Will intense climate talks lead to progress on global deal?

Will intense climate talks lead to progress on global deal?

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Story detail:
Date: 8th June 2015
Type: Feature
Organisation: PriceWaterhouseCoopers
Tags: adaptation, mitigation, climate finance, COP21, greenhouse gas emissions, Paris, Sustainable Development Goals, sustainable development, UNFCCC

CDKN's Helen Picot and Kiran Sura, with Sam Bickersteth and Sam Unsworth, report from intensive climate negotiations this week in Bonn, Germany, where country delegates are hammering out the elements of a new global agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol.

Last week, delegates from around the world descended on the newly redeveloped World Conference Centre in Bonn, for the UNFCCC climate change talks.  Delegates are picking up a lengthy negotiating text for the anticipated 2015 international  climate agreement – due to be signed off at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris this December. It is called the ‘Geneva text’ because it was produced in Geneva in February as a starting point for detailed talks. The hope is that this Intersessional meeting will put Parties on track to reduce the lengthy Geneva text – 90+ pages  of sometimes conflicting language -  into something more manageable and to start to resolve some ongoing blocks in the process.

The February talks in Geneva  provided a catch-all text which all Parties can live with for now but which does not narrow down issues such as finance, adaptation or loss and damage. The largest elephant in the room is still lurking: differentiation in future responsibility for climate mitigation based on historical responsibility and respective capabilities.

Streamlining the text: a juggling act

The air of the negotiations has changed from  recent years. Since day one of the Intersessional, negotiators have been locked in to a (necessarily) intense process, working line by line through the draft text to pin down a final version.

Daniel Reifsynyder,  Co-chair of the Durban Platform or ADP workstream (the negotiations towards the Paris deal) urged delegates to winnow down the Geneva text by making ‘early wins on low hanging fruit’. However, this task has proven to be difficult. By juggling every objection raised by different Parties, actual changes to the text last week were slow and limited.

After three days of facilitation aiming to ‘mechanically streamline’ redundant parts of the Geneva text, Parties gathered on Thursday morning for a stocktaking session. Co-chair Ahmed Djoghlaf announced that the overall Geneva text had been reduced by only 5% thus far.

The task of streamlining text in smaller focus groups continued over the weekend. It’s a reminder of how technical the textual negotiations can be. Even the placement of punctuation is considered carefully. The Co-chairs are asked for clarification on the meaning of brackets and slashes.

The more optimistic among the negotiators hope the Parties will collectively hone the text to around 60 pages (cut by one third from the Geneva text); the less optimistic think that reaching 80 pages is the most they can hope for. Either way,  it’s hard not to feel the weight of the task ahead.

Talks take their toll on Least Developed Countries

Negotiating Groups such as the Least Developed Countries and the G77 + China cautioned that the time spent on streamlining text is eating into their valuable time to coordinate with each other. These countries have traditionally found it difficult to influence global climate talks due to their small delegations and lack of resources  - which pale in comparison to the large, well-resourced delegations of richer countries (see CDKN’s Negotiations Support page for more). And so the intensity of the current negotiations exacerbates the problems that these Parties already face when trying to cover multiple sessions in parallel. This is taking its toll and negotiators welcomed yesterday’s short break to reenergise, regroup and refocus for week two.

Events programme showcases countries’ climate action  

As negotiators were pouring over the text in some detail, side events in Bonn hosted rich discussions on some of the critical elements of a deal. These illustrate some of the national climate-related planning and action that countries have been pursuing at home as well as some of the movements in climate diplomacy outside the formal UNFCCC process: for instance,  an event on the US-China announcement was packed out.

CDKN attended several events on Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – the name for the national commitments to limiting greenhouse gas emissions , which countries are invited to submit ahead of the Paris conference (see the UNFCCC website for the official description, and visit www.cdkn.org/indc for our related features and analysis). Unsurprisingly, INDCs were the topic of the hour. CDKN and our partners at Ricardo-AEA presented our Guide to the INDCs for LDCs and SIDS at the annual Durban Forum on capacity building. This guide is based on our experiences in providing technical assistance to eight developing countries to prepare their INDCs. This theme of supporting INDC development was continued in the fossil fuel subsidy reform side event which provided practical advice on how countries can incorporate such reforms into their INDCS.

There is much interest in reviewing the INDCs, of which perhaps as many as 100 may be published before the late September deadline.   Two INDCs were published at the end of the week (Morocco’s and Peru's consultation drafts), and a new raft of submissions can be expected in the next few weeks. A Chinese representative told a side event that we can expect something from China ‘very soon’. There have been initial criticisms at a lack of ambition in Japan’s draft INDC: observers will be looking to see how much the final version differs.

Another ‘hot topic’ in the corridors is the Green Climate Fund (GCF): the international fund which is expected to channel a substantial portion of the US$100billion/year in climate finance which rich nations have committed to providing from 2020. GCF Executive Director Hela Cheikhrouhou presented a progress update to a packed room; she  signalled a clear intention to make the first project allocations in advance of COP21 – at the GCF’s October Board meeting.  The appetite for funding from developing countries is very strong, although many have yet to understand the processes necessary to access the funds.  Most developing countries anticipate they will need external as well as domestic finance to achieve their climate adaptation and mitigation commitments, and so expectations of the GCF are high. It’s evident from conversations here in the corridor in Bonn that the supply and demand for climate finance need to be better defined.

The issue of the post-2015 development agenda, which is also to be finalised this year, was raised in several forums – showing an increasing recognition of the links between climate and development, Seychelles Ambassador Ronny Jumeau said “there is no sustainable development without addressing climate – they’re one and the same”, at a side event organised by Care, WWF and ActionAid. The hope that ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be adopted in September, will increase ambition for Paris was also mentioned in several fora.

The last six months – walking the tightrope

The next ‘stocktaking session’ is planned for today (Monday 8th June) and delegates are gearing up for the real phase of negotiations to begin in this second week of the Intersessional.

Delegates have continued to praise the Co-chairs’ absolute respect for participation and a Party-led process. However the balancing act between a friendly atmosphere where the difficult issues are being skirted, and the increasingly pressing need to tackle the gritty topics is becoming harder. In a nutshell: it is hard to streamline text when fundamental conceptual issues – such as differentiated responsibility for climate mitigation - are still up for discussion.

The question of the legal form of the Paris agreement looms large. The Co-chairs are suggesting that Paris will produce a ‘package’, perhaps with both a legally binding agreement and a less binding decision. It may be the case that some of the trickiest topics get placed in the decision box.

As the EU delegate told the assembly that  there are fewer than 20 days of negotiating time left before Paris. However some can’t help but feel that the additional session planned for September and October are lulling negotiators into a sense of security – that there’s still time to hold their cards close and leave the substantive topics to later. But could they be playing with fire instead?

The French Presidency of COP21 has said if progress on the text isn’t made fast enough, they may step in and provide their own text. “We have to get a simpler text by June or the latest by the end of August to work with it,” France’s top climate diplomat Laurence Tubiana told RTCC earlier this month. “If this does not proceed from the normal process of course that will rely on the presidency of the COP in the summer to produce a new document.”

Look out for CDKN’s next update at the end of the Bonn meetings, to see whether delegates have risen to this challenge.


Image: smoke stack, credit Kris Krug, flickr.com

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