Leaders at the February 2015 UNFCCC conference in Geneva. Photo courtesy UNFCCC.
The final year of U.N. talks aimed at producing a new global climate agreement kicked off this week in Geneva. As negotiators wrestle with the working draft of the new agreement, it’s clear that all the core issues remain very much in play.
The talks, under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), were launched in 2011 in Durban, South Africa, and are to conclude this December in Paris. The aim is a post-2020 agreement “with legal force” and “applicable to all.”
The more immediate goal in Geneva is to produce a “draft negotiating text,” which technically must be in circulation at least six months before Paris. But the text emerging from Geneva will be very far from a finished product. The starting point this week was a 39-page collection of parties’ proposals forwarded from COP 20 in December in Lima. By mid-week, the working draft had grown to nearly 90 pages.
The unwieldy text reflects the wide disparities remaining on all the core issues in shaping the Paris agreement.
Countries will soon begin submitting their “intended nationally determined contributions” to the agreement. That these INDCs (focused primarily on constraining greenhouse gas emissions) will be “nationally determined” suggests that the agreement will have a strong “bottom-up” character. Much of what’s at issue is whether and how to blend in “top-down” elements to create a hybrid agreement that delivers both broad participation and stronger ambition.
Here are some of the core issues for the year:
Differentiation – Developed countries want to do away with the stark differentiation seen in the Kyoto Protocol, which set binding emissions targets for developed countries only. But most developing countries are resisting the proposed alternative: accepting a de facto self-differentiation as countries tailor their contributions to their own circumstances.
Finance – More than $10 billion was pledged recently to support mitigation and adaptation in developing countries through the newly established Green Climate Fund. Developing countries are trying to hold developed countries to their commitment to mobilize $100 billion a year in public and private finance by 2020, and want assurances of increased flows in the years beyond. Developed nations want to broaden the circle of donor countries, so the onus is not entirely on them.
Adaptation – Developing countries argue that the UNFCCC historically has been too mitigation-centric and adaptation has gotten short shrift. Many fought unsuccessfully in Lima to include adaptation in the scope of INDCs (countries can address it if they choose to), and are now pushing other ways to devote more attention and resources to the issue.
Legal character – Beyond a stipulation that the agreement will have “legal force,” there’s no consensus on precisely what form it will take – or, more importantly, which particular elements will be legally binding. While the United States, for instance, might be prepared for binding procedural commitments (such as commitments to make a nationally determined contribution, and report on its implementation), it opposes binding emission targets.
Transparency – Existing UNFCCC requirements for the reporting and review of countries’ efforts are bifurcated: a more rigorous system for developed countries than for developing. Developed countries are pushing for a common framework covering all parties.
Ambition – The initial round of national contributions will not reduce global emissions enough to meet the goal of limiting warming to 2°C. Some parties are pushing, and others resisting, a mechanism to bring parties back to the table at regular intervals to up their contributions.
Despite the slow pace in the negotiating room, there are encouraging signs from capitals that Paris could in fact deliver a meaningful agreement.
The joint announcement last year by the United States and China of their respective post-2020 targets showed that both want a deal. Add in the European Union, which also has announced its target, and that accounts for more than half the world’s emissions. India, meanwhile, has begun devoting more attention to climate change, with the new prime minister telling his diplomats this week to “shed old mindsets” and help the country position itself as a leader.
Ten months out, it’s dangerous to venture predictions. But if the political will among the major economies keeps strengthening, Paris could prove our best chance since the UNFCCC’s launch more than 20 years ago for a balanced, durable agreement that – while it won’t solve climate change – will help put us on track.
As Rio+20 negotiators rush to complete a consolidated text of outcomes before heads of state begin arriving tomorrow, participants at hundreds of side events are calling on business and government to take stronger action on clean energy, poverty elimination, food security, oceans, sustainable cities, green technology development, education, and more.
On Sunday at the U.S. Center pavilion, C2ES and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) convened a panel of companies, small-business innovators, and business representatives highlighting the critical roles played by each in promoting low-carbon innovation and sustainable development.
Over the past five years, countries have been working through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to strengthen the measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide. Because these issues are especially important to the United States and China, C2ES has been partnering with Tsinghua University to convene informal discussions among MRV experts from both countries.
In late 2010 with Tsinghua, we organized a workshop in Beijing on Reporting Practices Related to Climate Change and Other International Challenges. This initial gathering focused on MRV at the international level. Last week, we co-hosted a second workshop in Washington, D.C., on Domestic MRV of Climate Efforts.
