Delegates to the 17th conference of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban are now into the second half of the second week of talks, and it is officially Business Time.
Ministers formally joined the proceedings on Tuesday. They've been lining up to present (largely symbolic and formulaic) 'Statements from Heads of Government' to the plenary for the last couple of days.
But the gritty wheeling and dealing is almost entirely taking place behind closed doors – in group and bilateral discussions between country representatives, 'indaba' (a Zulu tradition introduced by the South African presidency – essentially, an elders meeting where important or contentious issues are discussed), and chats in makeshift war-rooms set up in the underground conference centre carpark.
The first week of officials-driven meetings ended with pessimism in some quarters over prospects of a second commitment period for the legally binding Kyoto Protocol, whose first legally binding emissions reductions phase (CMP1) expires on December 31, 2012.
In the second week, winds seem to have shifted. Kyoto turncoats Canada, Japan and Russia remain staunch in their no-commitment-to-CMP2 stance. But there is a growing sense that the EU, under intense pressure from developing countries – especially (and not surprisingly, given the continent that we're on) the African block – really does not want Kyoto to 'die in Durban'.
Negotiators (including the New Zealand delegation now being led by climate change negotiations minister, Tim Groser) continue to hold their cards close to their chests. Following the typical course for UN climate change negotiations, it is likely to go down to the wire.
Yesterday, Groser told Idealog: "New Zealand can do a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, but we're not going to be committed to that position until we can see how the other factors play out."
The "other factors" include, critically for Groser, commitments to emissions reductions by countries responsible for the 85 percent of emissions not covered by the Kyoto Protocol.
"We now know that a second commitment period that covers only 15 percent of emissions...is a poor joke, actually."
Groser sees a potential deal involving a 'landing zone' that he describes as 'Kyoto Plus'. For the period 2013 - 2020, this would include Kyoto commitments from those countries willing to sign up for CMP2 (say, the EU, and other Kyoto-friendly countries such as Australia and New Zealand) "plus the mitigation commitments that China, the United States and other countries who stand outside Kyoto said they would do in Cancun, clarified and operationalised."
"In addition to that, what we need is ... a roadmap, or a process, to negotiate a more coherent long-term deal which ends this mosaic of different bits into a single comprehensive treaty."
And if a deal is not concluded in Durban, what might this mean for New Zealand?
"I hope we take a step forward here. If we don't, we'll just have to carry on. But what we will not do is abandon the ETS, abandon the drive for more renewables, abandon the search for energy efficiency, partly because these things have got other environmental co-benefits in them."
In the closing days of the last UNFCCC Conference in Cancun, Groser played a significant role at the request of the Mexican presidency, working through the night guiding parties to a landing on the contentious matter of measuring and verifying countries' emissions reductions commitments. There may well be call for Groser's diplomatic prowess – and multiple cups of Tanzania's finest – in the final stretch of COP17.
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