UN Officials Outline Draft Text for December Climate Deal

8 October 2015

The co-chairs of a multilateral group charged with hammering out a new, universal emissions-cutting deal released on Monday a 20-page “non-paper” containing proposed content for a draft “climate package” to be agreed at the Twenty-first Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP21) scheduled to be held in Paris, France in early December.

The much-anticipated non-paper outlines both a draft agreement and an accompanying draft decision for a post-2020 climate regime, according to a mandate provided by UNFCCC parties at the conclusion of a negotiating session held in early September, wherein the co-chairs were instructed to slim down and present “manageable options” for the December outcome. A proposed decision on scaling up climate action before the end of the decade is also presented in the non-paper.

The informal document will be the basis of discussion among parties during their next and final negotiating round before Paris, due to be held in Bonn, Germany from 19-23 October.

In a “scenario note” for these talks, the co-chairs of the so-called Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform (ADP) specify that the non-paper was drafted based on the only existing official document for the deal, known as the “Geneva Negotiating Text” (GNT), as well as views expressed in September on another unofficial document.

The non-paper is considerably shorter and cuts various elements compared to the GNT – agreed in February in Swiss city after which it is named – and a July “tool” also put forward by ADP Co-Chairs Ahmed Djoghalf of Algeria and Daniel Reifsnyder of the US. (See BioRes, 28 July 2015)

The document separates longer, more durable proposals for the agreement, and places those related to operationalisation in the decision. The various sections of the agreement therefore tend to include language related to principles, commitments, and direction setting, while many parts of the decision set up the modalities for turning the Paris climate architecture into a reality in the coming years.

Although the shorter text received a warm reception among some climate watchers maintaining it could help focus the talks, others cautioned that much technical work on the details would still need to be hammered out given that many brackets remain, and several environmental groups criticised the removal of certain proposals such as those on tackling international fossil fuel subsidies.

What’s in?

The draft Paris agreement contains 26 articles covering various climate-related efforts and institutional arrangements including, among others, mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, and capacity-building.

On mitigation, several bracketed options are provided in the draft agreement for a long-term decarbonisation target, ranging from a peaking of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to “climate neutrality,” without suggesting an implementation date nor at what level these might plateau or be reduced.

The draft agreement would anchor parties’ “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) as the key building blocks of the deal. In preparation for Paris, initial INDC offerings have been put forward by nearly 150 nations to date, outlining at minimum a domestic mitigation pledge as well as other details.

Looking forward, one proposal would invite parties to communicate their nationally determined mitigation contributions or commitments every five years, while another paragraph suggests parties could also outline their respective longer-term low-emissions development strategies. Rules and guidance for GHG emissions accounting, along with further work, are addressed more closely in the draft decision.

On adaptation, the draft agreement outlines areas for further cooperation, with developing countries specifically singled out as requiring support in this area. It also suggests that parties submit adaptation communications for record in a public registry and that a regular high-level session on adaptation be held.  The draft decision, meanwhile, outlines steps for developing modalities for these proposals.

The draft agreement lists an option for scaling up climate finance – among the most heated sources of division – up from the current goal of US$100 billion per year by 2020. Furthermore, a list of “appropriate steps,” in this area are suggested, including among others prioritising the provision of grant-based and concessional finance to the poorest and most vulnerable; integrating climate considerations into international development assistance; and reducing international support for high-emissions and maladaptive investments.

The draft agreement would also hold a biennial high-level segment on climate finance. The draft decision would establish a process for the consideration of new and alternative sources of finance.

Existing financial mechanisms serving UNFCCC processes, such as the Green Climate Fund and the Least Developed Country Fund, would continue as operating entities in the Paris deal. The same applies to several other existing bodies, such as the Technology Mechanism, in relevant areas.

Options for transparency and review

Given the self-determined nature of the INDCs, many analysts in recent months have highlighted the importance of defining some sort of review mechanism for the Paris deal, in order to scale up commitments over time and hold the line on planetary warming below a two degree Celsius rise from pre-industrial levels. 

