UN climate talks make marginal progress in Bonn, eye July paper

18 June 2015

The co-chairs of a multilateral group tasked with hammering out a new universal climate deal received a mandate to draft a more concise, coherent and streamlined suggested text at the close of talks last Thursday in Bonn, Germany. The new document, set to be released at the latest on 24 July, will not be a formal draft text but will be geared towards helping move negotiations forward.

The move came after delegates struggled to make headway during a fortnight of negotiations on a 90-page draft negotiating text. The result of talks held in Geneva, Switzerland in February, the draft text contains a myriad of proposals from countries on what to include in, and arrangements for, the new agreement.

According to a document released by the co-chairs of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), Ahmed Djoghlaf of Algeria and Daniel Reifsnyder of the US, the “tool” will consolidate the “Geneva Negotiating Text” and present countries with a clearer view of options on the table in various sections.

It will also make suggestions on which paragraphs of the Geneva negotiating text might be included in the new agreement and which might be placed in a multilateral decision that would adopt it at the twenty-first Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), scheduled to be held in Paris, France during the first two weeks of December.

“It’s a very risky assignment in a sense. If we get it wrong we could send the whole process backwards,” Reifsnyder told delegates in the closing session of the June negotiations last Thursday. “On the other hand, if we get it right, we can spur the process forward.”

While parties broadly endorsed this approach last week, a negotiating coalition largely representing so-called developing countries known as the Group of 77 and China cautioned that the new document should not prejudge the sequencing or prioritisation of issues, and others urged the co-chairs to proceed with great caution.

Meanwhile, two new national climate action plans were released during the Bonn session, courtesy of Morocco and Ethiopia. Parties have agreed that individual “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs) will form the building blocks of the new emissions-cutting agreement, which should enter into force at the end of the decade, replacing the current Kyoto Protocol.

Twelve INDCs – including one covering the 28-members of the EU bloc –  from countries responsible for 31.6 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, have been submitted to the UNFCCC Secretariat to date. This includes one submission covering 28-members of the EU bloc.The EU and Morocco said last week that they will co-host an informal forum, outside the official process, in October to examine INDCs submitted by that time.

Edging towards Paris

An 85-page non-paper representing parties’ efforts at streamlining some parts of the Geneva negotiating text was made available last Thursday. A working document is also online documenting the state of play by the end of the meet on various sections of the draft text, which range from mitigation, to adaptation, capacity building, and financing. 

Work undertaken in Bonn on the Geneva negotiating text largely resulted in some mechanical streamlining of repetitive proposals, with different sections progressing at different speeds. In some areas, parties did start to discuss conceptual issues and the structure of the text, yielding a variety of results.  

During the closing plenary Laurence Tubiana, the special representative of the incoming COP21 French presidency, said that Bonn had been a critical moment for building trust between parties. Tubiana also signalled an upcoming 20-21 July informal ministerial consultation as an occasion that could help tackle politically thorny issues, although textual negotiation would not be on the cards.  

A number of players such as the EU, however, warned that the negotiations would need to speed up in the coming months aided by the co-chairs’ tool. “We cannot have another session of tinkering around a repository of everything and anything,” Elina Bardram, head of the EU delegation to the climate talks, told reporters last Thursday.

Also speaking with journalists, ADP co-chair Djoghlaf hit back at charges that the latest round of talks had been too slow in light of the December deal deadline, suggesting instead that significant strides forward had been made on the “complex” process of getting to a workable text.

Some parties last Thursday did raise concerns around progress on the ADP’s second work stream, which focuses on boosting climate action before the end of the decade. Five informal consultations on the topic were held during the Bonn meet with parties expressing support for developing a text on pre-2020 ambition to adopt in Paris.

However, some differences emerged on what to include under the so-called “workstream two” decision, with proposals ranging from increased mitigation pledges under the current Kyoto Protocol, scaling up climate finance and mobilising additional private sources of support, the transfer of environmentally sound technologies, and addressing the negative and economic social consequences for developing countries of the implementation of climate action by developed nations.

In order to boost discussion on the topic later in the year the G77 and China and the African Group of Negotiators called on the co-chairs to draft a paper based on views expressed during the Bonn session and further submissions made intersessionally.

Green light for forests

While delegates laboured through the Geneva negotiating text in the ADP, last Tuesday yielded a positive result for technical negotiations on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the sustainable management of forests (REDD+), under the UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).

With tropical deforestation and forest degradation accounting for between seven and 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, as a result of agricultural expansion, infrastructure development, and destructive logging, REDD+ programmes would provide results-based finance to developing countries for preserving and using forests sustainably.

Following agreement in Bonn on three outstanding issues related to methodological guidance for REDD+, country-based programmes can now move to full implementation on the ground, after nearly ten years of negotiations. A number of experts have suggested that climate finance to forest conservation and sustainable use projects has been shortcoming in recent years due to a lack of clarity on project guidance.  

