The last 10 days: Setting a clear direction for the Paris climate talks

What are the main issues that still must be resolved before the world meets in Paris in December for COP21?


The climate change talks are poised to pick up momentum. A month before the UN climate change negotiations resume in August, an informal meeting of leaders from 46 nations resulted in a “breakthrough” with a consensus reached on having a 5-year review of mitigation actions as well as a regular reporting of corresponding national efforts. This sends an important political signal, as the talks also enter a different stage – when negotiators meet again from Aug. 31- Sept. 4, 2015 in Bonn, Germany, the discussions would have shifted from the mechanical exercise of streamlining the negotiating text to debating its content at a substantive level. Ways to achieve fairness, ambition and transparency in climate actions for mitigation, adaptation, technology transfer, loss and damage and finance are to be fastidiously explored by negotiators and explicated in the draft agreement.

This is, suffice to say, a critical period, as countries only have two more meetings under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – including this and another one in October – before a new binding climate change deal is to be agreed on in December in Paris.  All in all, we only have 10 negotiating days left – and each day counts.

In August, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), the subsidiary body tasked to spearhead the negotiations for the new climate agreement and pre-2020 mitigation actions, will be guided by these documents: a, revised, streamlined, consolidated text; a working document containing the outputs from the facilitation groups showing how finance, mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage would be captured in the Paris package; and a non-paper prepared by the ADP co-chairs, which should have been ready by July 24 as countries need time to review it. The non-paper will present all the options put forward by negotiating parties but will clearly distinguish what should go to the COP21 decision and what should be in the Paris agreement.

Allowing the ADP co-chairs to come up with this negotiating tool came at the closing of the UN climate change intersessionals in June, when countries expressed frustration at the laggard pace of the talks. When the negotiations in Bonn ended on June 11, countries were only able to reduce the 90-page text produced from Geneva in February to 85 pages.  While countries allowed the ADP co-chairs to take over the steering wheel by coming up with a non-paper, they were reminded by some negotiators that this output should not be used to make political statements and that it must still be open for amendments. To this, ADP co-chair Daniel Reifsnyder said that they will only “propose” and parties “will dispose.” Countries would still have the last say on whether to go with this consolidated text or to stick with the Geneva text in COP21 (21st Conference of Parties).

Stronger focus on pre-2020

What are the main issues that must be resolved? The Bonn talks ended without seeing too much progress in pre-2020 actions, or workstream 2 (WS2). This must be addressed as the new climate deal will only take effect in 2020 and WS2 was developed to explore measures to close the ambition gap on mitigation. In Bonn, countries diverged on the mandate of WS2, with developed countries such as the European Union, US, and New Zealand saying that it should only cover mitigation and the Technical Examination Process (TEP), or the identification of options to reduce dependence on fossil fuels for energy. The TEP is the arena for discovering opportunities to scale-up renewable energy in different sectors – from land to transport – and studying the viability of carbon capture use and storage. Developing countries, however, said that WS2 must also touch on other elements that will enhance pre-2020 ambition.

Complementing the objectives of WS2 is the 2013-2015 review, which is a vehicle for ascertaining the adequacy of targets for the long-term reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It was first introduced in COP16 in Cancun, Mexico in 2010. A Structured Experts Dialogue (SED) was established in 2012 to strengthen the scientific foundation of the review, along with the contact group under the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI). The SED has held 4 meetings, which was participated in by 70 experts overall. In Bonn this June, SED presented its factual report, which concluded that a global temperature of 2ºC is far from safe and that while the world is “not on track” in meeting the long-term global goal, mitigation strategies could be strengthened, though there can be economic, institutional and technological complexities.

The SED report was supposed to inform the draft decision of COP21. Countries, however, held conflicting views on one of the report’s important findings, which is that the long-term global temperature goal must be kept lower than 1.5ºC. Saudia Arabia opposed adopting this and along with China, only wanted the draft decision to reflect procedural processes and information gaps on the long-term goal.  At the SBI closing, countries lamented the lack of consensus on how to proceed with the SED report, with Maldives saying this should be a “cause for alarm.”    

Negotiators said that in August, they want to see a balanced progress between WS2 and Workstream 1, which focuses on the 2015 climate agreement. The Group of 77 and China, in which the Philippines is a part of, regards Workstream 2 on pre-2020 ambition “as an integral part of the ADP that has a direct bearing on the successful outcome of the Paris COP.”

The “Who” question

Negotiators should also find a way forward on the issues of comparability and differentiation. At the opening of the facilitation group on transparency, one of the co-chairs of the ADP, Reifsynder, likened the work of the facilitation group to doing journalism, where reporters tried to answer the questions “who, why, where, when and how” in writing news articles. Reifsnyder said that negotiators should also have these questions in mind when unpacking and consolidating the text on transparency on action and support, which covers measuring, reporting and verification (MRV) of mitigation actions, disclosure of steps taken to implement commitments and provision of finance and assistance to developing countries.

