UN climate talks shift to negotiating mode toward 2015 agreement

17 June 2014

The latest round of UN climate talks saw countries move into negotiating mode on some of the substantive details that will need to be hammered out over the next 18 months in order to successfully deliver a global climate deal by the end of next year.

Meeting from the 4-15 June in Bonn, Germany for their annual mid-year session, delegates to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) made progress on defining the scope of national contributions slated as the building blocks of a new multilateral agreement on climate change.

The idea of national contributions, or “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs), emerged after a marathon-like 38 hours of straight negotiating at the latest annual Conference of the Parties (COP) held in Warsaw, Poland. (See BioRes, 24 November 2013)

According to BioRes sources, exchanges during the last two weeks in Bonn represented a decided shift towards more formal negotiations on the scope, content, and timing of countries’ 2020 contributions as well as on other draft elements of the new climate agreement. A number of parties also provided written submissions outlining their views before and during the meeting. 

At the 2011 COP in Durban, South Africa, parties to the UN climate convention agreed to negotiate international climate rules capable of keeping the world below a two degree Celsius temperature rise from pre-industrial levels by the December 2015 COP, due to be held in Paris, France.

Countries have decided that the new deal will scale up ambition on tackling climate change over the coming years, as well as define action beyond 2020, with the latter serving as a replacement to the current Kyoto Protocol. Kyoto, signed in 1997 and implemented from 2005, commits only industrialised nations to various reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The division of responsibility between developed and developing countries has since proved to be a highly sensitive issue in the talks, often setting big players such as the US and China at loggerheads with each other. In Durban, parties agreed that the new deal would have legal force under the UNFCCC and be applicable to all parties, thus engaging developing countries in mitigation efforts. Even so, the extent to which the latter will be required to contribute remains a contentious issue.

The latest talks in Bonn, however, received a much-needed boost in the form of news that the Obama Administration had unveiled plans to slash emissions by 30 percent from 2005 from all existing American power plants. Hints also emerged around the same time of willingness from Beijing to limit China’s absolute zero emissions in the future. (See BioRes, 9 June 2014)

Getting to text

The opening of the two-week long meet saw the co-chairs of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) ­– the primary negotiating track for the 2015 deal – issue a draft text on the information parties will be required to include in their post-2020 plans for national contributions.

The draft text move initially proved somewhat controversial, however, with some countries questioning whether the co-chairs had the mandate to put forward such a document, while others viewed it as a useful facilitator of discussion. The co-chairs repeatedly stated during the sessions that they wished to maintain a party-driven process.

Some observers suggested the draft text nevertheless facilitated a shift towards more detailed discussion. For example, among the more thorny debates in this round of talks was what to concretely include in countries’ INDCs. Some parties would like to see a focus on both adaptation and mitigation, while others stressed that the former could be more difficult to incorporate. The question of whether financial commitments would also be offered up in the INDCs was also raised.

Another heavily discussed topic was whether or not to review the national contributions. Certain countries have called for a review process prior to the Paris COP in order to leave room for scaling up contributions that fall short and to call out any free-riders. Others are less enthusiastic for a strong pre-deal assessment, with the rationale for reluctance varying between different parties. 

Timing, finance

Closely tied to the review question is the timeline for the coming months. In Warsaw, parties decided that countries in a position to do so would file their INDCs by the first quarter of 2015 and that an initial draft text of the overall 2015 deal would be tabled by December 2014. In Bonn, key players such as the US and the EU indicated they would meet the March 2015 contribution deadline, while China said it would do so by June. Other countries, however, have indicated they need more time.

On efforts to scale-up pre-2020 climate ambition, a number of parties said that this was necessary to generate trust and confidence for sealing a new deal. Developing countries have also warned that finance will be a critical game changer.

At the 2009 climate meet, developed countries agreed to provide US$100 billion per year by 2020 to help poor countries cope with climate change. Observers have suggested that the level of finance received by the recently operationalised Green Climate Fund (GCF) in the coming months will colour the tone of negotiations at the next COP scheduled for December in Lima, Peru. (See BioRes, 21 May 2014)

To prepare for that meeting, the ADP Co-Chairs Kishan Kumarsingh and Artur Runge-Metzger indicated that they will produce a “non-paper” containing a summary of parties’ current views on the draft deal, as well as new draft proposals on INDCs and pre-2020 ambition by July for consideration at a resumed session of the ADP from 20-25 October in Bonn. 

