Embattled UN Climate talks send complex draft text to Paris meet

29 October 2015

Following a week of tense multilateral talks in Bonn, Germany on a universal emissions-cutting regime, which often saw familiar divisions between so-called “developed” and “developing” parties re-visited, negotiators agreed to forward a ">51-page text for consideration at an annual climate meet due to start in just under five weeks.

The document includes both a 35-page “agreement” followed by 16 pages of “decisions” designed to give effect to the former. Together, these would in theory cover all manner of details relevant to the functioning and operationalisation of the new climate regime, including its purpose, long-term goal, management of individual party climate efforts, and the general supportive architecture.

A separate document on scaling up climate action before the end of the decade will also be sent for consideration at the next meet. 

Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed in 2011 to conclude a global climate deal for the post-2020 period, taking effect upon the expiry of the current Kyoto Protocol, in time for the Twenty-first Conference of the Parties (COP 21) scheduled this year from 30 November-11 December in Paris, France.

The deal should be capable of keeping planetary temperatures below a two degree Celsius rise from pre-industrial levels. To that end, all parties in 2013 agreed to submit “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) outlining at a minimum domestic mitigation efforts, with 128 of these counting the EU as one having since been presented.

Constructing the new regime

At the start of the latest round on Monday 19 October, parties squarely rejected an effort by the co-chairs of the negotiations to shorten various textual proposals made to date into a 20-page “non-paper,” eventually agreeing to make insertions to ensure key topics were not missing and the document regained “party ownership.” (See Bridges Weekly, 8 October 2015)

Throughout the rest of the week, parties engaged in recompilation and streamlining exercises to accommodate the new proposals. These talks were held in nine spin-off groups focused on different aspects of climate action that the new architecture will need to address, including mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage, finance, technology development and transfer, among others.

According to Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB), some delegates expressed concern that the process resulted in some formerly hard-won compromises being lost, with a few lamenting the lack of focus on the decision section.

Moreover, as parties grappled to build their new climate agreement across the numerous parallel groups, tensions on some long-standing and new topics also flared up, including on climate finance and the interpretation of the original 1992 UNFCCC text. 

As parties left Bonn on a chilly autumnal evening, many stakeholders said that negotiators had been waylaid by clarifying textual options rather than moving to concrete drafting and bargaining, leaving delegates facing an uphill battle to shape an effective climate regime when they meet again in Paris.

US Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern, however, informed journalists that a deal remained within reach but that governments still needed to “hack our way through specific language and it gets pretty sensitive and pretty contentious.”

Who pays?

Divisions around climate funding in poor countries are showcased in the text released last Friday. One option would see all parties take action to mobilise, or facilitate the mobilisation of, climate finance in line with their respective and evolving responsibilities and capabilities.

Another option would see just developed countries – as defined by the UNFCCC Annexes – provide new and additional financial resources to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.

A third textual option would scale up climate finance beyond 2020. And still another more specific proposal would see developed countries pledge to scale up financial resources from a floor of US$100 billion annually from the end of the decade onwards.

Some options would see parties periodically communicate relevant information on climate finance mobilisation and the policy frameworks created to attract climate-resilient investment, while others would enshrine an equal allocation of resources between mitigation and adaptation or recognise that financing for adaptation should be public and grant-based.

While developed countries in 2009 pledged to scale up climate finance to US$100 billion per year by 2020, no multilaterally-agreed definition of climate finance exists. Developing nations, for their part, have long worried that the pledge will not be fulfilled.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in partnership with the Climate Policy Initiative released a report earlier this month attempting to benchmark progress towards the financing goal, finding that public and private climate finance from developed to developing countries in 2014 was around US$62 billion, with some 77 percent allocated towards mitigation, 16 percent to adaptation, and 6 percent to cross-cutting issues.

Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko, South Africa’s lead climate delegate, said on behalf of the G77 and China negotiating group that the OECD estimate had no legal status within the UN negotiations.

“Climate change is a matter of life and death and we are dead serious about this challenge,” Mxakato-Diseko added. “We have often had to respond to crises without support. Developed countries have an obligation, as prescribed in the UNFCCC, to provide finance. Whether Paris succeeds or not depends on what we have as part of the core agreement on finance.”

Elina Bardram, head of the EU delegation, said that it was important to revisit the climate mobilisation base given shifts in capital concentration and new geo-economic dynamics.

Who takes action?

These divisions on climate finance also reflect a key cross-cutting area of tension around the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” (CBDR) between developed and developing nations on addressing climate change. The current regime only mandates emissions cuts from rich nations, while the 2011 decision prescribed efforts from all, now resulting in several competing narratives of where climate action should come from.

