UN talks agree to negotiating text for global climate deal

19 February 2015

Delegates from just under 200 nations agreed last Friday to a text that will form the basis for substantive negotiations on a new global climate deal, which these countries aim to adopt at a December meet in Paris, France.

The 86-page document contains options and sub-options put forward by countries on possible language for the eventual agreement, currently organised into twelve sections ranging from mitigation commitments to technology development and transfer.

The bid to secure a negotiating text was slated as the main deliverable for last week’s six-day session by the new co-chairs of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) body charged with hammering out the universal climate pact.

“We now have a formal negotiating text, which contains the views and concerns of all countries. The Lima Draft has been transformed into the negotiating text and enjoys the full ownership of all countries,” said Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, referring to a much shorter non-paper penned by UN officials. That latter text was contained in the annex of the outcome document from last December’s climate meet held in Lima, Peru.

During the first three days of last week’s ADP session many delegations scrambled to insert various textual proposals into the Lima draft. After completing most of this work by Tuesday afternoon the ADP co-chairs and some parties suggested ways to start streamlining the Paris deal draft. This met with resistance from other parties who raised process-related concerns, which eventually stymied further work in this area at the meeting, a move criticised by the EU among others.

A new climate architecture?

At a closing session last Friday Co-Chair Daniel Reifsnyder of the US said that the agreed negotiating text would not pre-judge the legal outcome or structure of the final Paris deal. This new “Geneva text” will be translated into the five other UN languages and circulated to parties in March.

Some seasoned climate delegates said last week that the “ballooning” of the Geneva text in length was an expected part of the negotiating process. Figueres told reporters on Friday that the session had been an important “trust-building” exercise and opened the way for frank conversations on a number of topics of systemic importance.

Evidence from the new Geneva text suggests that climate delegates will have their work cut out for them in the coming months given that divergences remain on key topics such as emissions-cutting responsibility. Differences in this area almost de-railed the Lima climate talks last December. (See BioRes, 14 December 2014)

In Section D on mitigation, for example, proposals range from all parties making long-term mitigation efforts consistent with keeping global temperatures below a two degree Celsius rise relative to pre-industrial levels, to varying formulations on different levels of abatement ambition between so-called developed and developing countries. One option suggests that developed countries should reach peak emissions by this year with developing countries taking longer to do so in order to allow space for poverty alleviation efforts.  

Some parties argue that emissions abatement efforts can come at the cost of wealth creation. In early February Laurent Fabius, France’s Foreign Minister, said at a summit in New Delhi, India that the new climate agreement should not hamper countries’ growth.

Under the Kyoto Protocol regime, only developed country parties such as the US, the EU, and others, were mandated to reduce climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions, while the Durban Platform language calls for a new agreement applicable to all countries.

In light of shifting global economic wealth, some experts have suggested that the ADP talks are focusing governments’ attention on the meaning of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” (CBDRRC), a principle that emerged out of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit), and inscribed into the Convention’s founding text.  

Another likely complex issue to navigate will be questions on timeframes, cycles of contribution, and a review process. The ADP held discussions on these areas last Tuesday and Thursday.

While the Lima outcome agreed on the requirements and process for parties’ “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs), which will be the core of the global deal, parties were not able to agree on a uniform timeframe for implementing emissions cuts. The Geneva text contains different suggestions for the submission and cycles of new commitments, as well as multiple possibilities on how to review parties’ contributions, both before and after the new agreement’s entry into force at the end of the decade. 

Climate finance is also expected to be a hot topic in coming year’s talks. Parties currently disagree on the role of public and private finance as well as on finance responsibilities. The topic will likely come up in other ongoing multilateral talks such as the Third International Conference on Financing for Development due to be held in July in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (See BioRes, 6 February 2015)

Economic competitiveness questions

Some experts have suggested that the varying levels of ambition could potentially lead to economic competitiveness asymmetries or carbon leakage. The latter refers to cases where production and associated emissions move to constituencies with less stringent climate regimes.

