UN Climate Negotiators Set Extra Meeting to Finish Paris Agreement “Rulebook” by Year’s End

17 May 2018

Officials meeting for the annual mid-year negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bonn from 30 April to 10 May left with a formidable workload for the coming months, given the year-end deadline to craft a “rulebook” for putting the Paris Climate Agreement into action.

When the new climate accord was adopted in Paris in December 2015, details on how to implement its terms were left for future negotiations, with a deadline of this year’s 24th Conference of the Parties (COP) in Katowice, Poland, in early December. (See BioRes Paris Update, 13 December 2015)

Given the limited progress in Bonn, the UN climate body will hold another session from 3-8 September in Bangkok, Thailand. 

Negotiators look for “step change” 

UN climate negotiators in Bonn met in different formal and informal configurations under the bodies tasked with developing the Paris Agreement’s operational guidelines. 

The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA), the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), and the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) cover different aspects of the Paris Agreement Work Programme. 

These topics include mitigation, adaptation, financial and technical support, and the “global stocktake” of countries’ nationally determined climate contributions (NDCs), as well as cooperative approaches through market and non-market mechanisms, and the social and economic impacts of climate response measures.

Ensuring balanced, fair progress across different, interlinked agenda items is complicating the already challenging task of moving from open-ended discussions towards a draft negotiating text for the Paris Agreement work programme. 

Many veteran negotiators and experts say that the Bangkok meet must produce a draft negotiating text if countries wish to meet the December deadline for the rulebook. Delegates have thus mandated the APA co-chairs to prepare “tools” to help parties develop an “agreed basis for negotiations.” 

“There has got to be a step change, but it has got to be one the process can bear,” one of the APA co-chairs, Jo Tyndall of New Zealand, told Climate Home News, warning that otherwise the COP24 deadline could go unmet. 

Climate finance questions persist

Climate finance has again proved to be a critical obstacle for negotiators. Poorer countries rely heavily on external funding to deliver their climate strategies, and are reluctant to move forward on the Paris rulebook until they are confident that developed countries will uphold their collective climate finance commitments.

Developed countries have jointly committed to channel US$100 billion of climate finance annually by 2020 to developing countries. However, experts warn that this target could go unmet, partly due to the current US administration’s move to withhold US$2 billion to the UN’s Green Climate Fund. 

“The issue of finance underpins so many different parts of climate negotiations, because poor countries simply can’t cover the triple costs of loss and damage, adaptation and mitigation on their own,” said Harjeet Singh, global lead on climate change at Action Aid, an international non-governmental development organisation. 

While the EU and other donors have reaffirmed their commitment to the collective climate finance goal, concerns remain over climate finance’s overall scale and predictability. Questions about the Paris Agreement’s definition of climate finance and accounting rules are also unresolved. 

Allocation of responsibilities

The Bonn talks also witnessed a reopening of divisions over countries’ responsibilities to tackle the climate challenge. A key success of the Paris climate conference was its ability to move beyond the traditional division of responsibilities between countries at different levels of economic development, specifically by getting emerging economies to take on greater responsibility. 

Several middle-income countries are now negotiating to incorporate this division of responsibilities into the Paris rulebook, which observers say could lead to renewed political complications. 

According to some negotiators and seasoned experts, the stated intention of the US government to withdraw from the climate accord has likely contributed to this fight over “bifurcation.” However, the poorest and most vulnerable countries are urging all major emitters, irrespective of their historical responsibilities, to scale up climate action. 

Voluntary cooperation under Article 6

Negotiators made little headway on fleshing out the rules on “cooperative approaches” under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. 

The article, considered an innovative feature of the Paris accord, sets out the general direction for voluntary cooperation on countries’ individual climate action plans, including market and non-market based tools. However, most of the practical details for implementing Article 6 were left for decisions at future talks. 

The possibility of cooperating through market-based tools to meet climate targets has fuelled interest in how countries and regions could link carbon pricing schemes for trading carbon permits, thus allowing parties to meet their national plans at lower costs and reducing potential competitiveness concerns. 

Discussions in Bonn were based on an informal document prepared by the SBSTA Chair featuring draft elements on all three items under Article 6. These include Article 6.2 on internationally transferred mitigation outcomes (ITMOs); Article 6.4 on a mechanism that will “contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and support sustainable development;” and Article 6.8 on non-market approaches. 

Parties conducted two read-throughs of each section to address clarifications, errors, or other issues, after which co-facilitators issued a revised informal note. 

Parties also engaged in lengthy procedural discussions on next steps, including the need for technical papers, submissions, a roundtable, and a mandate for the co-chairs to produce a new iteration of the text. Some of the major emerging economies voiced strong opposition to all these options, one negotiator told Bridges. Parties ultimately agreed to resume discussions on all three elements of Article 6 at the Bangkok session based on the revised informal note. 

