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Who constrains the progress?

“The progress in climate negotiations is obvious, but several essential issues would not allow to reach a consensus.” An extraordinary session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), at which the rules for the Paris Agreement were to be prepared, took place in Bangkok (Thailand).

Virtually the entire climate negotiation process revolves around a set of guidelines: the Book of Rules. It is expected to be adopted in Katowice (Poland) at the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-24). This December, the parties should reach an agreement on these rules, and those should breathe the life into all international climate plans and programs.

 

The negotiators in Bangkok had a difficult task: to create a middle ground text that would suit all parties to put it on the negotiating table of the countries’ leaders in Poland. This document should ensure the fulfillment of the main goal set for the countries by the Paris Agreement: keeping the temperature increase on the planet within two (and ideally, one and a half) degrees. 

 

To perform this complicated work, the Co-Chairs of the Special Working Group on the Paris Agreement came up with special tools, i.e., recommendations for helping the parties streamline hundreds of pages of climate suggestions.

 

“In Bangkok, some uneven progress has been achieved on the elements of the climate change agreement regime,” the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Patricia Espinosa assessed the results of the September Conference.  

 

The negotiators in Bangkok have managed to make progress in the details of the “carbon market,” the market tools that would allow to reach implementation of climate plans. One of the articles of the Paris Agreement contains general provisions on a mechanism that “will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support sustainable development and non-market approaches”.

 

In Bangkok, the parties have prepared new versions that did not cause objections. The texts are now better organized, structured and provide clearer links between options, experts believe. On the matters of market mechanisms, the parties still will have to agree on whether and how, if so, to transfer methodologies and standards from the existing (Kyoto) mechanisms to the new Paris Agreement.

 

Discussions on so-called “response measures” resumed in Bangkok. This term refers to the actions that countries undertake to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike the legal obligations assumed by the countries that signed the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement suggests to outline the goals and measures independently.

 

As observers note, the emphasis in the discussion is gradually shifting to response measures. If earlier, offers of compensation which rich oil-exporting countries should pay were the most popular among developing countries, now the discussions are switching to the topic of a general transition to low-carbon technologies and economic and social results of such transition.

 

A key element of the agreement is determination of the rules for countries’ formatting their commitments on climate: national emission reduction contributions (NDC). In Bangkok, the parties failed to agree on this issue; the delegates could not even decide how often to report, whether once every five or every ten years.

 

No agreements were reached on a number of other important issues as well: those move from session to session, and often, as was the case in Bangkok, slow down the process. For example, the issue of differentiation: the difference of approaches and responsibilities of the developed and developing countries and how “loss and damage” should be compensated. However, major controversy arose over financing issues.

 

The Bangkok negotiations were overshadowed by the growing uncertainty regarding collective commitments on the climate finance. Let us remind that having signed the Paris Agreement, the states agreed to annually collect USD 100 billion up until 2020 and gear them to support the most vulnerable developing countries for countering climate challenges.

 

There is an urgent need to replenish the “Green Climate Fund”, which should be the main source for allocating funding in the climate sphere. The fund was short of $2 billion promised by the former US President Barack Obama but which the current head of the country Donald Trump refused to transfer.

 

The United States of America, despite its statement of withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, continues to actively participate in the negotiations and promote theses that, according to observers, block the process. “The US has announced its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, but is still negotiating, weakening international cooperation and making no contributions to the financing and transfer of technologies to developing countries,” Mina Raman from the Third World Network said.

 

Besides the US, Turkey has also declared its refusal to participate in the Paris Agreement for financial reasons. Only a few countries remaining in the absolute minority have not yet ratified the new climate agreement. Russia, which announced plans for ratification in 2019, is one of those. 

 

At the end of an extra session, delegates instructed the chairmen of the working groups to prepare a joint “note on progress” reached in Bangkok. It is expected that the document will be ready by mid-October and will contain the “textual proposals” for the soonest adoption of the Book of Rules of the Paris Agreement. The hopes of participants in the climate process are also associated with numerous informal events that will be held on the eve of the December meeting of the parties. By the way, the session of negotiations in Katowice will start a day earlier, and the delegates hope to have everything necessary for constructive work right on the day of the official opening of the conference.   

 

“We hope that in Katowice, the countries will ultimately achieve progress and agree on the new rules for implementing the Paris Agreement,” says Olga Senova, Climate Secretariat of the Russian Social and Ecological Union. Representatives of public environmental organizations pointed out in their Position that Russia, one of the major suppliers of greenhouse gas emissions, should ratify the Paris Agreement the soonest and “accept the goal of reducing the total amount of emissions in all sectors of the Russian economy down to 2500 million tons of CO2-eq. per year (35 - 40% lower the level of 1990) without including forests.”