While the issues can quickly become highly technical, it’s important to remember why stronger measurement, reporting and verification are so important: MRV contributes to stronger greenhouse gas mitigation by building confidence among countries, helps them track national and international progress, and provides opportunities to learn from one another’s experiences. In his opening remarks, Professor Teng Fei of Tsinghua University characterized MRV at the domestic level and MRV of international action as two sides of the same coin.
A new round of climate talks opened this week in Bonn, Germany, with the ambitious goal of reaching a comprehensive legal agreement “applicable to all Parties” by 2015.
Countries agreed to launch the new round last December in Durban, South Africa, as part of a package deal that also keeps the Kyoto Protocol alive, at least for now. The so-called Durban Platform negotiations offer governments the chance to consider new approaches and—one can hope—commit themselves to meaningful action.
Since the start of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 15 years ago, there’s been tension between two competing models—binding targets-and-timetables vs. voluntary pledge-and-review. And in actuality, parties have now constructed both: the first in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the second in the parallel framework that emerged in Copenhagen in 2009 and was further developed in Cancún and Durban.
Pew Center on Global Climate Change presents:
MULTILATERAL CLIMATE EFFORTS BEYOND THE UNFCCC
UN Climate Change Conference
Monday, June 13, 6:15 – 7:45 pm
Ministry of Transportation, Room RAIL
This event features presentations and discussion of options for addressing climate mitigation through other multilateral regimes – including the Montreal Protocol, LRTAP, ICAO and IMO – and implications for the future direction of the UNFCCC.
- MARCO GONZALEZ
Executive Secretary, Ozone Secretariat
- EIVIND VAGSLID
Head, Air Pollution and Climate Change, International Maritime Organization (IMO)
- TETSUYA TANAKA
Environment Officer, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
- HARALD DOVLAND
Former Chair of the Executive Body of the CLRTAP
- ELLIOT DIRINGER
Vice President, International Strategies, Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Event Presentations and Related Report
Kicking off the new year, we released an update of its Climate Change 101 series. Climate Change 101: Understanding and Responding to Global Climate Change is made up of brief reports on climate science and impacts; adaptation measures; technological and business solutions; and international, U.S Federal, State, and local action. Last released in January of 2009, the updated reports highlight the significance of the global negotiations, climate-related national security risks, local efforts to address climate change, the most recent predictions on global temperature changes, and more.
This post orginally appeared in the Opinio Juris blog.
Oh, how much difference a year — and lower expectations — make!
The BBC report on the Cancún meeting declared that “if Copenhagen was the Great Dane that whimpered, Cancún has been the Chihuahua that roared.” Never mind that the Great Dane’s whimper was about the same decibel level as the Chihuahua’s roar. Last year, expectations were sky high for a new legal agreement that would extend, complement or replace the Kyoto Protocol, so the non-binding Copenhagen Accord was a major disappointment. This year expectations for the Cancún Conference were extremely low, so an outcome that essentially incorporates the Copenhagen Accord into the UNFCCC process is seen as a big win.
This post also appears in National Journal's Cancún Insider blog.
CANCUN – So what accounts for Cancún’s success? I can see a number of factors that thankfully conspired to produce the most tangible progress in the U.N. climate talks in years.
The first, without doubt, is the savvy and skill of the Mexican diplomatic corps. The Mexicans have been widely praised for doing their utmost to keep the negotiations inclusive and above-board. Less noted, but equally important, was the firm hand they maintained in the crucial closing hours. Taking the very practical view that consensus does not mean strict unanimity, they refused to allow a vocal minority to impede the will of the vast majority. In short, they ensured that everyone had their say, even if all didn’t get their way.
This post also appears in National Journal's Cancún Insider blog.
CANCUN – We’ll see tomorrow here in Cancún whether countries are ready to move past binding-or-nothing in the international climate effort.
For the past five years, negotiators have deadlocked over whether and how to extend a legally binding climate regime beyond 2012, when the first Kyoto targets expire. In that time, over countless sessions, the U.N. climate talks have produced little in the way of tangible results.
Cancún is an opportunity for a more sensible approach.
CANCUN – We need a new paradigm – one that recognizes the importance of a binding treaty, but appreciates that getting there will take time.
For 15 years, the primary thrust of the UNFCCC negotiations has been establishing and extending a legally binding regime: the Kyoto Protocol. This preoccupation has probably precluded more modest steps within the UNFCCC. Worse, it has produced a perennial state of stalemate.
In a new report we are releasing today, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change calls for a more “evolutionary” approach. Looking at other multilateral regimes, the report shows how most have evolved gradually over time: incremental steps build parties’ confidence in the regime and one another, leading to a greater willingness to take on stronger obligations.