll be a certain focus with China not necessarily so much on their commitment, what they’re prepared to domestically commit in terms of a reduction from business as usual, but rather what they’re prepared to agree to in terms of transparency, in terms of measurement and in terms of verification. And I think that will clearly be one of the issues on the leaders table at the end of the week.
JB: Do you think China will open itself up to independent verification, or is that completely off the table?
RH: I don’t think China will accept a third party coming in and checking, but I also don’t know that that is really necessary in this day and age. If you agree to the methodology for measurement, you agree to a reporting mechanism, you agree to reasonable transparency rules, well, what people have commonly referred to in the past as verification may not be as important as it sounds.
JB: Right. And China made a fairly significant concession today, didn’t they?
RH: Well, my expectation is that China and U.S. will find a formula that is mutually satisfactory by the end of the week. And the rest of the players will basically accept that.
JB: So, what happens tomorrow in the conference? What’s on the cards for tomorrow?
RH: The same as today basically. The working groups will continue, and that will go on the next couple of days. But the emphasis will, as I said, towards the end of the week change as heads of government and heads of state start arriving in town…
JB: Well Gordon Brown arrives tomorrow, doesn’t he?
RH: I haven’t seen the schedule but I think most of them start arriving tomorrow.
RH: They’re actually putting in more time than they usually do with these things. Well, in the past, it’s never happened. I can’t think of a meeting like this that’s designed to lead to a political agreement, and which is a conclusion of a two year process where a large number of heads of government and heads of state have come in to assume responsibility at the end, I think that’s unprecedented.
JB: So is that an indication that there’s likely to be a solid agreement out of the process by the end of the week.
RH: I think it is, yeah. I think that they’re not going to all want to come here and walk away with nothing. I don’t think that’s realistic.
JB: So give me a prediction about what that agreement will look like. Are we talking binding targets? Look into the crystal ball.
RH: As long as you understand it is a crystal ball and as the week goes on I might have to revise my thought, but at the beginning of the week I might say a political agreement to basically a set of principles, and working programs, to continue to work on them during the course of the next year. Perhaps targeting the meeting in twelve months time, a meeting to determine issues that are not resolved here. I think that developed countries will commit to targets here and to implementation processes which will probably be included within a schedule. There won’t be any enforcement mechanism though. And I think the major developing countries will commit to improvements off business as usual projections. And I think there may be some agreements int erms of the methodology for measuring and reporting those performances. There’ll be a fund set up for short term efforts in mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, smaller developing countries in particular, and there’ll be a commitment to work on a larger long term fund. I think there may be an outcome on degraded forest, that agrees in principlethat action to reduce emissions through better forest management et cetera will be agreed in principle, with an instruction to go away and work harder on it. I think there may be some agree in principle on technology transfer, with an instruction to works further. Maybe something on adaptation, with instructions to work further, and I think that’s likely to be the sort of package that we’ll see. I think the Kyoto protocol, i think they’ll put that to one side, and say they need more work on what targets states are prepared to accept under a Kyoto agreement. I think they’ll avoid having to face up to that issue, and put that for for another year. They’ll say there’s time, because it doesn’t expire until 2012, they’ve got time to do that in the next twelve months. So I think a lot of the difficult issues out there that have been difficult for the last two years will actually be avoided rather than faced up to at that meeting.
JB: And left until Mexico City?
RH: Yep. There’s some talk about having a meeting, say, in six months time. I think it’s more likely the one in Mexico City.