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OPINION: High stakes for the first round of climate talks in 2015

Last week, governments met in the Palais des Nations, Geneva for the latest round of UN talks to agree a new draft negotiating text for a global climate deal.  Kiran Sura and Helen Picot of CDKN report.

The stakes were high as countries reconvened for the only session bringing countries together before May 2015: the deadline for when the negotiating text for a potential climate agreement in December in Paris must be put on the table. In Paris, Parties are aiming to sign a deal that commits all to action on climate change from 2020 onwards. So there was no plan B.

Going all in

The new Co-Chairs of the talks, Daniel Reifsnyder (United States) and Ahmed Djoghlaf (Algeria) invited Parties to submit their own additions to the text produced at the last climate summit in Lima. Parties appeared to see this as an opportunity to add their longest ‘wish list’ to the text, in the hope that some of their wishes would be granted when the gavel falls in Paris.  As a result, the draft text ballooned from some 38 pages to 86 pages in just a matter of days. You can be sure that it won’t be so quick to negotiate this back down in size.

And that’s because all of the thorny issues are still up for negotiation in the final 86-page draft text, including each country’s share of responsibility for reducing emissions, and finance for reducing emissions and addressing the impacts of climate change. For developing countries, greater parity between mitigation and adaptation, and loss and damage are still in contention.

Noticeably, the draft negotiating text also includes ambitious language around global mitigation efforts; including possible inclusion of the 1.5 degree Celsius target and net-zero emissions by 2050. Wording around gender, indigenous peoples and intergenerational equity also features strongly in the preamble. At the end of the summit, 18 countries signed the Geneva Pledge on Human Rights and Climate Action – a real breakthrough for climate justice.

While some expressed concern about the ever-expanding content of the draft text, parties on the whole widely praised the democratic, inclusive and transparent process established by the new Co-Chairs. Friday’s wrapping up session showed a broad appreciation that the Co-Chairs had helped drive forward a text that Parties feel they own.

Ambassador Sareer of the Maldives, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, stated that ownership and trust in the process had been restored. Giza Gaspar Martins, Chair of the Least Developed Countries negotiating group, was also positive about the text. In an interview with RTCC, he said: “It’s everybody’s text… [with] which every Party is comfortable in terms of it reflecting their respective positions.”

Rules of the game still unclear

The next move, to cut down (or ‘streamline’) the 86-page draft negotiating text, represented the first real negotiating issue of the week, and saw tensions rising for the first time in plenary. There was frustration at the lack of clarity on how to move the draft text forward and as Parties left Geneva this remains the case. An obvious starting point is to remove duplication in the options that have been put forward, but once this low-hanging fruit has been picked, how will the remaining text be streamlined? This will be the first true test for the new Co-Chairs, and is a real threat to talks in Bonn this June if not clear by then.

Time for many countries to show their hands

So where are we left after a week of largely good-natured negotiations, which notably finished right on schedule? The pressure is on. There is much to negotiate and not much time left to do it. The UNFCCC decision to add two further negotiating sessions in the second half of this year reflects the huge workload parties face between now and the Paris climate summit. The EU warned that the bare minimum had been done in Geneva, and that a serious turn of pace will be needed to avoid a last minute deal in Paris.

However, Geneva seems to have kindled a sense of renewed collaboration. One observation from Geneva is that while almost no official negotiating took place, the corridors bustled with delegates taking the opportunity to parley informally. The rapid progress through the schedule inside the plenary meant that parties had more time than expected for bilateral meetings between countries to start unpicking the thornier issues and exploring areas of common ground.

[Some] Parties are expected to submit their contributions to a global 2015 agreement by the end of March. The expectation is that these will fall far short of keeping emissions in check to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (the threshold beyond which the science tells us climate change will reach dangerous levels); but it will be the first sign of how committed Parties are to securing a fair and ambitious deal, and what Parties need to come prepared to negotiate in Bonn in June 2015.


Image: Lake Geneva, courtesy Kosala Bandara,

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