Ewan Kingston   

Ewan Kingston


Your Paris Climate Talks Cheat-sheet

Posted on December 6, 2015 at 10:35 AM

Edit: Adding references to what actually emerged in the text of the final agreement, in italics below - October 24, 2016

We're midway through two weeks of negotiations that will influence the world for decades to come. What are some of the points of contention, and how might they be dealt with in the final text? 

photo: UNFCCC

Mitigation of Climate Change

Everyone seems to accept: that determining individual targets of every country by direct negotiations and then enshrining them in a treaty will not work. The US recalled the difficulty of doing this with just a handful of countries at Kyoto in 1997 and noted [@25:00] "you can't do that with 196 countries". Brazil agrees in this press conference [@5:30].

The alternative, "self-differentiation", with countries determining for themselves what represents their fair share of the task, inspires wide participation, albeit with mixed levels of ambition. 184 of the 196 countries have submitted their planned contributions to the global mitigation effort, very many for the first time.

The big question: Should the same rules around the monitoring, reporting and verification of mitigation targets (i.e."transparency") apply to all countries?

"Yes": The US said on Friday  "Transparency is vital... we are pushing for a responsible and strong system" [@8:30]

"No": Brazil on Friday: "Intrusiveness is not welcomed. We have countries that have always had different obligations in terms of reporting... a lot of things still need to be worked out on this issue" [@9:30]

What to watch for in the final Agreement: Is there a section on Transparency that refers back to "The Convention", or mention phrases such as "differentiated between developed and developing countries"? These are wins for developing countries. 

In the final text: A compromise - there is a single transparency framework but it does contain "built in flexibility" to take into account countries' "different capacities". It also draws on the "collective experience" of the current  two-track transparency framework under the Convention.  (Article 13)

On Finance

Everyone agrees: That some emerging developing countries are in fact already voluntarily contributing funds to combat climate change.

The big question: Should this pattern of "South-South co-operation" be enshrined in the Paris Agreement?

"Yes":  The EU said on Saturday: "We will keep on supporting, and increasing [our support], but every country in a position to do so should also support developing countries. We have to enlarge the base of donors" [@ 26:30] The US:"There is already an "expanded donor base, we just want to capture that" [@20:00].

"No": Malaysia, for the group of "Like Minded Developing Countries" quoted UN statistics on the proportion of the worlds poorest living in India, Brazil, China and South Africa in Saturday's plenary. "Has the world changed?" he asked. [@49:00]. India's chief negotiator Susheel Kumar even rejects the very language of a "donor base" that is being used at the conference, stating [@12:00]  "it's not donation...it is an obligation". 

A related big question: Are developed countries actually on track on their current commitment to "mobilise" 100bn in finance per year by 2020?

"Sure": The OECD put out a report this October, which suggests that developed countries "mobilised" USD 62 Billion in 2014 from private and public sources. The US refers to the report as using "conservative methodology" [@17:00] and suggests the number could be even higher. 

"No Way":  The G77 and China (a bloc of almost all the developing countries) called the OECD report "a mirage", developed cynically outside of the UN. On Saturday in a COP session, the Marshall Islands stated that " the100 bn promise at Copenhagen is tainted by what some feel is creative accounting" [51:00]

What to watch for: Does the final agreement mention "Parties in a position to do so" in the Finance section? This would be a concession by major developing countries. 

In the final text: "Parties in a position to do so" was dropped from the drafts. Its replacement in Article 9 states only that emerging powers are  "encouraged to provide or continue" financial support "support voluntarily."


Compensation and Liability

Everyone agrees: text on "loss and damage" (roughly, the damage that occurs depsite mitigation and adaptation) can form some part of this Agreement, or at least the weaker Decision coming from the same meeting.

The tricky question: what does "Loss and Damage even mean?

"Compensation and Liability": The word "compensation" has been deleted from the draft text months ago, and is not used in the official negotiations, but it's common knowledge that vulnerable countries hope that "loss and damage" will eventually mean  processes for extracting compensation for irreversible damage from historic emitters.

"Anything but that": The US support Loss and Damage initiatives being placed under the current Warsaw International Mechanism, which currently looks like another body to help countries adapt to climate change. At Saturday's press conference they said: "There's one thing that we don't and won't accept in this agreement - the notion that there should be liability and compensation for loss and damage" [@13:45].

What to watch for: A key insertion in the draft text refers to the initiation of "a process to develop approaches to address irreversible and permanent damage" within four years. If something like this survives, it's definitely a win for vulnerable countries and a step to keeping liability and compensation at least on the agenda in the near future.

In the final text: While the Agreement contains a "laundry list" article on Loss and damage, outlining many different possible paths the Loss and Damage Mechanism could take, compensation and liability is explicitly ruled out in the COP decision (paragraph 51)

Legal form

The Obama administration has made two points clear. The bad news is that a treaty with legally binding individual targets on emissions or finance will have to go to the US Congress where it will almost certainly be rejected. The good news is the President wouldn't need to send to Congress what Special Envoy Todd Stern calls a "hybrid treaty" [@26:30] that is only binding about the process of submitting and the MRV of countries self-determined targets, not the targets themselves. Individual US senators have also stressed these points in press conferences at Paris.

The tricky question: How important is it to write a treaty that the US can ratify?

"Very": The Obama administration, obviously. Allies such as New Zealand seem committed to a hybrid treaty, and allies in the forum such as New Zealand propose text to implement that.*

Not convinced?: The EU on Saturday publicly stated that "the European Union clearly supports a binding international agreement with mitigation agreements that are also binding" [@16:00]. However, they also recognise the importance of US participation and seem to be showing willingness to compromise on this. 

What to watch for: It sounds trivial, but if the final agreement states that countries "should" meet their mitigation targets, this is not legally binding language, and probably will be ratifiable by the US. If it says they "shall" it may well not be ratifiable by the US.

In the final text: This was an interesting one! The official "take it or leave it" version of the Paris Agreement that was circulated around all countries on the afternoon Saturday 12th December had a "shall" in a place the American delegation thought would be unacceptable to congress. The Americans claimed it had slipped in as a typo, while some developing countries suspected a last minute bait-and-switch.  Whatever the provenance, the "typo" was corrected, and while countries "shall" submit 5-yearly pledges, Developed Countries only "should" take economy-wide emissions reductions. (Article 4)

A whole bunch of other stuff

I've left out many issues here, including the discussions about how ambitious a long-term temperature goal should be, the timing of successive rounds of countries' commitments, the appropriate role of forests in the UNFCCC and more. I gotta leave something for y'all to find out, right? 

Follow the rest of the negotiations via official webcasts of selected sessions and on this amazing google doc from a pair of young observers. Latest draft texts and the final text will appear here.

Hit me up with comments and questions: ewan.kingston@duke.edu

 *minor edit 6 Dec for clarity


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