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Paris climate talks: analysis and key issues, days 1-4

event report

Our campaigner Rachel Kennerley is in Paris, reporting from the climate talks. This is her diary of the first 4 days

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Day 1 – Monday

 

  • As the world watched, many spoke of the impacts climate change is already having in their countries. Many developed countries paid lip service to the urgency of real action to stop climate change. Let’s see if this translates into real commitments.
  • President Obama called for a low-carbon future, but stuck to his deadline of 2100, totally undermining the need for urgent and meaningful action now.
  • Obama announced an additional financial commitment to “clean energy”, as part of Bill Gates’ new energy research and development fund. But are these new, additional funds? Will the technology be available for transfer to the Global South, and will the funds prioritise renewable energy, and not false solutions? It remains to be seen, but we remain sceptical.
  • France’s President Hollande opened with a strong plea for a fair, just and equitable agreement. Meanwhile energy companies like Engie and EDF – partly publicly owned by France – still refuse to close their 46 dirty coal plants.
  • Despite many grand words, expect to see negotiators from rich, developed countries do their best to protect their own interests and economies over their responsibilities and the needs of more vulnerable countries.

Day 2 – Tuesday

The most popular narrative emerging today is that there is more political will and commitment than ever before and the outcome of the talks will be positive. We remain deeply sceptical that this will translate into action.

What’s happening?

  • The negotiations to develop a climate deal at Paris are being run by a subsidiary body called the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. That’s a bit of a mouthful, so I refer to it here just as the ADP.
  • Despite repeated requests from developing countries for direct negotiations of the text to begin earlier this year, the Chairs of the ADP mismanaged the process so badly that the pre-Paris negotiating text is 55 pages long, with multiple options for how to deal with most of the contentious issues. Now in the first week of Paris, ADP Working Groups are expected to complete their text on Friday, before sending it forward to the last week of negotiations. But the process is not smooth.
  • The ADP Working Groups aim to bridge the differences between countries in certain areas of the text. But these differences are significant and not easily resolved. They are often the important debates between what rich, developed countries want to do and what vulnerable countries need; for example, accepting and acting on historic responsibility.
  • The Working Groups have remained closed to observers since the Bonn intersessional in October. This means that civil society cannot offer many of the support functions that help small delegations with little capacity. The Malaysian delegation in particular has raised this as an issue several times today.
  • Several countries have also expressed concerns that the schedule of overlapping meetings means that small delegations (usually from poorer countries) cannot attend and negotiate in all relevant meetings.

What to expect next?

  • India is being painted as a blocker to a successful Paris climate agreement. India has made it clear that they will not back down from their stance that rich countries who are most responsible for  causing the climate crisis should fulfil their legal obligations to reduce their pollution and help the poorer countries deal with climate impacts.
  • Developing countries are currently doing more than their historic responsibility to tackle climate change – as is India, who has pushed both a pro-coal and pro-solar stance, which they say is necessary to drive their development and prevent their people being locked into poverty.
  • As countries try to bridge the gaps between different positions, expect to see important mechanisms – such as loss and damage, financial commitments and technology transfer – being pushed aside during the closed ADP sessions.
  • Expect an emphasis simply on reducing emissions (mitigation) and delinking this from other issues like finance, adaptation, or loss and damage.
  • Even if met, the current emissions pledges from countries around the world would not ensure we stay below 2 degrees of warming – a target which is already dangerously high.

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Day 3 – Wednesday

Key issues emerging are:

  • Energy transition: The US and India have both announced energy transition schemes. And the Climate Vulnerable Forum – which includes the Philippines, Bangladesh and Costa Rica – has demanded 100% renewable energy and full decarbonisation by 2050. Whilst the Africa group of countries announced that they received pledges of $2 billion to support their energy proposal.
  • Differentiation: This refers to how, and if, the Paris agreement differentiates between countries that do and don’t have to do something, such as contribute to climate finance. It remains controversial:
    • As far as we know, none of the Working Groups have found agreement on how to apply differentiation to their area of the text. Some rich developed countries believe that because developing countries now contribute significantly to global emissions, differentiation should be revised or even removed. But most developing countries are still doing more than their fairshare to tackle climate change based on historic responsibility.
    • In the technology transfer and finance discussions, developed countries are trying to shift obligations to help from themselves onto middle income countries (e.g. China, Brazil and Singapore).
    • ‘Dynamic differentiation’ has been mentioned, meaning that countries could become categorised as developed as they become richer. A country could start by receiving climate finance, but transition to being a donor when they meet certain criteria.
  • Legally binding? The US claims its position opposing a legally binding treaty is because the Republican-controlled Congress would never pass it. However, US lawyers contradict that and say it would be possible for such a treaty to pass. It may be that the US position is really about opposing a legally binding mitigation target, rather than a wider legally binding treaty.
  • Participation: There is a lot of confusion from observers and delegations about the Working Groups process, as decisions and meetings appear to be happening informally between the formal meetings, meaning some delegations are being excluded or finding the process hard to follow.

Day 4 – Thursday

The mood at the conference centre is increasingly tense as the Working Groups’ Thursday evening deadline approaches. On Friday morning a new draft text will be released for a final, fraught day of week one of the negotiations.

But in the calm before the storm, let’s take a brief look at where we are:

The good news

France and Germany have pushed for a tougher global temperature limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius. This adds support to the calls of other countries, mostly of the Global South, that even 2 degrees of warming is dangerously high and would have catastrophic impacts around the world.

There has been a real focus this week on moving our energy system towards renewable energy:

The bad news

We keep hearing that lots of progress is being made in the negotiations. But in reality, things are only moving forward significantly in the areas where it’s easy to find agreement. On very controversial matters countries remain far from agreement, and this put them in very real danger of being dropped from or side-lined in the text that Ministers work on in week two.

Human rights: There is an ongoing argument about whether mention of human rights, which includes assurances of protection for workers and gender considerations, belongs in the formal document that will form any agreement, or in the ‘preamble’. Text in the preamble is weaker than in the agreement, as it is more easily ignored and doesn’t have the same reporting requirements. Some countries, including the US, are happy for the human rights language to be downgraded to the preamble, as that means they don’t have to worry about human rights legislation.

Loss and Damage: Loss and Damage is the ways in which developed countries help poor countries recover from the impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. There are two current proposals for the inclusion of a loss and damage mechanism in the Paris agreement. The first is a good, although not perfect, proposal from a large group of countries called the G77. The second is to not include it at all. The EU sees itself as the group to bridge this gap – although we’ll have to wait to see what results when you try to bridge a gap between something and nothing.

Differentiation: This remains really controversial and finding an area of agreement is proving really hard. Some rich, developed countries believe that because developing countries now contribute significantly to global emissions, differentiation should be revised or even removed. But most developing countries are still doing more than their fair share to tackle climate change based on historic responsibility.

Post written by Rachel Kennerley, 4th December 2015.

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