The draft agreement includes three relevant articles along these lines. In the first instance, it would establish a transparency system to provide understanding of how each party’s submission is contributing to aggregate emissions reductions, as well as provide clarity on progress in this area.

Secondly, the draft agreement also envisages a global stocktaking process, on the basis of modalities that would be developed once the Paris package is inked. The decision provides further information, suggesting that the stocktaking would be designed to consider parties’ individual and aggregate implementation efforts. It also provides several instructions for the eventual modalities, specifying these should outline operational processes and procedures, alongside the form and nature of the stocktaking outcomes.

Finally, the draft agreement would establish a process or mechanism to facilitate implementation and possibly improve compliance. The proposal, however, leaves further definition of the mechanism’s functioning to be clarified after Paris.

What’s unclear?

In some areas, the document avoids penning any language, suggesting instead that further work is needed or that recent progress in informal meetings must be discussed in plenary. This includes in relation to the emotional subject of loss and damage related to climate impacts such as extreme weather disasters.

The topical trade-related question of managing the impact of implementation of “response measures” – in other words, the actions parties take in response to climate change, which might have either positive or negative effects on another country in the context of a global economy – is mentioned in the mitigation section of the draft agreement.

Bracketed language is also provided, referring to possible institutional arrangements as outlined in the draft decision. The latter, meanwhile, lists only a placeholder for “provision on response measures.” The topic has already proved difficult to navigate in technical UNFCCC discussions for the current period. (See BioRes, 15 June 2015)

Mention of the international transfer of mitigation units as an option to tackle climate change have largely been dropped compared with earlier documents. Parties had made a variety of proposals in the GNT on managing the topic to avoid double counting and ensure sound climate outcomes; however, no consensus has yet been reached on the issue. Some countries, meanwhile, remain opposed to the use of international market-based mechanisms altogether to meet climate goals. (See BioRes, 18 September 2015)

The draft agreement would nevertheless allow countries to “cooperate in the implementation of mitigation activities,” which some experts suggest might leave space for international carbon trading or carbon market linkage further down the line.

A veiled reference to establishing a global carbon market is also made in the draft decision through a “mechanism to support sustainable development” that could build, among other things, on the UN’s carbon-offset Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The mechanism would be further explored and defined after Paris.

Another section of the draft decision on rules and guidance for accounting would seek to ensure that internationally transferred mitigation outcomes used by any party to meet domestic targets are supplemental to action within its borders.

According to some researchers, of the INDCs submitted so far, around 70 countries have outlined plans to use either domestic or international market-based mechanisms to help cut emissions. However, many of these appear to be buyers rather than sellers, suggesting that securing a sufficient “carbon price” through carbon permit trading to send the right market signals may be a difficult goal to meet.

Some other experts have repeatedly said that ensuring common rules for cross-border emissions unit transfers within the Paris deal would be useful.

“It would help trust and confidence in the system if principles are set out within the agreement and detailed decision,” Dirk Forrister, head of lobby-group the International Emissions Trading Association, told journalists. Forrister added that failure to define the rules at the multilateral level could result in a group of countries doing this elsewhere.

Among the other notable trade-relevant issues absent from the co-chairs’ proposed texts are international transport emissions. Some parties had proposed mandating the relevant UN civil aviation and maritime bodies to develop global sectoral emissions reduction targets in their respect areas.

Broad engagement, next steps

INDCs have poured in over the last week as parties raced to meet a 1 October cut-off date for inclusion in a UNFCCC secretariat review of these submissions’ aggregate contribution. A number of stakeholders have suggested that this demonstrates clear engagement with the multilateral process.

Among the most-anticipated, India filed a 38-page submission that referred to both yoga and Mother Earth, pledging to reduce emissions intensity by 33 to 35 percent by 2030 relative to 2005 levels. This carbon-intensity goal will allow India’s emissions to grow as its economy expands, but at a rate lower than current levels.

Before last week, the world’s third largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter was the sole outstanding major economy not to have submitted, causing concern among some observers.

ICTSD reporting; “Work on carbon markets held back as diplomats slash UN climate text,” CARBON PULSE, 5 October 2015.

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