In addition, several options in the new agreement make reference to the prospect of “unilateral measures,” in once instance specifying that these should not constitute an arbitrary or disguised restriction on international trade, echoing Article 3.5 of the original 1992 Convention.

Carbon markets debate

Over the next 10 months, governments will also need to agree on the role for market mechanisms under the new climate regime, namely whether to facilitate international carbon credit trades or crediting from emissions reduction projects, both of which exist under the Kyoto Protocol. The ADP held a specific discussion on the topic last Friday.

The current text lists a variety of options and many parties that support the use of market mechanisms stress the need to ensure environmental integrity and avoid double counting. Several parties said last week that agreement on areas such as common accounting standards for emissions units could help ensure consistency between bilateral efforts to link emissions trading schemes.

Some parties, however, remain ideologically opposed to the use of markets. Others do not think it is necessary to refer to these in the post-2020 deal text since market details could still be worked on at the multilateral level outside the core Paris agreement in decisions taken at subsequent Conferences of Parties (COPs).

Some options in the Geneva text also propose putting in place global sectoral emission reduction targets for international aviation and maritime transport within the context of the UN’s specialised agencies – the International Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The idea could prove contentious given past disputes around regulating international airline emissions. Any such action within the UNFCCC would need to align with talks among the 191 ICAO members to develop a proposal for a global market-based mechanism geared towards reducing airline emissions by 2016. (See BioRes, 16 February 2015)

Cutting fossil fuel subsidies

The Geneva text makes two suggestions for tackling fossil fuel subsidies, both contained in the finance section of the document. The first is listed in the context of reduced international support for high-carbon investments and the second in connection with leveraging private finance for better climate outcomes. The latter also includes a reference to developing an international renewable energy and energy efficiency bond facility.  

Governments are estimated to spend upwards of US$500 billion annually subsidising fossil fuels, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Fossil fuel consumption and production subsidies have been labelled by several analysts as trade-distorting given the possible effects on competitiveness and investment opportunities. Fossil fuel subsidies can also dis-incentivise investment in cleaner energy sources, critics say.

A new report from the Nordic Council of Ministers and launched by the Global Subsidies Initiative (GSI) suggests that the removal of fossil fuel subsidies could help reduce global emissions by between 6-13 percent by 2050. The report offers policymakers options for including the phasing out of fossil fuels in their INDCs. 

“Potential financial savings unlocked from reform of fossil fuel subsidies could be substantial to some countries. GSI research finds that investing a modest percent of these savings into energy efficiency – 20 percent – and renewables – 30 percent – enables low-carbon pathways for the long term,” said co-author of the report Laura Merrill from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), speaking with BioRes on Wednesday. 

Next steps

The ADP will meet again in June in Bonn, Germany to begin streamlining the Geneva text. The co-chairs said last week that they would reflect parties’ views over how to slim down the text in a scenario note prepared ahead of that meeting.

Several informal meetings will also be hosted by Peru and France, as the current and next presidents of the annual climate talks. These will be convened at the negotiator level in April and May and at ministerial level in March and May.

Various parties have said that substantial progress and dialogue between capitals at the highest level will be needed in the coming months if a deal is to be secured in Paris. The topic will also likely feature in other intergovernmental gatherings throughout the year such as meetings of G-20 and G-7, as well as the Major Economies Forum, the Petersburg Climate Dialogue, and the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment.

Parties also agreed to two further formal ADP negotiating sessions for later this year in Bonn scheduled for the first week of September and the third week of October.

Countries in a position to do so are due to start coming forward with their INDCs by the end of March. The EU has already indicated it will outline its contribution next Wednesday. 

ICTSD reporting; “Summary of the Geneva Climate Change Conference, 8-13 February 2015,” ENB REPORTING, 16 February 2015; “Global climate deal should not hamper individual countries’ economic growth: France,” REUTERS, 5 February 2015; “UN agrees new climate text for Paris deal, but hard work remains,” RTCC, 14 February 2015. 

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