Negotiators gathered in Bangkok this week are under the gun.
Climate talks held in May in Bonn, Germany, didn’t go as planned, with old political fault lines stymieing progress toward the Paris Agreement rulebook that’s due to be more or less completed at December talks in Poland.
Thus the need for this week’s bonus session in the Thai capital. Parties hope they can make significant progress resolving entrenched differences in just six days.
“In three months’ time, we will be in Katowice, and frankly, we are not ready,” Fijian Foreign Minister Frank Bainimarama said yesterday in opening remarks.
Bainimarama, whose presidency of the U.N. process ends at the conference in the Polish coal town in December, raised the specter of failure.
“Would any of us like to return to our people and tell them that we had the chance to do something truly great and truly necessary for the world we will pass to our children, but we lacked the will to get it done?” he asked.
“Could we face them and say that in this critical moment, when our collective challenge is so great, we gave fodder to those who prefer to go it alone?” he added, in what seemed to be an oblique reference to President Trump’s plans to leave the Paris deal.
The United States is represented at the talks by a State Department team and is expected to negotiate for long-held U.S. objectives like transparency and universality (Climatewire, Sept. 4).
Participants in the Bangkok meeting have their work cut out for them. A number of major issues have yet to be negotiated, including how to track emissions reductions, how to communicate finance commitments, rules for marketplace mechanisms and a plan for ratcheting up the deal’s ambition over time.
Instead, the two co-chairs of the process, Saudi Arabia’s Sarah Baashan and New Zealand’s Jo Tyndall, have furnished a set of “tools” to “facilitate deliberations” on issues.
These papers are intended as a jumping-off point, but they also show how little has been resolved before countries send ministers to Poland to put their stamp on a final Paris rulebook.
“I don’t think that anyone would try to hide at this point that governments are really far behind where they need to be, and the hope was that this additional session in Bangkok would give them the time to sort of round things out, dot the i’s, cross the t’s,” said Jesse Bragg of the advocacy group Corporate Accountability. “But really what we’re looking at is that, with the exception of a few places, all the options are still on the table.”
Baashan and Tyndall reminded negotiators in a joint statement in August that this week is the last session before Katowice, and it’s time to start “streamlining” the language.
“We all want a meaningful, an ambitious and a comprehensive outcome,” they wrote. “We will all need to work together to ensure that it can be achieved.”
Yamide Dagnet, who tracks the U.N. climate process for the World Resources Institute, said on a call with reporters last week that she hoped Bangkok would produce “a compiled negotiating document with clear options.”
“And of course it would be good if this could be translated into some legal narrative already, because we do know that a comma is important when it comes to creating a requirement,” she said.
One way out of this fall’s mad dash to the finish line would be to simply leave some of the work for later. It’s clear there will still be more to do when the gavel comes down in Katowice. Dagnet noted, for example, that it will take more time to craft policies to allow market-based mechanisms to support the Paris Agreement.
But developing countries fear that if the Katowice talks result in a partial package, their priorities will be left on the shelf in favor of issues important to rich regions like the United States and European Union.
“At the end of the day, a [Conference of the Parties] agreement is a package agreement,” said Wael Hmaidan of the Climate Action Network. “Every country wants something. Some want on the rulebook, some want on ambition, some want on finance, and so on. If there isn’t a clear balance on all of them, the COP will be a failure.”
Developed countries in particular want the package to include clear rules for monitoring, reporting and verifying emissions reductions that cover all parties more or less the same way, at least eventually.
Transparency measures are key to ensuring that the 165 nationally determined contributions, or NDCs, that countries made to Paris actually happen, they say. Without certainty that others are doing what they’ve promised, it’s hard to sell increased action at home.
Transparency matters not only to wealthy nations but to nations that are vulnerable to climate change and moderate, middle-income actors in places like Latin America.
But the Paris Agreement guaranteed flexibility to developing countries “that need it in light of their capacities.” That provision has been variously interpreted as giving the poorest nations additional time or effectively allowing countries to determine how and to what extent their emissions will be reported.
Some of the strongest proponents of a voluntary, nationally determined model are the largest developing emitters.
“India and China are reluctant to commit to the level of robustness and frequency of reporting that the U.S., Europe, Japan and other developed countries currently have to make, and are particularly sensitive about the level of independent verification of what they’re doing,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Andrew Rakestraw of the State Department and his Chinese counterpart, Xiang Gao, who co-chair a working group together, co-authored one of the talks’ deliberation “tools” on transparency. In their 73-page paper, they included 13 options for how to show flexibility to poor countries, among many other similarly open questions.
The Paris rulebook won’t move forward without progress on climate finance. That’s especially true after this summer’s meeting of the Green Climate Fund, the world’s largest dedicated fund for poor country adaptation and mitigation, ended in chaos.
A broader problem is poor countries’ need for more certainty over the future of the $100 billion a year then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised in Copenhagen, Denmark, nine years ago. African countries briefly held up last year’s Bonn summit, insisting that a provision of the Paris pact requires rich countries to provide solid commitments of climate aid in advance to allow poorer countries to plan.
“I think it mainly comes down to an issue of survival,” Corporate Accountability’s Bragg said. “Adaptation allows for entire communities and entire countries to hopefully rise to the challenge of climate change as opposed to just dealing with its consequences. And thus far, many developed countries have refused to engage in what that could look like because in many ways, it requires them to acknowledge their historic responsibility for this crisis.”
But Meyer noted that many rich nations have annual budget and appropriations cycles that don’t permit them to provide guarantees years in advance.
“You have two radically different views of the world, and they both have some justification,” he said. Katowice must produce a compromise, the seeds of which must be planted this week.
The success or failure of the Paris Agreement will ultimately ride on whether countries not only meet their current commitments but also put forward tougher ones along a predictable cycle.
The December rulebook will solidify the procedure for countries to offer new NDCs and set parameters for a global stock-take every five years beginning in 2023.
But 2023 is a long way away, and activists hope this year’s high-level Talanoa Dialogue in Poland will highlight how urgent it is for countries to be aggressive in their next round of commitments in 2020.
The current Fijian presidency introduced the Talanoa, but Michal Kurtyka, the Polish official who will preside over the December conference, has expressed more interest in finishing a rulebook than in the ambition-raising exercise.
Some greens worry that momentum will stall under his leadership.
“The physical science is that if the current target that governments have put forward are not enhanced and are increased by 2020, then most probably it is over for the 1.5 target,” said Hmaidan of the Climate Action Network, referring to the goal, expressed in degrees Celsius, that this fall’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report will argue is the only safe limit to temperature rise.
“We are running against time, and we cannot wait until 2025 to increase the 2020-2025 set of ambition,” Hmaidan said.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.