UN Talks Target Streamlined Text for New Climate Change Pact

4 June 2015

Talks on a planned universal climate deal kicked off in Bonn, Germany on Monday, with delegates from just under 200 nations working on slimming down a sprawling draft text spanning nearly 90 pages, the result of a February negotiating session. The main sections of the text cover, among others, topics such as emissions mitigation, climate adaptation, finance, and technology development.

The new climate deal is due to be agreed at this year’s UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) annual meet in Paris, France this December, and will come into effect at the end of the decade. It will at that point replace the current Kyoto Protocol, which only requires developed country parties to undertake emissions reductions.

Bonn ambitions

As outlined by the co-chairs of these talks, Daniel Reifsnyder of the US and Ahmed Djoghlaf of Algeria, the 1-11 June session should result in a shorter, more manageable negotiating document than the current version, as well as an outline of a draft decision that would likely adopt the planned Paris agreement.

According to officials in Bonn, this will require delegates to start the process of bargaining over various proposals and paragraphs in the current draft text, as well as making progress on the legal structure of the final deal.

Negotiators might also need to start determining the key political and systemic issues that will require ministerial-level discussion in the coming months. In a surprise move in May, however, France’s chief climate diplomat Laurence Tubiana told reporters that Paris would step in and produce a text if countries fail to make clear progress on whittling down the text by the end of August. 

Opening the Bonn talks at the start of the week, France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who will chair the December meet, suggested work on four key pillars would help to define its success: a universal, legally-binding agreement; national climate action plans; finance, technology, capacity-building, and means of implementation (MoI); and the involvement of non-state actors.

A statement by Sudan on behalf of African ministers, delivered on Monday at the meet’s opening plenary, recalled a vision outlined by the group in March for the Paris deal to respect the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” The statement also called for giving equal weight to climate mitigation and adaptation, operationalising a global goal for adaptation efforts, and boosting climate finance. (See Bridges Africa, 10 March 2015)

New climate architecture

The pressure is on for the new deal to deliver ambitious international climate action against the backdrop of warnings from the scientific community that escalating greenhouse gas emissions could curb economic growth, well-being, and seriously set back development aims.

At last December’s climate talks in Lima, Peru, countries agreed that the new deal will be comprised of national contributions containing at least a mitigation component, as well as possible efforts on adaptation.

Some 38 nations have submitted their national climate contribution plans to date, each with varying information, timelines, and ambition levels. Together, these account for around one-third of global territorial emissions, and 33 percent of global goods exports.  

In a recent joint statement, India and China promised to submit their respective contributions in due course. Japan has also signalled its intention to submit its plan by July.

The UNFCCC secretariat has been tasked with publishing a report in November on the aggregate ambition of the individual country climate efforts that have been put forward by October. Parties are aiming to do enough to bring temperatures below a two degree Celsius rise above pre-industrial levels. Some developing countries, however, have said this is not sufficient given the consequences they will face.

Key leaders in these discussions, such as UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, have warned that the Paris deal alone will likely not do enough to tackle climate change and an essential aspect of the negotiations should revolve around a review mechanism to ramp up action over time.

Discussions around the long-term direction of the new deal may also be influenced by a G-7 leaders’ meeting scheduled to be held in Germany’s Elmau valley this weekend. Several experts have speculated that the gathering could see the group call for a long-term decarbonisation goal.

The decisions made in the UN climate talks could help signal a new era of green investment and growth, experts say. Green energy investments increased by 17 percent in 2014 compared to the previous year, according to a UN-sponsored report. However, fossil fuels continue to command annual subsides of around US$550 billion, approximately four times those for renewable energy.

Moreover, some analysts have said that how the new bottom-up climate structure will support other processes tackling international challenges – such as the post-2015 development agenda currently under negotiation – remains to be seen in implementation. Other questions involve how such a system will square away with a globalised economy and interact with international trade rules.

Pricing carbon

In a recent letter to the Financial Times, the chief executives of six European energy groups signalled their intention to seek direct talks with governments on creating a global carbon pricing system.

The move echoed calls made at a May business and climate summit by French President François Hollande and key business chiefs for the introduction of effective carbon pricing to tackle climate change. (See BioRes, 26 May 2015)

Conversely, in the context of the multilateral climate talks, countries remain divided on the role for market-based mechanisms in the Paris deal. Some countries remain ideologically opposed to the use of such tools to address environmental issues. Others have made textual proposals on the use and purpose of markets under the new climate regime. 

Efforts to write the rules on international coordination among carbon markets in the technical work undertaken in the UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) have proved slow in recent sessions. These talks largely echo positions held in the Paris deal negotiating track.  

Switzerland, on behalf of several other countries, has submitted a proposal supporting the need to draft internationally agreed environmental standards in order to ensure that emissions units are not double-counted between regimes, as well as represent viable mitigation efforts. 

Unilateral climate action

Joint negotiations under the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and SBSTA are also continuing on a bracketed draft text on how to deal with the impact on third parties of the implementation of response measures to climate change – in other words, climate action’s side effects.  The talks have touched on issues such as whether export or development opportunities are hampered by unilateral climate action.

At last December’s climate meet, delegates were unable to agree on how to take the subject forward, with some countries pushing for the establishment of a dedicated mechanism to deal with the impacts of such measures. (See Bridges Weekly, 18 December 2014)

Reports from Bonn suggest that parties opened negotiations this week with little movement on positions. Informal consultations are being held throughout the week in a bid to broker consensus on the subject.

Editor’s note: Additional analysis on the Bonn talks, including a longer version of this briefing, is available in the latest edition of Bridges Trade BioRes, a monthly trade and environment-focused periodical also produced by ICTSD, the publisher of Bridges.

ICTSD reporting; “Expert views: Countries meet in Bonn to restart negotiations on UN climate deal,” CARBON BRIEF, 1 June 2015; “U.N. climate deal in Paris may be graveyard for 2C goal,” REUTERS, 1 June 2015; “European energy groups seek UN backing for carbon pricing system,” THE FINANCIAL TIMES, 31 May 2015; “Climate deal must avoid US Congress approval, French ministers says,” THE GUARDIAN, 1 June 2015.

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