Discussions on transparency, however, focused more on the “who,” as some developing countries raised that differentiation – a cross-cutting issue – should be clarified first following various proposals redefining it. Under the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDRRC), the burden of drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions falls mainly on developed countries because of their historical emissions. They also have the duty of extending finance and technological support to developing countries. As early as February in Geneva, however, different countries have recommended that transparency should capture changing geopolitical circumstances and deviate from the two-pronged approach. EU suggested a common framework with room for flexibility and self-differentiation, which means that countries could set their own commitments depending on their national circumstances. Brazil mentioned an array of options, from no differentiation to going with CBDRRC. There are countries such as South Africa and members of G77 and China, however, which rejected outright the concept of self-differentiation.   

Another subject integral to transparency is comparability, which reflects the debates on the appropriateness and credibility of having a common reporting framework as well as standardized frequency and information of inventories of greenhouse gas houses. Some countries said in Bonn that achieving comparability could be a challenge, because developing nations may need additional support in enhancing their capacity to meet reporting requirements.  

Areas of divergence  

Under mitigation, a ticklish issue that was encountered in Bonn was the clustering of markets, land use and accounting. Australia came up with a proposal that tried to unpack the 3, pushing to the fore differences on whether markets should even be considered under this section and on the possible overlaps between land use and accounting principles, as pointed out by EU. In the last stretch of the two-week Bonn negotiations, one option in the text distinguished markets from accounting, with land use placed under markets. This was opposed by Brazil, while Bolivia said that nonmarket mechanisms should also be added. Venezuela and Saudi Arabia objected to discussing market as a mitigation tool at this juncture. Countries further diverged on what should be included in the agreement and in the decision, with some saying that rules for market mechanisms are better fleshed out in the decision.    

An illustration picture taken on July 5, 2015 in Paris, shows a mini Eiffel Tower replica set among ox-eye daisies, ahead of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21 / CMP 11) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to be held in Paris from November 30 to December 11, 2015. Joel Saget/AFP

A continuing debate in adaptation is whether loss and damage – a mechanism compared to liability and compensation for developing countries which suffered from the effects of sudden and slow-onset events – should be explicated in the text as a separate section, the former view heralded by the Least Developed Countries and the Alliance of Small-Island States. US said, however that all options on adaptation – where loss and damage currently falls under – will be considered, so there is no need for one, while EU disagreed that loss and damage should even be in the new climate agreement. Outside of textual deliberations, one bright spot in loss and damage is the completion of the membership of the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Loss and Damage Mechanism. The committee will oversee the development of the two-year workplan for implementing the mechanism.

In finance, talks centered on clustering text on scaling-up climate finance and identifying the mix of funding sources, which explores the role of contributions from governments and the private sector. Attention in Bonn was also directed to the operationalization of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the source of developing countries of funding for mitigation and adaptation initiatives. The GCF, which needs to mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020, is already open for business, so to speak. Concrete programs that it could already fund included REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) activities, as the REDD+ framework, after 10 years, has been completed in Bonn. REDD+ decisions explicitly state that countries could only secure finance if they could show that they have implemented REDD+ safeguards, or measures that minimize the potential negative effects of REDD+ actions.   

A year of new goals  

In Bonn, a number of countries submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which contained the scope of their climate actions and ambition as based on their national circumstances. As of this writing, 47 countries have submitted their INDCs so far, the latest being Japan. An assessment of INDCs will show if mitigation targets are sufficient enough to reach the global reduction goal. The INDCs are expected to be part of the new agreement possibly as an annex, paving the way for a hybrid climate policy architecture where top-down and bottom-up elements will be merged together.

A COP decision, a new binding climate agreement, and a political declaration could comprise a Paris package in December. It has yet to be determined what elements will go where and which among them will be legally-binding, but one thing is for sure: the world cannot afford not to have a new climate accord in Paris. As what Miguel Cañete, European commissioner for climate action and energy told The Guardian: there is no Plan B.  Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si’, denounced the dependence on fossil fuels and the harm it causes to the environment and to the human ecology. Leaders of both developed and developing countries must pull all stops to make sure an ambitious and fair deal will be in order. The French government has worked the political and diplomatic tightrope this year, meeting with governments of countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change such as the Philippines.

Forging a new climate agreement comes at a time when other significant goals for development are being structured – this is the year when the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2030 was crafted and the Third International Conference on Financing for Development the Sustainable Development Goals was held. The Sustainable Development Goals are also set to be finalized in September. These interlinked reform-oriented steps at an international scale usher in a new era for global governance, unity and cooperation. It’s a terrain of optimism and action that humanity would chart together. –

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