THE current status of international negotiations are akin to the sagas that engulfed Top Gear: we can have a television show with drama, humour and great technology, or Jeremy Clarkson can have another brain freeze and the show can end in a dummy spit, a proverbial car wreck.
The July Vienna negotiations on an HFC phasedown certainly merit a leading television show.
Progress was made – in late night drama filled scenes – towards an HFC phasedown; our leading characters (Australian Government officials Pat McInerney and Annie Gabriel) played absolutely pivotal roles in pushing the agenda forward; we had a cameo appearance (US Secretary of State John Kerry); and yet there is still a real chance that it will all end in disaster.
The pivotal issue is the US presidential election. The Obama administration – and by all accounts the President himself – has made an agreement on HFCs a central aim for his presidency.
And whomever wins in November, it is unlikely that they will care anywhere nearly as much. The US simply wants this agreement done now and is putting its diplomatic, financial and political shoulder to the wheel to reach this agreement.
While the US has unparalleled power, it is just one country out of 192 and it takes consensus to get an agreement. And let’s be clear – not all countries are yet committed to a phasedown.
Pakistan, Iran and India could each continue to be difficult and block the entire negotiations.
So what exactly happened in Vienna and how is it that we still can’t pick the plot line we are following – drama, tragedy or perhaps even a screwball comedy?
The Vienna negotiations were really the first talks that got into content. We discussed the potential challenges to an agreement – and agreed these could be resolved.
Countries were able for the first time to specifically discuss what they wanted to see in an agreement, and these points were acknowledged.
And, finally, in the last hours we were able to put some of the various ideas for commencement dates onto a single piece of paper.
This last step represents the cliffhanger in our show. For us to reach agreement, we need all of the ideas onto pieces of paper.
Negotiators then have to start the hardest job of all and go from a broad number of ideas on an element of the treaty to agreement, first on that individual part and then the whole thing.
The last show is set in Kigali, Rwanda in October: less than three weeks out from the US elections.
All that any of us can know for sure is there will be a dramatic push for an agreement, negotiations will go late and run over and there will be a climax.
The series is ending. If only the outcomes were as unimportant as a TV drama.