UN Climate Talks on 2015 Deal Begin Ramping Up

20 March 2014

This year's UN climate negotiations kicked off again last week in Bonn, Germany with delegates dipping their toes into what is expected to become a torrent of negotiations over the coming year. Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have targeted the December 2015 Conference of the Parties (COP) due to be held in Paris, France as the deadline for agreeing to the terms of a new global climate change treaty.

Attended by delegates from over 200 countries, the 10-14 March meetings focused on accelerating formal negotiations under the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP). Established at COP 17 in Durban, South Africa, the ADP is tasked with moving negotiations towards a successful conclusion in Paris. (See Bridges Trade BioRes, 19 December 2011)

The ADP must also outline actions to close the "ambition gap" between current pledges and the cuts needed to prevent atmospheric warming below the internationally agreed 2°C target. In addition to the core focus of the ADP, last week's Bonn session also convened several technical expert meetings, focusing on renewable energy and energy efficiency respectively, as part of the ADP's second tier focus on pre-2020 ambition.

Contact group established

The beginning of the week-long meeting saw the G-77/China group call for a "contact group" under the ADP to serve as the format for negotiating a draft climate agreement, and lengthy side-debates on this topic reportedly held up establishing the formal agenda.

Over the past two years, negotiations towards the 2015 text have been conducted in "open ended" consultations. The Warsaw COP last November saw the ADP tasked with beginning to elaborate elements of the draft negotiating text for the new climate deal, sparking reflection on the group's mode of operating. (See Bridges Trade BioRes, 24 November 2013)

Last week, concerns were expressed by some parties that the contact group format could result in an unwieldy text liable to sink the process. Nevertheless, Parties ultimately agreed to set up a contact group last Wednesday.

"The challenge is...to shift from an informal mode of work to a formal, transparent, and participatory negotiating process...the time for that is now," said Naderev Sano of the Philippines, speaking on behalf of several developing country negotiating groups.

Procedural issues have been a point of contention since ADP's inception, with the spectre of the failed 2009 Copenhagen negotiations - where high-level meetings behind closed doors largely shaped the final document - haunting these latest talks.

Divisions over responsibilities continue

This latest ADP session also saw old divisions open up again over "nationally determined contributions" (NDCs), slated as the building blocks of the new deal. A last-minute inclusion during the ADP plenary in Warsaw, analysts later deemed the reference ambiguous in relation to the binding and universal targets of the new agreement.

Parties are expected to submit their NDCs by the first quarter of 2015. The EU - which has in the past pushed for tougher language in this area - reiterated its position that these NDCs would need to be mandatory given the aim of the overall agreement.

Although the world's largest emitters, the US and China, have pledged to work closely together on the process, their individual formal submissions ahead of the March meeting seemed notably discordant over whether to place different levels of responsibility for reducing emissions on developed and developing nations.

Washington has called for countries to move beyond past disagreements, while Beijing emphasised that developed countries should continue to "take the lead" in mitigation, and "undertake commitments on economy-wide targets for absolute quantified emission reduction below their 1990 levels in accordance with their historical responsibilities and as required by science."

China's submission also requested that developed countries do more to promote, facilitate, and finance the transfer and access to technologies to developing countries, including by removing obstacles related to intellectual property rights (IPRs).

Under pressure

Parties are now set to begin more formal discussions under the contact group at the UNFCCC's annual mid-year Bonn negotiating session from 4-15 June. UN climate chief Christiana Figueres welcomed the shift, while warning that the timing would be tight to deliver the main elements of a potential Paris deal by December's COP in Lima, Peru.

"The next nine months will require all nations to raise their eyes beyond business-as-usual in order to counter the threats and deliver the multiple opportunities from moving rapidly towards a cleaner, healthier, low carbon world," Figueres said.

Other participants called on the world's largest emitters to end their protracted stand-off.

"The US and China should see that they're the worst bad boys around, and everyone knows that, so they should try to make amends," said the Marshall Islands' UN Ambassador Amatlain Kabua. "The big countries have a bigger role because they have the means, they have the resources. In the Marshall Islands, we have only fish to trade with."

The intersessional meeting in June will include the participation of ministers, which commentators suggest may prove a litmus test of political will. Other parallel events have been set up to help spur momentum toward both Lima and Paris, including the UN Secretary-General's highly anticipated Climate Summit in September.

ICTSD reporting, "U.N. climate talks make shaky start to year as procedures questioned," REUTERS, 11 March 2014; "Trust deficit blocking progress at UN climate talks," RTCC, 17 March 2014, "Bonn Climate Change Conference," EARTH NEGOTIATIONS BULLETIN, 17 March 2014.

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