UN climate talks in Bonn push forward on Paris pact

2 June 2016

Officials convening in Bonn, Germany, for the first round of UN climate talks held since the conclusion of a new universal emissions-cutting deal reached in Paris, France, last December made cautious progress on sorting through a myriad of agenda items related to its operationalisation.

The 32-page Paris Agreement outlined the structure for a climate regime that will see all countries make contributions to the mitigation effort, expressed in so-called nationally determined contributions (NDCs). This also includes common transparency efforts and five-yearly global stocktakes on the progress towards achieving the agreement’s long-term goals, which are intended to drive compliance.

The deal further outlined adaptation goals, as well as finance and technology provisions. The details for many of these activities, however, still need to be fleshed out. (See BioRes, 13 December 2015)

According to meeting reports, the 16-26 May gathering in Bonn represented a good step forward in adopting a roadmap for future work, while falling short in some areas in advancing technical discussions.

Some sources said that several countries were behaving as though Paris never happened, trying to renegotiate specific items. Agreement on the agenda for the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA), the body tasked with steering the elements of the deal’s implementation, by the end of the first week was nevertheless heralded as progress.

Key areas up for discussion under the APA include further guidance on the features of NDCs as well as information to facilitate clarity and transparency around them. Other issues include accounting guidelines, further guidance on adaptation communication, modalities and guidelines for a transparency framework, and matters related to a global stocktake and a mechanism to facilitate implementation.

The APA’s work will be complemented by negotiations on some items in pre-existing subsidiary bodies of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that also kick-started work last week.

Figueres bids farewell

The Bonn gathering was also the last UNFCCC meeting for Christiana Figueres, the Costa Rican diplomat who has served as its Executive Secretary since 2010. At the opening of the talks, the outgoing official repeated her mantra that “impossible is not a fact, it is an attitude” – a phrase that also served as the theme of a related TED Talk she gave earlier this year.

“On the global stage of human endeavours there are many challenges that today seem as intractable as addressing climate change did just a few years ago. As I depart from these halls and head for the next, I take inspiration from your efforts and your accomplishments,” she said, according to a transcript of her remarkspublished by Climate Home.

“I know that it is precisely at the points of greatest human need, that we can and must all rise to our highest sense of purpose,” Figueres continued.

Figueres will be succeeded by Mexican diplomat Patricia Espinosa Cantellano, who was appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month.

2018 finish line?

The timing of the Paris Agreement’s entry into force – and the various steps needed to do so – was one area of speculation heading into the Bonn talks.

“My bet is 2018, everything will be done (in) a maximum two years,” Laurence Tubiana, France’s climate ambassador, told Reuters last week, adding that “there was no shouting, no crying” that would have signalled bigger problems with the Paris pact.

Parties held informal discussions last week on a potential early entry into force of the Paris pact before the finalisation of supportive arrangements. If the Paris accord does indeed enter into force ahead of schedule, several parties said that this development would not affect the rights of all parties to participate in the rulemaking process and suggested several procedural options to ensure this outcome.

Some 17 parties have already deposited their instruments of ratification of the Paris accord, following a high-profile signing ceremony held in April at UN headquarters in New York, where 177 parties signed the deal. The agreement will come into force 30 days after 55 parties representing 55 percent of greenhouse gas emissions have signed and ratified it. (See Bridges Weekly, 28 April 2016) 

Cooperative approaches

As part of the Paris outcome, parties recognise in Article 6 that some nations may pursue voluntary cooperation to implement their nationally determined contributions, and agreed to elaborate guidance for activities involving the use of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes (ITMOs).

In theory, this leaves space for a range of different cooperative approaches, such as linking carbon markets, as the EU and Switzerland have already agreed to do. Experts argue that linking schemes could help address competitiveness and carbon leakage concerns related to different levels of climate action or effective carbon prices between various economies. (See BioRes, 26 January 2016)

Article 6.4 also establishes a voluntary mechanism that has as its objectives the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and the advancement of sustainable development. Within that, a designated body shall be established that will, among other things, work to support slashing emissions in one country that can be used by another to demonstrate achievement of its NDC.

Parties also established a framework for non-market approaches under Article 6.8 of the Paris accord.

During the Bonn gathering, parties began discussion on each of the above items under the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). While procedural debates remained minimal, sources said that the exchanges signalled the need for much work at the technical and political levels.

Internationally transferred outcomes

Addressing the ITMO topic in informal consultations, parties debated the nature and types of those transferred outcomes, along with governance arrangements. A key point of divergence centred on precisely what the ITMO guidance should refer to among the three elements mentioned in Article 6.2.

