Letter from Europe: Stage set for climate deal

Talks in Geneva resulted in the draft negotiating text for the final agreement in Paris in December


Shreerupa Mitra-Jha | March 4, 2015

#climate change   #united nations   #geneva  

The climate change talks held under the Ad Hoc Working Group of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) in Geneva in February resulted in an important 86-page negotiating text. This text is a draft for a final agreement that parties will scramble to clinch at the Paris Climate Summit in December this year. It was an unusual affair not only because it produced a draft owned by all 194 nations, no less, but also that it ended on time – though climate meetings are renowned for ruffling diplomatic feathers, and overrunning deadlines.

“While Lima left us despondent, Geneva has breathed a positive breath of optimism,” said Juliann Richards of the Climate Justice Programme.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), denied any major disagreements and said there were “no procedural debates” and “delegates came in a good mood and [were] going in a good mood”.

The Geneva text, as it is now known, has more than doubled its volume of 40 pages from Lima going towards Bonn, the next venue for climate negotiations in June. However, the text is non-attributional and its legal form is undecided. Most importantly, the draft has not been streamlined yet — when redundancies are deleted and similar points merged, a checkered process where the deletion or merging of a word is fought over.

The new co-chairs of the ADP, Ahmed Djoghlaf of Algeria and Dan Reifsnyder of the United States, invited countries to share all of the language the parties would like to see in the negotiating text for a climate agreement. In the words of Elina Badram, the head of the European Commission on Climate Action, “the text contains all options and options within options and all levels of options which reflects the diversity of opinion of parties.”

On being prodded by a journalist as to how one would know a particular country’s position on an issue since the text is non-attributional, Badram replied quickly, “But the positions are well known,” revealing the hard faultlines that have historically existed between climate negotiating parties.

Though the conclusion of the talks with a tangible outcome of the negotiations text has been hailed with much fanfare, however, the crunch issues that are at the core of these negotiations will test the diplomatic latitude of the most seasoned politicians in the months to come. Like Badram aptly pointed out, “June will be a little more difficult [than February].”

Common responsibilities?

The Lima talks in December 2014 were saved from a collapse by a hair’s breadth. On the last day of the meeting, the then co-chairs produced a draft that was unacceptable to the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDCs) including India and China and also the Africa Group. The issue of much tussle was the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ (CBDR)—a concept that has been the cause of much heartburn among climate diplomats.

The then president of the Conference of the Parties (CoP), Peruvian environment minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, had to intervene with emergency meetings and finally a draft was produced that was accepted by the member states.

CBDR is a principle under the UNFCCC which states that though all countries are required to act to achieve climate goals but developed countries are required to undertake greater emission cuts owing to their historical responsibility of bringing the situation to such a pass. The developing countries also have to undertake cuts but they have to be supported by finance and technology transfers from the developed countries.

The CBDR tenet of the Convention is being challenged by the US, EU and other developed nations. During the six-day talks in Geneva the US proposed to redefine the basic categories of the UNFCCC as regards mitigation commitments by replacing the term ‘developed countries’ with ‘parties in Annex X’ and ‘developing countries’ with ‘parties not included in Annex X’ and ‘parties in Annex Y’ when referring to ‘developed countries’ providing support for finance, technology and capacity building. The proposal would effectively obliterate the categories of developed and developing countries in climate talks.

India, as well as the LMDC, BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China) and the Africa Group have fought tooth and nail against this proposed paradigmatic shift. The fight will form a pertinently tricky negotiating hurdle through the talks leading to Paris. While the US called the present categories “untenable”, Ravi Shankar Prasad, head of the Indian delegation at the ADP, said “You cannot change the basic categories of the Convention. The ADP mandate is to work under the UNFCCC. If you want to change the Convention, then have a separate forum for that but this is not the forum.”

Much negotiating space, especially during the last three days of the ADP, was consumed with the issue of prioritising work stream (WS) 1 — enhancing ambition in the pre-2020 period — or WS 2 —commitments post-2020.

India as part of the LMDC has argued that there is much time before 2020 and if the developed countries want commitments post-2020, they must fulfill their part of the deal. India stated during the talks that “the pressing question before us is that are we in suspended animation in the pre-2020 period or have we suspended ambition till the post-2020 arrangements are in place?” Through multilateral assessments, part of the newly established International Assessment and Review (IAR) process for developed country parties, “it was learnt that only a few countries have met their target under the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol”, India added.

The EU and the US, however, want to focus on Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDCs)—post-2020 pledges for reducing emissions in the green talks.

Many countries have accused the US, Japan and others of double standards because with all their insistence of commitments post-2020, the US is not a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol— an international agreement under UNFCCC which commits its parties to binding emission cuts.

IPCC estimates that developed countries have to reduce emissions by 20-30 percent by 2020 to keep global average surface temperature from rising by 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The US has announced its plans to cut its emissions by an equivalent of about 3 percent by 2020 and around 14 percent as compared to 1990, much below what IPCC advises.

This issue generated much debate and will continue generating heated exchanges in the immediate future negotiations.

Representing the LMDCs, Malaysian diplomat Gary Theseira said, “We have always maintained that there should be a balance of work streams. We think that during the course of the week there has been an imbalance partly because the parties are gravely concerned what their commitments are going to be post-2020. Time slots haven’t been allocated for similarly strong relevant paragraph discussions from Warsaw and Cancun.”

