Climate negotiations move into unknown territory


Climate negotiations move into unknown territory

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Date: 27th May 2016
Type: Feature
Tags: COP22, Marrakech, Paris Agreement, UNFCCC

CDKN's Kiran Sura, Daphne Amevenu and Ben Bostock report on the past week's international climate change negotiations in Bonn, Germany, which had a 'End of the Beginning' feeling as countries move into implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The heat of the moment

Slowly but surely, the world is breaking temperature records for a third year running.  Could 2016 become the hottest year on record - we wonder - after seeing parts of India recently reach 51 degrees Celsius? UNEP reveals that the cost of adapting to climate change could end up costing $500 billion per year by 2050. This is a poignantly timed reminder that while UN delegates deliberate, the real impacts of climate change are already being felt.

The UNFCCC intersessional negotiations in Bonn continued the ‘End of the Beginning’ feel following the adoption of the Paris Agreement - the global, legally binding document on climate change - in December 2015. The lack of an imminent (delivery) deadline definitely had a noticeable impact on the energy in the World Conference Centre in Bonn.

The opening speech was given by Christiana Figueres, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary. Her speech included a call for a focus change from negotiation to implementation. Perhaps with the uncertainty of what work lay ahead, there was warranted caution in the room.

Despite the uncertainty, delegates were hopeful for progress in further negotiations. The Ad hoc working group on the Paris Agreement (APA) (set up to negotiate the agreement’s implementation in December 2015) saw the debut of two women co-chairs – Sarah Baashan (Saudi Arabia) and Jo Tyndall (New Zealand). The support for their selection was palpable, with many parties expressing their genuine excitement and warm sentiments in their APA opening speeches.

Delegates were faced with the high level of complexity of the next phase of negotiations following the Paris Agreement. The new APA group is set to work alongside the existing permanent subsidiaries, Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), but it seems that there will be overlap despite efforts to avoid this. The UNFCCC Secretariat are developing a public tracker to monitoring progress across the different constituted bodies – to ensure that nothing will slip through the cracks.

Early arrival?

The various aspects of the Paris agreement are interlinked making it challenging to separate the aspects into the various negotiating groups. Also, the timeline for the next phase of negotiations is less than clear. The next major milestone is the entry into force of the agreement. This happens when 55 UNFCCC Parties to the agreement, accounting for 55% of total greenhouse gas emissions ratify the Paris Agreement domestically.

This is expected to occur earlier than 2020, which is the current proposed date. The US, China and France are all looking to ratify soon, and the EU will also begin its long ratification process this year – so there is much hope for an early adoption.

But - can a workplan be delivered with an unknown deadline?

Setting the agenda straight

The initial days were dominated by debate over the agenda. Developing countries challenged the mitigation focussed agenda – it did little to allow equal weighting to other issues of imminent significance to them, such as adaptation and finance. On one hand, there was trepidation that adding in any more topics to the agenda would risk diluting both purpose and momentum. Yet on the other, there was a fear that issues which weren’t included at this stage would lose priority, or be forgotten about if they weren’t raised now.

The APA agenda was adopted after five days of negotiations, and it emerged that an adaptation communications agenda item had been added in, following interventions by many developing countries on this. Agenda items around Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the global stocktake and implementation all remained from the original proposed agenda. Some negotiators had initially hoped for a quick adoption of this, and for a greater sense of urgency – while others felt it important to take time to come to a compromise on what is an important step in setting up an effective workplan for the next five years. Details needed to be robust and acceptable to all parties in order to go the distance. As Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, Chair of the LDC Group, said: “We need a holistic approach. For example, there's a lot of talk about transparency. But it should not be limited to transparency of action, but also in regard to transparency of finance, of support.”

The SBSTA, as a technical body, met to develop technical information on matters such as financial resources and agriculture. The SBI supports effective implementation, and met to discuss matters such as a review of capacity-building under the Kyoto Protocol, and modalities and procedures for the NDC registry. These bodies often meet in tandem to the APA – which can stretch some party delegates quite thinly. It is important for developing countries to be able to have their delegations participate across all negotiation bodies – which can be a challenge for some without enough support.

Talk of the town

Renewable energy technologies were also the talk of the town across the negotiations. The Least Developed Country (LDC) group, with the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) released a statement on a renewable and energy efficiency initiative for least developed countries, which was supported by Ambassadors from Sweden and Mali. This followed on from the launch of the African renewable energy initiative at COP21 last December – and was complemented by a number of parties’ calls for COP22 in Marakesh (November 2016) to be the "renewables COP". This was part of a broader desire to promote COP22 as a move away from the rhetoric of the Paris Agreement to action and implementation.

Workshops included significant focus on NDCs – which, following the Paris Agreement, are the implementable versions of the ‘Intended’ NDCs. At a five hour NDC session, Christiana Figueres voiced the sentiment of many parties in the sessions – the need for clear roadmaps to NDC implementation – detailing how to get to the next level of granularity. This is one of several pillars of the Paris Agreement alongside defining the framework or rulebook for the Paris Agreement. The first step of operationalising the agreement is to define the framework considering how progress is monitored, reported and how ambition is reviewed periodically. Following design of this framework, there will be a much clearer roadmap set out which NDCs will be a significant part of alongside topics like climate finance – on which developed countries will soon be expected to detail how they will reach the $100 billion a year commitment.

Much of the talk in the corridors, however, was around the uncertainty of the  NDCs' ambition. If all NDC targets were met, we still wouldn’t keep global warming under the two degree limit, (let alone the 1.5 degree target) outlined in the Paris agreement. How can an increase in ambition be ensured?

The Climate Queen

Negotiators waved goodbye to Christiana Figueres at her last round of negotiations. She handed over the baton to Patricia Espinosa, (and received a special rendition of a classic ABBA tune retitled ‘The Climate Queen’). Patricia is taking up the reins in a tough time of uncertainty – and will need to re-instil a sense of urgency into the talks.

Yet, amongst the uncertainty there existed a noticeable sense of unity between the parties. True ambition was underlying their inputs in Bonn. But how this will be catalysed into action is still to be determined.



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