Specifically, Article 6.2 says that voluntary cooperative approaches using these transferred outcomes should “promote sustainable development and ensure environmental integrity and transparency, including in governance, and shall apply robust accounting to ensure, inter alia, the avoidance of double counting.”

One group of countries considered that this should only apply to robust accounting, while another group of countries suggested that it also applied to those references involving sustainable development, along with environmental integrity and transparency.

The first group claims that they will have to report on how they promote sustainable development and ensure environmental integrity as a matter of transparency, but that there is no requirement to follow UNFCCC guidance, preferring instead to follow domestic standards in these areas.

Voluntary mechanism: past systems, new considerations

Regarding the mechanism, parties discussed similarities and differences between this and an existing Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto Protocol, which has enabled offsetting projects between countries with and without emissions-cutting obligations. Another issue raised in Bonn was that the Paris Agreement will be far different from the Kyoto Protocol in practice, given that the former will be a universal accord requiring mitigation efforts from all parties, which will have implications for the new mechanism.

In addition, parties diverged over what the Article 6.4(d) pledge to “deliver an overall mitigation in global emissions” actually means – a topic which some climate observers expect will be a tricky one to address in future talks.

Furthermore, while parties seemed to agree that the new mechanism includes a “scope of activities,” it was not clear by the end of the session precisely what these were. One proposal by the US is to do an inventory of elements in existing mechanisms to see what might be carried forward, but this was opposed by some other parties.

Non-market approaches, future talks

On non-market approaches under Article 6.8, parties considered potential definitions and scope in order to gain more clarity on this item, although progress in this area proved slow, with disagreement over a proposal to solicit technical papers from the UNFCCC secretariat as inputs. 

Three reflection notes issued on Saturday 21 May by the co-chairs of the talks, Hugh Sealy of the Maldives and Kelley Kizzier of the EU, take stock of the exchanges regarding ITMOs, the voluntary mechanism, and non-market approaches. 

Parties ultimately agreed to focus on arriving at a common understanding on these three items at the UNFCCC’s Twenty-second Conference of the Parties (COP22), due to be held in November in Marrakesh, Morocco. Submissions by parties and observer organisations on each of the topics is called for by 30 September.

Response measures

Parties also reached a series of conclusions related to the improved forum and work programme on the impact of the implementation of response measures for the 2016-18 period. They also kicked off talks on what shape this forum should take under the Paris Agreement.

The technical term “response measures” refers to the social or economic impacts on third parties that come from the implementation of climate activities in other nations. Parties agreed in Paris to the improved forum after its previous two-year mandate expired in 2013. The topic, while acknowledged as important in an interconnected world where climate action intersects with macroeconomic factors, has proved at times challenging to address. 

Parties agreed last week to a specific work programme and accompanying timeframes for the improved forum. This would include technical papers and workshops on economic diversification and transformation, along with a just transition of the work force and the creation of decent jobs, as well as an in-forum discussion on the potential need for economic modelling tools and a related workshop.

The conclusions also contain terms of reference for ad hoc technical expert groups that should advance the work of the forum as appropriate. Furthermore, some parties expressed interest in holding a high-level event on economic diversification and sustainable development at COP22.

Regarding the continuation of the forum under the Paris Agreement, parties and observer organisations areinvited to submit views by 12 September on possible modalities, a work programme, and functions, which will be considered in November.

G-7 climate, energy push 

International climate efforts were also given a political boost from last week’s G-7 summit, which brought together leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union.

Meeting in Ishe-Shima, Japan, leaders called upon all parties to approve the Paris accord so that it can enter into force this year, along with making their own respective commitments to enact their NDCs promptly and making these more ambitious in the future.

They also pledged their support to a series of other climate and energy-related objectives, such as the elimination of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies on their part and calling upon other countries to do the same by 2025.

Leaders also highlighted their political commitment to the adoption of a global market-based measure on aviation emissions at the upcoming triennial assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), along with a phase-down amendment on hydrofluorocarbons to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Both of those processes are vying for outcomes this year. (See Bridges Weekly, 19 May 2016 and 14 April 2016, respectively)

ICTSD reporting; “Summary of the Bonn Climate Change Conference: 16-26 May 2016,” IISD REPORTING, 29 May 2016; “’Honeymoon over,’ rules for U.N. climate pact may take two years,” REUTERS, 26 May 2016; “Christiana Figueres: Impossible is not a fact, it is an attitude,” CLIMATE HOME, 27 May 2016.  

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