An expensive green paint

The third point of contention that will require high diplomatic attention before a final climate agreement is the issue of a mitigation-centric approach of the developed countries to the talks. The developing countries argue that there is an attempt to delink mitigation from technology transfer and financing and thereby going against the basic principle of UNFCCC.

“We want a forceful implementation of the Convention which consists not only of mitigation but technology transfer, financing, capacity building and adaptation. The $2.5 billion per year for the capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) promised by the developed countries has not started coming. There is time to 2020 and those also need to be implemented,” said Prasad.

At the end of the ADP, Tasneem Essop of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), observed, “There is a huge gap and the gap needs to be filled and it is not just a mitigation gap but a finance and a technology gap as well.”

Essop’s view is supported by Martin Khor, head of the South Centre, a Geneva-based intergovernmental organisation of developing countries who argues, “Developed countries wanted to confine the scope of the INDCs to only mitigation, while developing countries wanted all the elements to be covered, including on what developed countries will provide as regards their contributions for finance and technology transfer to support the developing countries’ mitigation and adaptation actions in the post-2020 period. How could developing countries be expected to submit what they can do on mitigation when they do not know whether financial support is forthcoming and if so, how much?”

Countries who require support for adaptation and technology transfer say there has been only a trickle of funds and the developed countries have thus far not delivered on their promise of either financing or technology transfer.

EU, however, maintained that it was committed to supporting technology transfer and financing. “The initial capitalisation of GCF was quite successful and delivered $10 billion in a relatively short time and that $10 billion was not the only climate fund that was available [to the developing countries],” said Badram.

“If we have to achieve the 2 degrees goal then we need trillions not billions for that. How do we do that on our own? It is important how you concretise mitigation,” said Seyni Nafo, spokesperson for the Africa Group in the ADP when asked about the developed countries commitments towards financing.

The issue of intellectual property rights (IPR) in green technologies will also be an elephant in the room in the Bonn negotiations. India has stated that it needs funds from the GCF to access climate smart technologies and to meet the full cost of IPR of environmentally sound technologies to address climate change. The issue has the support of the LMDC and the Africa Group.

“While IPR is very important for developing countries to protect endogenous technologies, perhaps, more often than we care to admit IPR does constitute a barrier to technology transfer. The first step for developed countries would be admitting to any degree that IPR might impede the flow of environmentally sound technologies,” said Gary Theseira, Malaysian diplomat and spokesperson for the LMDC.

Dynamic evolution

The EU and the US have stressed that the principle of CBDR should be viewed through the lens of an “evolving dynamism”— an argument that India and the LMDC have rejected. Bardram stated that “dynamism has to be enshrined as a central part of the treaty” and “should be capable of responding to evolving science and realities of geopolitics”. The EU and the US argue that geopolitical realities have changed since 1992 and developing countries, especially India and China, should undertake financing commitments as well — essentially point out that the principle of CBDR has evolved.

Bolivia, speaking on behalf of the LMDC, said in an opening statement of the ADP that “concepts or approaches such as ‘evolving CBDR’ or ‘Parties in a position to do so’ are not consistent with the Convention and are not acceptable.”

Ilze Pruse, head of the Latvian delegation to the EU, argued in the course of the sessions that the EU has a global emission of 7-8 percent but China is responsible for 25 percent emissions which should also be taken into account for a just climate deal. The “evolving dynamism” paradigm would not be restricted to mitigation but would also be extend to financing. The EU expects India and other emerging economies to contribute to the GCF after 2020, stating that “geopolitical realities have changed significantly since the early days of the Convention.”

“It is unfair for the US to expect developing countries to also take on the same type of obligation as itself. Even large countries like India and China were not responsible for historical emissions which have led to global warming. These countries have to meet their basic needs and ensure sustainable development with great challenges like a huge population. If the US has this unhelpful attitude then it will not lead to a climate agreement and negotiations will go on for years,” said Meena Raman of the Third World Network, a Malaysia- headquartered NGO of developing countries.

Finally, an issue which in the assessment of Juliann Richards has “the potential to make or break the Paris agreement” is the negotiation on loss and damage. ‘Loss and damage’ refers to elements that need to be taken into account when climate change impacts go beyond what countries can adapt to. So for instance, the Philippines faces typhoons ever so often but can do little to “adapt” to such a situation.

Coupled with adaptation challenges is the often neglected but pertinent condition of climate refugees who bear the violence of climate change. Mariam Traore Chazalnoel of the International Organisation of Migration says, “The issue is gaining prominence in the UNFCCC talks but is still just a passing reference. It is a huge problem.”

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), 22 million people were displaced by disasters brought on by natural hazard events in 2013—triple the number displaced by conflict for the same year. More than 600 events were recorded in 2013 of which 37 involved mass movements of 100,000 to four million-plus people. The largest displacements happened in Asian countries.

The LDCs and every other developing country have made it clear that either the Paris agreement includes the element of loss and damage or there is no agreement at all. However, the US refuses to broach the subject as a standalone element or even an element in the future climate settlement.

“It is hard for me to imagine an outcome from Paris that does not address the concerns of the most vulnerable countries to climate impact. At the moment they [the parties] are very far apart,” Richards observed.

There are quite a few meetings between now and Paris for the heads of state and power wielders to deliberate on a climate agreement—the G7 meeting, the G20 meeting, the MEF, UNGA sessions, etc. However, the Geneva text for negotiation will be opened only thrice, in June, September and October, before the alarm bells for Paris go off. Geneva was a surprise but the meetings in Bonn will hopefully not go the familiar path of floundering climate change talks.


(The article appeared in March 1-15, 2015, issue)



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