It was déjà vu all over again today in Copenhagen. Two days in a row, the small island nation of Tuvalu flexed its newfound muscle and brought the talks to a screeching halt. A literal halt--both of the main negotiating "tracks"--the COP MOP and the COP (it wouldn't be a UN meeting without confounding acronyms)--are currently suspended.
Here's how it went down. On Wednesday, during the COP (Conference of Parties, where nations are working towards a complimentary and parallel agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, and what most people think of when they think of the Copenhagen Climate Summit), Tuvalu called for another new track of meetings (a contact group, in the lingo) to discuss some proposals, particularly theirs, that would result in a new legally-binding protocol to come out of these talks. Some countries, specifically China, India, Saudi Arabia, and Venezeula, weren't so keen on this idea. Lovers of the Kyoto Protocol, which clearly defines them as non-Annex I countries that have no responsibilities to account for or cut emissions, these four blocked Tuvalu's proposal, worried that it might compromise the KP, or that a new legally-binding deal might take on their emissions.
Tuvalu stood firm. Small island nation after small island nation spoke up to support their proposal, as did a whole bundle of African nations. It was a clear and coordinated move, making it very clear to all that the legal-form of this deal is make-or-break for these most vulnerable countries. China didn't budge, nor India, nor any of the OPEC countries. (The United States seemed content sitting this one out, happy, I'm sure, to have a day off of the hot seat and let a couple other countries be the "bad guys.") With no consensus possible, the COP President (and Chair of the meetings) Connie Hedegaard suggested that they have some informal meetings to discuss the issue with interested parties. Tuvalu said it couldn't accept the Chair's decision, that this issue was too important to their vulnerable nation, and asked for a suspension to the COP. You could practically feel the air suck out of the room.
Hedegaard announced informal consultations to address the impasse, and Parties filed out of the room.
Significantly, the move by Tuvalu fractured the normally well-aligned G77/China negotiating block. Typically these developing nations speak with one voice, uniting to have a louder voice to counter industrialized nations.
Fast forward to today. Observers and Parties alike were anxious to learn what would come of the COP, but the noon COP session that was supposed to convene never came to be. Why? Because in the session just before--of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol), where nations are working to update and extend the Kyoto Protocol--Tuvalu again dug in their heels.
The platform and approach were slightly different, but the underlying intent was the same. Tuvalu, speaking for all of AOSIS (the Alliance of Small Island States, needs a legally-binding deal, and they want China, India, and other emerging economies to be factored into it. They've seen the science, run the numbers, and know that a world without limits on China's and India's emissions is a world in which they can't survive.
In this meeting, Tuvalu spoke up early, asking for (again) a new contact group to discuss an amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, one that would lift emerging economic powers (and rapidly growing emitters) like China and India into their own category, with some responsibilities. Obviously, China isn't keen on this idea, preferring the current commitment-free arrangment. For a good 45 minutes, Tuvalu and China plead their cases, and a virtual roll-call emerged during which Parties took the floor for uncharacteristically brief comments of support. Lesotho: we support the Tuvalu proposal. Saudi Arabia: we support China's proposal.
Hedegaard grew increasingly flustered, begging Parties to find common ground. Tuvalu, again, held its ground and, eventually, called for a suspension to the COP MOP. A rattled Hedegaard asked Parties to huddle in the corner, like bad schoolchildren, to come to a resolution. But when she resumed the microphone, she had no good news. Again, the room gasped, and then went dead quiet.
And so the COP MOP is now also suspended, leaving only some closed door contact groups working behind the scenes on some text that could eventually be brought into the main COP agreement. But the two main tracks that are supposed to produce this big Copenhagen climate deal are currently on hold.
The big takeaway from the day: it's clear that there are some countries here that will not be afraid to walk away from these talks. Tuvalu and other vulnerable countries are playing this like they have nothing to lose. Or, by another metric, everything. But they obviously see their only hope for survival--really, survival--as being a fair, ambitious, and legally-binding deal, and they're not going to accept anything less.
Nobody has any idea what tomorrow will bring. It's 11pm now and I'm still in the Bella Center, and it's safe to assume that somewhere in the building right now there are some really heated discussions underway. Stay tuned.