In a press statement released on Sunday, the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group said that the progress in Bonn was welcome, but more work was needed on the road ahead.

“We hope that we will advance on elements for a draft negotiating text to be agreed in the major climate change meeting later this year in Lima, Peru. This means that the coming months of climate change talks are critical,” said LDC group chair Prakash Mathema. “We must put our heads together and start drafting the new agreement,” he continued. 

Review of response measures forum concluded

The June climate meet also saw work undertaken across a range of other issues – including some relevant to the trade community – discussed in the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI).

Towards the end of the second week, a joint SBSTA-SBI contact group on response measures reached conclusions welcoming its previous work, while leaving the door open for further discussion on how to take the subject forward in the climate talks.

Parties established a forum and work programme on the “Impact of Implementation of Response Measures” with a two-year mandate at Durban COP to discuss the impacts of measures countries take to mitigate climate change. Among the issues that have been touched upon in the forum is the concern that export opportunities will be hampered by “unilateral action” to mitigate climate change.

Although the most recent Warsaw COP saw parties agree on the usefulness of discussion in this area, divisions emerged on an appropriate format for next steps. A final text was ultimately rejected by the G77 and China, which called for the mention of a “mechanism.” Developed countries remained opposed to that idea, arguing that the forum would be flexible enough to address concerns raised by developing countries. 

The Bonn text, secured after some protracted haggling between parties and a brokered compromise on problematic language, includes an annex with submissions from the EU, G77 and China, and the US reviewing the work of the forum. A second annex lists separate proposals from the EU and G77 and China on the structure of future work.

With two draft proposals now on the table, work will continue in Lima towards reaching an agreement on the best way of addressing the subject in the climate negotiations. The UNFCCC Secretariat will now also prepare a technical paper on areas of convergence as well as a synthesis paper of all documents prepared as part of the work of the forum in the past two years, and an invitation is extended to both parties and observers to submit views by 22 September on options to strengthen cooperation related to response measures.

Progress on technology, agriculture

This round of talks saw the eventual successful adoption of the joint annual report of the Technology Executive Committee (TEC) and the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) for 2013, respectively the policy and implementation arms of the UNFCCC’s Technology Mechanism. A synthesis report on technology needs assessments was also adopted.

The 2013 joint annual report was originally scheduled for wrap up in Warsaw, but some problematic language around intellectual property in the conclusions of the report scuppered a positive outcome.

The transfer of clean energy technologies has been deemed an important part in helping developing countries reduce their emissions, but certain aspects in this area such as intellectual property rights (IPR), have been among the more contentious issues in the climate talks.

On the agriculture front, after some wrangling between the EU and G77 and China, parties decided on the scope of the work in this area for the next two years.

This includes four more workshops to be held at SBSTA sessions in June 2015 and 2016 focusing respectively on the development of early warning systems and contingency plans in relation to extreme weather events, assessment on the risks posed to agriculture from various climate change scenarios, the identification of adaptation measures, and the identification and assessment of farm practices and technology to enhance sustainable farming with reference to food security. 

Although climate threats to food systems are an increasingly discussed topic, the issue is not yet a formal part of the UNFCCC negotiations. Moving ahead, questions remain as to whether agriculture will be part of the 2015 agreement, and if so, as a separate issue or in a land use cluster.

High-level summit ahead

While delegates left Bonn with a cautious sense of optimism given the reported constructive nature of the talks, the next major pit stop on the road to Paris will be the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s high-level climate summit scheduled for 23 September in New York, US. The summit aims to allow heads of state to provide a boost to the climate talks in the form of capitalising the GCF or commitments on INDC submissions. 

“Though the progress here in Bonn by negotiators was heartening, there’s not enough on the table,” said Martin Kaiser, Head of International Climate Politics at Greenpeace. “Heads of Governments need to get involved to make the tough choices negotiators can’t,” he continued.  

Corridor conversations in Bonn also frequently referred to the ongoing negotiations towards a proposal for a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs), which kicked off again for their penultimate session this week in New York. A zero draft put forward at the end of May includes two alternatives for a stand-alone climate goal, with reports indicating this area has proven to be one of the more tricky topics in the discussions. A proposal on the SDGs is due to be made mid-July, for consideration by the UN General Assembly in September. (See BioRes, 9 June 2014)

ICTSD reporting.


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