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OPINION: Temperature check on the Paris summit – fragmented talks impede progress

Kiran Sura leads the Climate and Development Knowledge Network’s negotiations support team.

During the first week of COP21, the most significant feature for me was the disconnect between the political statements made by heads of state on Monday and the process that has ensued in the talks, since. Granted this was to be expected to some degree, but it hasn’t delivered the momentum the French Presidency was hoping for. The all-too-familiar negotiating dance has prevailed. Testament to this has been the lengthy interventions restating long-standing positions on issues such as differentiation, finance and loss and damage (‘differentiation’ refers to different expectations for developed versus developing countries for cutting or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions, while ‘loss and damage’ refers to the losses and damages that cannot be avoided no matter how much societies try to adapt to climate change impacts).

The needs of developing countries are being heard in some quarters:  some developed countries are coming forward with additional financial pledges (to the Least Developed Country Fund for example) and support for a global 1.5C temperature goal, which is more ambitious than the 2C goal of before. However, these actions have clearly not been sufficient to build trust in the process and to encourage parties to move towards some common ground.

The big issue blocking progress is the set-up of the negotiating process itself – it’s creating a myriad of spin-off groups that is fragmenting or constraining the ability of negotiators to slim down the text in any meaningful way. The key possibilities lie in the intersection of issues, where trade-offs and synergies can be identified. But little time has been given to this.  When cross-cutting issues have been discussed the usual grandstanding has ensued.

As we move towards the end of negotiations in this second week, I expect that the Paris summit will deliver some form of a deal, but clearly there will still be much detail to be agreed after the gavel comes down. It will therefore be critical for any deal to provide sufficient hooks after the Paris summit to ensure that countries review and scale up ambition over time in a just and equitable manner. There must be a clear process and framework for establishing the ‘rules of the deal’.

The Paris process is different to Copenhagen (the UN climate summit of 2009, which was widely viewed as a disastrous missed opportunity), because the political momentum in the lead up to, and now during Paris – with the largest gathering of world leaders ever – has been unprecedented. This has been bolstered by and has also catalysed a groundswell of activity by provincial governments, the private sector, cities and others. Ultimately however, regardless of the strength of the scientific, economic and moral arguments for action, it is only with political will on the part of governments that a positive negotiating outcome will be reached. 

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One response to “OPINION: Temperature check on the Paris summit – fragmented talks impede progress”

  1. Allan Zhang says:

    A good summary of the negotiation progress. It’s not surprising to have those grandstanding issues and the drag in making any real progress, given the divergent views and expectations. But hopefully by the end of the day, there will be slim document in place that is meaningful and actionable.

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