Some experienced negotiators suggest that despite the limited progress in Bonn, parties could still bring negotiations on Article 6.2 and 6.4 to successful completion at this year’s COP, though this will depend on the level of detail parties wish to include in the Paris rulebook and their flexibility for varying progress across the three elements of Article 6. 

Response measures 

Negotiators also addressed the economic, social, or environmental impacts resulting from measures used to combat climate change, known as “response measures.” Delegates focused their talks on two items: the work programme and review of the improved forum; and the design of the forum serving the Paris Agreement. 

The improved forum was agreed at the Paris conference in 2015, after the initial forum set up in 2011 completed its mandate in 2013 to implement a work programme for sharing experiences and information on response measures’ impacts. The new forum currently covers two elements: “economic diversification and transformation” and “just transition of the work force and the creation of decent work and quality jobs.” 

Under the improved forum, officials participated in a workshop on economic modelling tools related to the two areas of the work programme, which was reportedly considered useful but perhaps overly technical. Some participants suggested involving capital-based officials from relevant ministries in the future. 

Parties also agreed on the scope of the review of the improved forum, aiming to conclude the review in December in Katowice. The review’s outcome will be used to inform the forum’s work programme and modalities for when it begins serving the Paris Agreement in December 2018. 

With respect to the design of the forum serving the Paris Agreement, parties discussed an informal document outlining draft elements of the forum’s functions, work programme, and modalities. Negotiators remained at odds over the forum’s functions and work programme, with those talks to resume in September. 

Negotiations on response measures have traditionally been challenging, given their trade implications. While the trade and climate linkages are not an official UNFCCC negotiating item, response measures can affect the supply and demand of goods significantly, especially fossil fuels and carbon-intensive products. Many developing countries wish to understand the magnitude and form of such impacts. Meanwhile, many developed countries worry that they may be held accountable for potential trade and employment impacts of their domestic climate measures abroad. 

Despite these divisions, some delegates deemed the Bonn talks as constructive, which one negotiator told Bridges was due to an “atmosphere of more trust and transparency.” 

Agriculture: countries agree on future work 

Aside from the Paris rulebook, items related to the ongoing implementation of the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol advanced in Bonn. Officials agreed a “roadmap” for future work on agriculture and climate change, setting out a timetable for various workshops until November 2020. 

The activities, organised as a joint initiative under the UNFCCC’s SBSTA and SBI, builds on last November’s agreement on the “Koronivia” work programme, which sets out six major topics for officials to examine in joint sessions. (See Bridges Weekly, 7 December 2017

These topics include the socioeconomic and food security dimensions of climate change in the agricultural sector, methods for assessing adaptation in agriculture, co-benefits and resilience, improved livestock management, and integrated systems, for example. 

The first workshop will be in December in Katowice, in conjunction with COP24, according to the new roadmap’s schedule. International agencies and other actors have until 22 October to prepare submissions for consideration. Subsequent workshops are set for June and November in 2019 and 2020, and will progressively cover the six substantive topics under the work programme. 

“Hopefully we will keep the positive and constructive atmosphere,” one climate negotiator told Bridges. 

While delegates tend to see issues around agricultural trade and climate change as sensitive, they could be addressed indirectly as part of the Koronivia work on the socio-economic and food security dimensions of climate change in the agricultural sector, sources said. A workshop on this topic is set for November 2020. 

Talanoa Dialogue 

Parallel to the formal negotiations, the first part of the Talanoa Dialogue – a stocktaking exercise of climate efforts – took place in Bonn, bringing together 250 participants from governments, civil society, and academia. 

The process, named after the Pacific regional concept of “talanoa” where stories are shared to come up with solutions for the common good, was initiated and led by the outgoing Fijian COP presidency. 

The dialogue, which was shaped around the questions “Where are we?”, “Where do we want to go?” and “How do we get there?”, will culminate in a second, political phase during COP24. Whether this will result in a formal declaration is unclear, though the Fijian presidency says it hopes the dialogue can fuel greater climate ambition. 

“Now is the time to commit to making the decisions the world must make. We must complete the implementation guidelines of the Paris Agreement on time. And we must ensure that the Talanoa Dialogue leads to more ambition in our climate action plans,” said Frank Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji and President of COP23, according to a UN Climate press release

ICTSD reporting; “Bonn negotiations stall on climate finance,” EURACTIV, 14 May 2018; “Urgency Underlined as Bonn Climate Talks Close,” UN CLIMATE, 10 May 2018; “Summary of the Bonn climate Change Conference: 30 April – 10 May 2018,” EARTH NEGOTIATIONS BULLETIN, 13 May 2018; “Eyes on ministers to intervene as UN climate talks get mired in old battles,” CLIMATE HOME NEWS, 10 May 2018; “Bonn voyage: ‘Satisfactory’  session leaves the hard work to Bangkok,” CLIMATE HOME NEWS, 10 May 2018; “Rich world faces questions on who will replace US climate cash,” CLIMATE HOME NEWS, 9 May 2018.

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