The decisions cover the operationalisation of safeguard information systems, non-market based approaches, and non-carbon benefits. Safeguard information systems are deemed important by some countries to ensure REDD+ activities are country driven, transparent, and sustainable. The “non-carbon benefits” deal would also place a value on social benefits of protecting forests and the non-market based approaches decision offers guidance on joint mitigation and adaptation projects.

No deal on carbon markets

Discussions on other forms of market-based tools, however, saw little progress at the June session. Talks on a framework for various approaches (FVA), a new market based mechanism (NMM) at the multilateral level, complemented by non-market-based approaches (NMA) ­– which could establish common rules for climate mitigation efforts with international scope ­– saw some exchange on accounting frameworks and the necessary domestic and international arrangements, how best to monitor, report, and verify mitigation outcomes under these tools to ensure the quality of mitigation outcomes, as well as discussions on the concepts of net decrease and avoidance of emissions.

A bid to secure draft conclusions recording this discussion and pledging to continue work was then scuppered last Monday. Parties reportedly continued to disagree around the mandate for the talks, the relationship between SBSTA work and proposals for markets in the Paris deal, and some continued ideological opposition to the use of market-based mechanisms for climate action.

Proponents of the FVA, such as the EU, Switzerland, Mexico, Japan, and New Zealand, among others argue that common accounting and environmental standards for international mitigation markets ­– when emissions-reductions pledged by one country are achieved in another nation – would be essential to avoid double-counting and ensure valid climate outcomes.

The FVA and associated tools discussion has also been buffeted by the political winds of the ADP. Several countries have made proposals in the Geneva negotiating text on the use, or not, of market-based mechanisms in the new climate regime. Suggested text ranges from ensuring that internationally transferred units are not double-counted, using carbon markets to raise climate finance, enhancing the international offset Clean Development Mechanism, to limiting the use of international market based mechanisms. 

Markets were accordingly discussed in Bonn under the ADP facilitated group on mitigation where the topic sparked debate. Some parties also remained opposed to placing so much emphasis on the discussion around markets.

Some analysts have expressed concern that without internationally-agreed standards, the universal participation in the new deal could cause confusion around the additional mitigation value of market-based transfers, or hold back cost-effective reductions.

 “Carbon pricing will take different forms that will need to be accommodated,” said Andrei Marcu, Senior Advisor at the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), during a side-event last week.

Marcu explained that if countries wanted to trade domestically created emissions reduction units, some sort of international validation would be required, although it was not yet clear how the Paris deal and accompanying decisions might address this.

Response measures to return in Paris

Under the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and SBSTA, parties agreed last Wednesday to forward a bracketed draft decision on a forum and work programme on the impact of the implementation of response measures for consideration at their next session, scheduled for the December COP21 meeting. Parties are also invited to submit their views to the Secretariat on the shape of the work programme and modalities for its implementation by 21 September.

The UNFCCC mandates that parties should take into consideration the needs of developing country parties arising from the impact of climate action, known formally as response measures. The topic has proved complex to navigate, however, with parties disagreeing at recent sessions on how to take forward the work of a forum whose two-year mandate expired in 2013. (See BioRes, 14 December 2014)

Some experts have suggested that asymmetric climate policies can impact trade flows and alter competitiveness, while certain climate actions such as the removal of trade barriers could help boost the diffusion of clean energy. 

The bracketed draft decision from Bonn would continue and improve the forum on the impact of the implementation of response measures as an opportunity for parties to share views and facilitate analysis and assessment in this area with a view to recommending specific actions. A particular focus would be assigned to the provision of concrete examples geared towards helping developing countries deal with the impact of developed parties taking climate action.

The improved forum would meet twice a year at the UN climate talks. The work programme would focus on economic diversification and transformation, as well as a just transition of the work force, and the creation of decent work.

The bracketed draft decision was put together by the co-facilitators late on Monday night, after parties struggled to work with a separate bracketed draft text containing several options on the way forward for dealing with response measures in the multilateral climate talks, forwarded from a negotiating round held last December in Lima, Peru.

Key tensions during the first week of negotiations in Bonn reportedly revolved around elements to include in a potential work programme, whether or not to refer to the potential for positive impacts from unilateral climate action, and continued discussion on the appropriate format for this work moving forward.

According to some officials, response measures is another topic held sway by the political dynamics of the ADP negotiating track, with several relevant proposals also on the table therein.

Busy agenda ahead

Parties and stakeholders alike will now eagerly await the July release of the co-chairs’ “tool.” A flurry of diplomatic exchanges at high-level UN meetings and ministerial confabs are also penned into the international agenda for the weeks ahead.

In addition, the climate topic is likely to be addressed in the context of other international processes this year, including the ongoing post-2015 development agenda and financing for development talks.

Two further ADP sessions are also currently scheduled before the December Paris meet, from the 31 August to 4 September, and 19-23 October.

As delegates streamed out from the closing plenaries last Thursday into a temperate Bonn evening, climate watchers suggested that the next few months may well be crucial in determining whether COP21 will be concluded with “no tears, no crises,” in the words of France’s Tubiana.

ICTSD reporting.

This article originally appeared in Biores.

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