Bridges Special Update #2 | UN Climate Negotiators Press On, As Questions Loom for Incoming Trump Administration

13 November 2016

Negotiators gathering in Marrakech, Morocco, for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) annual conference have made steady progress during their first week of talks, as they prepare for the arrival of government leaders and ministers for various high-level meetings in the coming days.

However, the news of Donald Trump’s election win in the United States has cast a shadow of uncertainty over the larger prospects for tackling the global challenge of a warming planet, while also prompting many nations and US-based non-state and sub-national actors to affirm that they will press on with climate action regardless of what may happen in Washington.

Since the talks began on Monday 7 November, the number of parties who have ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change has now risen to 109, covering 77 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and including major emitters such as Australia and Japan.

Answering reporters’ questions over whether his country would follow Trump’s lead should the latter go through on his campaign pledge to exit the Paris accord, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull countered that leaving the UN deal would take four years for any country, and stressed Australia’s dedication to the accord.

“When Australia makes a commitment to a global agreement, we follow through and that is exactly what we are doing,” he said.

Trump previously promised on the campaign trail to “cancel” the US’ involvement in the Paris accord. His transition website does not currently refer to this pledge, though he has reportedly asked Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to lead the transition efforts for the US Environmental Protection Agency. Ebell is a long-standing and prominent sceptic of the seriousness of global warming and critic of President Barack Obama’s climate action work.

Trump’s transition website reaffirms many campaign pledges to unravel Obama’s domestic climate actions, including the Clean Power Plan, claiming these will massively increase electricity costs “without any measurable effect on Earth’s climate.” However, the site says that Trump does support renewable energy, along with sources such as fossil fuels, in a bid to make the US fully energy independent.

The website leaves several questions unanswered, such as how he will address the Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA), a planned tariff-cutting deal being negotiated by 17 WTO members, including the US. A ministerial meeting aimed at concluding the EGA is planned for 3-4 December, before Trump takes office. In related news, EU trade ministers meeting in Brussels just days after the US election affirmed that they still anticipate developments on the EGA by year’s end. A considerable political effort however remains to be done to address the concerns of certain members.

Officials in Marrakech have rebuffed the suggestion that the incoming Trump Administration would put the ongoing COP negotiations at risk. Sources confirm that while the US election results may have affected negotiators’ mood, it has not hindered progress.

“The Trump election is not a threat for the success of COP22,” said Salaheddine Mezouar at Saturday’s press conference. The Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation is the president of this year’s climate gathering. “We have to have trust in the American people, who are strongly committed and strongly determined in the fight against global warming.”

The years 2011-2015 were the warmest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization, which circulated a related report at the COP. The agency also reviewed cases where human-induced climate change was a factor in extreme weather events, causing thousands of deaths and economic losses worth billions of dollars, in places as disparate as Southeast Asia and the United States.

Developing the Paris rulebook

With the Paris Agreement now in force, negotiators under the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA) held regular, constructive discussions this week to help prepare for the upcoming meeting of the accord’s governing body, the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the parties to the Agreement (CMA).

Issues covered included further guidance on countries’ individual climate action plans; adaptation communication; the transparency framework for action and support; the future global stocktakes on collective progress; and the committee to facilitate implementation and promote compliance. The question of whether the existing Adaptation Fund for supporting developing countries should also serve the Paris Agreement was reportedly taken up.

The APA co-chairs noted the advances and successful technical work so far. The APA is meant to hold its closing plenary on Monday, though some have expressed interest in continuing talks informally. No consensus had emerged on this option by press time.

Climate finance: greater investments needed

Climate finance flows from public and private actors have shown some promising advances, though are still well below necessary levels, according to a biennial report by the UNFCCC’s Standing Committee on Finance.

“Without the needed financial flows, both the Paris Agreement and the [Sustainable Development Goals] will largely remain a promise rather a transformative reality,” said UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa upon the report’s release this past week.

The report found that global climate finance flows averaged per year at US$714 billion in 2013-2014. Despite this improvement, it said that these are just a fraction of investment overall – and that much more financing is being dedicated to “high-carbon” energy. The report also noted the difficulties in obtaining and analysing the relevant data, given the range of funding sources; the varying definitions of “climate finance;” and other related limitations for reporting and tracking.