The CBDR principle is enshrined in the original Convention and, while last December’s annual meet saw some evolution on its application, the principle’s interpretation remains a sensitive topic. (See BioRes, 14 December 2014)

As such, many of the insertions made into the text last week focused directly on the CBDR principle and equity issue itself, with it now featuring 13 times compared to the co-chairs’ slimmed-down non-paper.

A proposal on the abatement of international transport emissions has made it back into the agreement’s mitigation section  after being left out of the co-chairs’ version, which would see parties pursue limitation or reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation and marine bunker fuels including by working with the relevant UN bodies known as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) respectively.

The mitigation section, meanwhile, also includes an option specifying that parties should “not resort to any form of unilateral measures against goods and services from developing country parties on any grounds related to climate change,” recalling several principles relating to international trade in the Convention.

International carbon markets?

A number of textual insertions were made last week regarding markets, after several parties expressed concern that references to international emissions trading were largely dropped from the co-chairs’ non-paper.

New additions include an EU proposal on avoiding double counting, complemented by another proposal from the so-called Environmental Integrity Group (EIG) which added that carbon markets should ensure “real permanent additional and verified internationally transferrable mitigation outcomes,” as well as a submission from Switzerland supporting accounting rules for international emissions transfers.

The EIG is made up of Mexico, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Switzerland, and South Korea.

Brazil, meanwhile, proposed moving a reference to a “mechanism to support sustainable development” from the decision section to the agreement section.

A plethora of options for this mechanism now exist within the mitigation section of the agreement, ranging from a mechanism which would aim to enhance mitigation ambition and the mobilisation of climate finance and incentivise cost-effective mitigation action, to joint mitigation and adaptation approaches between parties, standards for environmental integrity, and the transfer of emissions units.

The agreement’s preamble, meanwhile, would according to a Swiss proposal potentially acknowledge that “putting a price on carbon is an important approach for cost-effectiveness of the cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions.” According to the World Bank, approximately 40 nations and 23 cities are using a carbon price, either in the form of emissions trading schemes or carbon taxes.

Some experts have suggested that linking various domestic carbon markets would help deliver mitigation efforts where these are most cost-effective and have expressed concern at the slow pace of UN efforts to develop common rules for international transfers.

Nevertheless, other sources said last week that they do not expect the Paris agreement to include much on carbon markets beyond some minimal accounting rules, while suggesting that this would not be a major problem for the development and operation of international carbon markets. These experts expect Paris to provide a “hook” that would provide for the use of international emissions transfers, which could then allow interested parties to develop the rules for doing so elsewhere, or at a later date in the climate talks.

Next steps

In preparation for Paris, the UNFCCC Secretariat will soon release a synthesis report evaluating the aggregate contribution of the INDCs towards the two degree Celsius mitigation goal, although the document will not go into detailed analysis on each of the contributions.

Reviewing the INDCs and scaling these up over time are both also expected to be tricky areas to navigate.  One report by the environmental group Climate Action Tracker earlier this month found that the contributions so far would bring global warming down to 2.7 degrees Celsius, implying a significant “emissions gap.”

Last Friday’s text outlines several options for reviewing the INDCs, including around transparency of domestic climate action, global stocktaking, and facilitation of implementation and compliance. Parties are considering, among other things, setting up a review of the INDCs every five years and establishing a compliance mechanism.

Each of these areas and proposals, however, will require consensus building on the best approach and the precise mechanics. Questions remain on how the INDC process will function in practice in the coming years, as well as whether the new system will be capable of delivering the required emissions cuts and adaptation efforts. Many climate watchers contend that the answer depends in part on the operative decisions made on topics such as the shape of the review mechanism.

While negotiators will not have a chance to meet again before Paris, a pre-COP meeting between climate ministers will be held in the French capital city from 8-10 November. Key issues might also be addressed by leaders of the world’s major advanced and emerging economies at a G20 gathering in Antalya, Turkey from 15-16 November. At the close of the Bonn talks, the French presidency also urged countries to facilitate consultations between themselves ahead of the pivotal Paris meet.

ICTSD reporting; “Copenhagen ghost haunt climate talks,” BBC, 23 October 2015; “Climate finance dispute slows U.N. talks as time runs short for Paris,” REUTERS, 23 October 2015; “Summary of the Bonn Climate Change Conference,” EARTH NEGOTIATIONS BULLETIN, 25 October 2015.

This article first appeared in the Biores, 28 October 2015.

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