“The clock is ticking,” said John Agyekum Kufuor, president of Ghana, as he opened the meeting. “We need to be pragmatic and move beyond rhetoric to make progress as we move towards Copenhagen. ”

Ghana is already experiencing some of the impacts of climate change. Rainfall in the country has decreased by 20% over the last 30 years, and up to 1000 km2 of land may be lost in the Volta Delta due to sea-level rise and inundation if greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise at the current pace.

“There is a real need to strengthen the capacity of countries, particularly in Africa, to cope with such climate shocks, ” added Kufuour. “I would therefore like to call for an international deal, or ‘compact’, in which developing countries commit to plan for climate-resilient development. In return the international community should commit to provide adequate, predictable, long-term funding and support in terms of technology transfer and capacity building. ”

So, what’s on the agenda at the meeting? Firstly, there are talks on further commitments for developed nations that have signed up to the Kyoto Protocol, the first phase of which expires in 2012. These aim to “clarify the tools and rules available”, as well as to identify options to enhance their effectiveness. According to the UNFCC, such tools include emissions trading and project-based mechanisms; land use, land-use change and forestry; greenhouse gases sectors and source categories; and possible approaches targeting sectoral emissions.

“Parties meeting under the Kyoto Protocol must swiftly reach agreement on the rules and tools that will be available to developed countries to meet future emission reduction targets [beyond 2012],” said UNFCC executive secretary Yvo de Boer. “This is essential because the toolbox will in turn determine the level of ambition of developed countries when setting their new targets. ”

The plan is to conclude these negotations in Accra, enabling the setting of emission reduction ranges in December.

Meanwhile, two workshops in Ghana are examining sectoral approaches, and deforestation and forest degradation. Sectoral approaches involve reducing emissions in key sectors of the economy, such as electricity generation and the energy-intensive industries of cement, iron and steel production. The policies are being championed by Japan, but have met some resistance from developing countries who fear that they may be a means of introducing trade barriers against less efficiently manufactured products.

The second workshop is looking at policy measures and positive incentives to reduce deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries. Countries are at different stages of deforestation, which accounts for about 20% of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide. For example, Brazil and Indonesia currently have high rates of deforestation, nations in the Congo basin have low rates but there’s a strong risk that rates will rise, and Costa Rica has taken measures to dramatically lower its historically high rates.

“Because forest products are traded globally and some of the drivers of deforestation are the result of international pressures, countries agreed that there needs to be properly designed incentives for all countries to ensure that reductions in one country don’t lead to increases elsewhere [i.e. ‘leakage’],” said Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director at Natural Resources Defense Council in his excellent blog from Accra. “This is a movement from the previous situation where you had countries in each stage essentially elbowing to make their stage of deforestation the main focus of incentives.”

In addition, delegates will jointly discuss – for the first time in this batch of negotiations – the finance and technology needed to limit emissions and adapt to climate change. “Parties will look not only at what is needed in terms of funding, but also at how funding should be generated in the context of a new international deal, and precisely what technologies are required,” said de Boer. “The debate will also give an indication of the infrastructure needed to implement a shared vision in the areas of finance, technology and capacity bulding.”

Next the negotiations will head back to Europe, with Poland’s Poznań the location for the UN Climate Change Conference in early December. One year later the framework for long-term cooperative action on climate change is due to be finalized in Copenhagen, Denmark. Let’s hope that the change in US leadership that will have taken place by then eases the way to some definite commitments to large-scale cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions from both developed and developing nations.

• The IPCC will celebrate its 20th anniversary just before its 29th plenary meeting in Geneva next week.