Furthermore, mitigation-related funding is vastly outpacing support aimed at adapting to climate-inflicted damage, according to the committee document. The report is slated to feature in the high-level ministerial dialogue on climate finance – including on adaptation-related aid – being held during the second week. Negotiators have also held workshops and informal meetings this week aiming to help clarify ways to improve climate finance-related accounting, as well as how to make data gathering more predictable and usable.

Response measures: linking trade, sustainable development

Discussions on “response measures,” referring to social or economic impacts on third countries from climate measures taken by other nations, took place throughout the week, both under the improved forum and on the future forum under the Paris Agreement.

The improved forum considered the report of an October workshop on its two work programme items: economic diversification and transformation; as well as just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs. The report, along with a G77 and China submission on priority issues tabled this week, explicitly refer to trade. Response measures talks have long recognised that climate actions may involve trade policy and affect trade flows. The documents show an evolution beyond such trade concerns, emphasising trade’s positive role for climate action and relevance for economic diversification.

Not all parties supported including references to trade and the identification of priority areas more generally at this stage. As a compromise, the draft conclusions agreed that an ad-hoc technical expert group will meet next May to advance the forum’s technical efforts on the work programme, within the context of “sustainable development.” Sources say that framing the work in this context could open up avenues for future trade-related discussions, though this remains controversial and some parties reportedly remain opposed to engaging on trade.

Parties also considered submissions and exchanged views on the future forum’s modalities, work programme, and functions. They have now agreed on draft conclusions, requesting the chairs of the subsidiary bodies (SBs) to prepare a “reflections note” to help further discussions next May. Both sets of draft conclusions have been forwarded for adoption at Monday’s SB closing plenaries.

Cooperative climate action

Talks on using voluntary “cooperative approaches” in implementing parties’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement were high on many participants’ agendas, given the potential for reducing the costs of mitigation and addressing some of the competitiveness and carbon leakage concerns  related to varying mitigation efforts.

Delegates are aiming to develop a common understanding on the article’s sub-items, including “internationally transferred mitigation outcomes (ITMOs)” (Article 6.2); the mechanism to promote mitigation and sustainable development (Article 6.4); and the framework for non-market approaches (Article 6.8).

The ITMO talks considered, among other things, the provision’s requirements of “sustainable development” and “environmental integrity” as well as the scope of guidance that would be provided by the CMA. Parties also started reflecting on the relationship between Article 6.2 and the mechanism under Article 6.4, as well as the accounting for NDCs under the Paris Agreement more broadly.

Elements considered under talks on the mechanism included additionality, governance, how to deliver “overall mitigation,” what impact the universality of NDCs has on the operation of a centralised mechanism, and using experience from market-based mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and the Joint Implementation (JI) mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol.

Finally, parties discussed whether governance, quantification, accounting, and international cooperation are relevant for non-market approaches. While many parties noted quantification will be useful, there was no consensus on this being essential or required.

Despite constructive engagements throughout the week, diverging opinions persisted on all three sub-items, highlighting the political and technical work still needed to make the Paris Agreement’s provisions on cooperative approaches operational. Discussing how to advance future work, several parties suggested submissions as well as having the UNFCCC secretariat prepare a synthesis report and workshop. While there was strong support for focused submissions, parties did not reach consensus on the report.

The draft conclusions, forwarded for adoption at Monday’s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) closing plenary, invite parties to make submissions on these agenda sub-items by 17 March 2017, and request the secretariat to organise a roundtable discussion next May among parties based on the submissions.

Coming up

Government leaders and ministers arriving this week will participate in a high-level segment and the first CMA, which will formally launch on Tuesday. With much of the Paris deal’s rulebook to be developed by CMA1, the COP president has already consulted delegations informally on whether to resume the session in 2017 or 2018.

Those in favour of a 2017 CMA stressed the importance of keeping up the negotiating momentum, underlining the value of assessing progress and possibly taking decisions that may be ready. Others argue for the CMA to be suspended until 2018 so that all decisions can be adopted jointly and to allow for more time in the negotiations, along with giving countries who have not ratified the space to do so.

ICTSD reporting; “Donald Trump Could Put Climate Change on Course for ‘Danger Zone’,” NEW YORK TIMES, 10 November 2016; “Marrakech Climate Change Conference,” EARTH NEGOTIATIONS BULLETIN, 7-11 November 2016.

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