New “tool” released to aid UN climate talks ahead of December deadline

28 July 2015

The co-chairs of UN talks geared towards negotiating a post-2020 emissions-cutting deal released a document late last Friday clarifying and streamlining the myriad of options countries have tabled so far as well as outlining a possible legal structure for its adoption. 

The 196 parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are hoping to secure the deal, which supporters say could help move the global economy towards a low carbon growth trajectory, during a conference scheduled to be held in Paris, France in December.

The “co-chairs’ tool,” as the 83-page document from Ahmed Djoghlaf of Algeria and Daniel Reifsnyder of the US is dubbed, packages parties’ existing textual proposals into three main sections.

In a clarifying introductory note, the co-chairs’ specify that the first 19-page section details areas that are “obviously appropriate” for inclusion in some kind of “agreement,” touching on durable, overarching commitments such as countries’ pledges to tackle climate change generally, guiding principles, and responsibilities around adaptation and finance. 

The second section groups together options deemed "obviously appropriate" to include in a “decision,” in other words, along the lines of regular outcomes from the annual UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COPs). This would include aspects around implementation, provisions likely to change over time, and ramping up climate action before the end of the decade.

While the new deal will largely be designed to replace the existing Kyoto Protocol when it expires at the end of the decade, countries agreed in 2011 that the outcome should also boost pre-2020 climate action, in order to keep required mitigation efforts on track.

The final section identifies areas where further clarity is required among parties in relation to the draft agreement or draft decision. It covers items such as the use of market-based mitigation mechanisms, regulating international transport emissions, a global goal on technology development and transfer, and managing the side-effects of transitioning to a low carbon economy, among others.

Picking up the pace

The tool met with mixed reactions from civil society over the weekend, with some welcoming the effort to organise parties’ diverse proposals, while others complained that the document was too lengthy given the limited negotiating time left before Paris.

 “The co-chairs intention, at the request of parties, is to offer the document as a tool that can allow them more effectively to negotiate when they reconvene in Bonn from 31 August to 4 September,” an official UNFCCC press statement read, referring to the next formal negotiating session.

In a scenario note for that occasion the co-chairs’ highlight the importance of accelerating talks and narrowing down outstanding areas. Parties will then have one remaining negotiating session from 19-23 October before the early December talks. 

The co-chairs’ tool continues to present a dizzying array of brackets and sub-options for areas targeted by the overall deal – ranging from mitigation, adaptation, and capacity building to technology development and transfer – with some sources suggesting climate envoys still have their work cut out for them.

An informal ministerial hosted last week by the French, held before the release of the tool and outside the official UNFCCC negotiating process, reportedly yielded some progress on politically thorny issues including how to monitor countries’ individual commitments over time. (See BioRes, 23 July 2015)

Market-based mitigating tools

Each section of the document includes a reference to the use of market-based mitigation tools. Under the finance language of the agreement, one option suggests leveraging a greater share of carbon market related proceeds and carbon pricing as innovative funding resources. The agreement’s “transparency of action” subsection also presents possible options for elaborating rules on the use of market mechanisms and transferable mitigation outcomes.

The decision section includes some language on the purpose of using market mechanisms; setting up a potential work programme pending entry into force of the agreement; and pledges that countries will avoid double counting emissions reductions efforts. One option would see no provisions on market mechanisms listed in the decision.

Under the tool’s third section, a range of proposals are identified on the use of market mechanisms including the types of mechanisms and emissions reduction units that could be employed; a potential executive body to help ensure international coordination in this area; or a governing body to avoid double counting under existing and possible UNFCCC market-based tools such as the Clean Development Mechanism offset programme.

Countries have repeatedly clashed over the role and arrangements for markets in the post-2020 climate regime. While some nations ideologically oppose the use of markets for climate action, supporters suggest that international standards are required to avoid confusion around the additional mitigation value of international market based transfers, particularly in the face of a proliferating use of domestic carbon markets and offset schemes worldwide.

Unilateral efforts

Several other trade-related areas are also pinned under the third section. This includes the principle that unilateral climate action measures should not constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination or a disguised restriction to international trade, which several countries oppose including in the agreement. The concept is, however, used in the founding UNFCCC text.

Parties are also invited to consider options on the historically tricky issue of the impact of unilateral climate action by developed countries on poorer nations, a phenomenon often shortened in UN speak to “response measures.”

Proposals are made to strengthen existing arrangements by establishing a mechanism or international institution to help manage the issue; a clause geared towards safeguarding economic development in developing countries; actions related to funding, insurance, and transfer of technology; a cooperative mechanism to recommend specific actions to minimise negative consequences; consideration for decent employment and a just transition of the workforce; and finally agreement to work on international aviation and maritime transport emissions reduction targets.

Talks on a forum and work programme on the impact of the implementation of response measures are currently under discussion in a separate negotiating track from the post-2020 deal in the UNFCCC’s technical bodies. Parties agreed in June to forward a bracketed draft decision on the issues for consideration at the December talks. (See BioRes, 15 June 2015)

A number of negotiators have said that clarity on the treatment of the impact of response measures in the post-2020 track will help to unlock negotiations under the technical bodies.

Developed countries have been reluctant to give too much away to so-called developing countries, and bemoan the lack of focus on the positive economic impacts of climate action, while poorer nations worry that asymmetric climate action could hamper development opportunities.

Climate action pledges across the board

Forty-eight nations accounting for some 56.4 percent of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have now submitted climate action plans, or “intended nationally determined contributions,” (INDCs) slated as the building blocks for the post-2020 regime. Most recently, Kenya targeted a 30 percent cut in GHG emissions by 2030 from business as usual (BAU) levels based on 2010 data, and called for some US$40 billion to help fulfil the plan. 

INDCs from significant emitters such as Brazil and Indonesia are expected in the coming weeks, while Colombia also recently indicated it would aim for a 20 percent GHG cut by 2030, likely with a BAU projection from 2010 data.  

Companies from major emitting industries have also recently ramped up climate pledges, with Shell, BP, and Total set to hold an event in October outlining plans to collectively cut emissions.

The engagement by these groups comes as oil companies around the world have put new production plans worth around US$200 billion on ice in the face of persistently low and declining oil prices. 

Some commentators have warned that the low oil price could jeopardise the scale up of renewables given the sometimes higher cost of the latter, and the required transition effort, while other experts suggest it is the optimal moment to cut distortive fossil-fuel subsidies.

Meanwhile, a new report from researchers at the Economist Intelligence Unit have found that some US$4.2 trillion worth of manageable assets are at risk from climate change by the end of the century, if temperatures exceed a two degree Celsius warming above pre-industrial levels. A warming of six degrees Celsius could lead to a loss of US$13.8 trillion. The world’s current stock of manageable assets is estimated around US$143 trillion.

ICTSD reporting; “UN releases ‘streamlined’ negotiating text for Paris climate deal,” RTCC, 26 July 2015; “Global Warming Deal Takes Shape as UN Envoys Shuffle Options,” BLOOMBERG, 24 July 2015; “Oil groups have shelved $200bn in new projects as low prices bite,” THE FINANCIAL TIMES, 26 July 2015; “Cheap oil endangers poorer nations’ switch to renewable energy,” THE FINANCIAL TIMES, 13 July 2015. 

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