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Climate Negotiations: Shrinking Text, Growing Disbelief

Another round of climate negotiations within the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change finished in Bonn, Germany. One of its main objectives was to facilitate the preparation of the text of the future Paris agreement, which is due to replace the Kyoto protocol. The draft document became shorter, yet the contradictions did not decrease, in neither number, nor magnitude.


Another round of climate negotiations within the UNFCCC framework (namely, the 11th part of the second session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action) ended in Bonn, Germany. One of its main objectives was to facilitate the preparation of the text of the future Paris agreement, due to replace the Kyoto protocol. The draft document became shorter, yet the contradictions did not decrease, in neither number, nor magnitude. The preliminary text that was discussed in Bonn is to lay the groundwork for the upcoming negotiations in Paris. The Governments of the world are expected to sign the agreement later in December this year, thus defining the scope of global effort to combat climate change and tackle its negative effects after 2020.

In Bonn, the draft text was reduced to mere 33 pages. Thinking back, the draft of the then future Copenhagen Accord, deemed unsuccessful by many, was comprised of over 300 pages, the fact that makes many current negotiators already consider this a sign of moving forward.

However, the shrinking of the draft agreement did in no way lead to fewer contradictions in the negotiations process. The developing countries are still adamant that the richer countries must take upon them a bigger financial burden to tackle climate change. The developed countries disagree. The European Union called this type of rhetoric “outdated” and claimed that the world had changed significantly over the course of the past 20 years of climate negotiations. According to the EU, those who were formerly considered “poor” have actually reached high levels of development followed by a drastic emissions growth, which makes them accountable as well and subject to a share of the collective financial burden of climate finance. Elina Bardram, head of the European delegation, said, for instance, that “We live in an entirely different world. The donor base can be broader.”

Unexpectedly, a very large number of countries (totaling over three-fourths of the world) managed to submit their national plans to reduce GHG emissions (the so-called INDCs, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions), and most of them were consistent and dealt with overarching challenges. The parameters of the emissions limitation and reduction, however, which were submitted by over 150 countries, were only discussed at side-events, where an array of relevant research data was also presented. The data showed that the countries seem to follow the 2.7 to 3.3-degrees trajectory until 2030 – this is how the global mean temperature expected to rise compared to the pre-industrial level). This makes adaptation measures a matter of paramount importance.

Bonn intersessionals also stood out because of prohibiting the observers (representatives of ENGOs, businesses, different international organizations, scientific institutions etc.) to take part in the thematic working group sessions. In Bonn, this ban was taken to the maximum, which resulted in a lot of criticism. Japan was the only country to object banning the observers from taking part, but according to the UNFCCC rules, it did not have an effect on the final decision.

As for the future of the negotiations process, many pessimistic observers felt that in Bonn, a handful of countries could totally reject the new text. That would have meant retreating to an earlier draft in Paris. The countries are still very reluctant to take steps towards compromise, and if this confrontation is to persist in Paris, it very unclear as for how to reach any agreement at all. According to various experts, the countries may fail to start the line-by-line discussion of the text until an agreement is reached on each of them. They may end up agreeing “in bulk” with compromising formulas proposed by the co-Chairs, a sort of a political package agreement for all the countries to adopt.

Some more optimistically inclined observers say that many countries seem to have saved their compromising potential until later in Paris. According to Cuba’s chief negotiator Pedro Luis Pedrosa, “People really started listening to each other… Now I have the impression that people, every delegation, is very much aware that now we do not have more time. Either we get it right, or we don’t get it (an agreement).”
According to various experts, the Bonn session confirmed the presentiment that the new agreement, at least in the course of the coming 10 to 15 years, will be more focused on adaptation and finance, rather than the universal movement towards the 2-degree goal.

Some experts point out that nothing about coal has ever been mentioned in the drafts of the Paris agreement. It is highly probable that the demand for this climate-unfriendly fossil fuel is not going to increase anymore, and it will be driven out by gas and renewable energy sources in the near future. A number of coal projects are already put on hold, and for the developing countries that are climate finance recipients, the agreement to discontinue any planned coal-related activities may become the prerequisite for eligibility for climate finance.

Environmental NGOs say that having this in mind, Russia needs to think twice, and think critically, about its ideas to boost coal extraction and its export to Asia. “Environmental NGOs would like to emphasize that it makes way more sense to develop energy efficiency measures along with renewable energy,” says Olga Senova, head of Social Ecological Union’s Climate Secretariat. “The participation of observers at the negotiations is also crucial, since the process has to be transparent for both experts and wider public.” (Both ideas are reflected in the Another round of climate negotiations within the UNFCCC framework (namely, the 11th part of the second session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action) ended in Bonn, Germany. One of its main objectives was to facilitate the preparation of the text of the future Paris agreement, due to replace the Kyoto protocol. The draft document became shorter, yet the contradictions did not decrease, in neither number, nor magnitude. The preliminary text that was discussed in Bonn is to lay the groundwork for the upcoming negotiations in Paris. The Governments of the world are expected to sign the agreement later in December this year, thus defining the scope of global effort to combat climate change and tackle its negative effects after 2020. In Bonn, the draft text was reduced to mere 33 pages. Thinking back, the draft of the then future Copenhagen Accord, deemed unsuccessful by many, was comprised of over 300 pages, the fact that makes many current negotiators already consider this a sign of moving forward. However, the shrinking of the draft agreement did in no way lead to fewer contradictions in the negotiations process. The developing countries are still adamant that the richer countries must take upon them a bigger financial burden to tackle climate change. The developed countries disagree. The European Union called this type of rhetoric “outdated” and claimed that the world had changed significantly over the course of the past 20 years of climate negotiations. According to the EU, those who were formerly considered “poor” have actually reached high levels of development followed by a drastic emissions growth, which makes them accountable as well and subject to a share of the collective financial burden of climate finance. Elina Bardram, head of the European delegation, said, for instance, that “We live in an entirely different world. The donor base can be broader.” Unexpectedly, a very large number of countries (totaling over three-fourths of the world) managed to submit their national plans to reduce GHG emissions (the so-called INDCs, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions), and most of them were consistent and dealt with overarching challenges. The parameters of the emissions limitation and reduction, however, which were submitted by over 150 countries, were only discussed at side-events, where an array of relevant research data was also presented. The data showed that the countries seem to follow the 2.7 to 3.3-degrees trajectory until 2030 – this is how the global mean temperature expected to rise compared to the pre-industrial level). This makes adaptation measures a matter of paramount importance. Bonn intersessionals also stood out because of prohibiting the observers (representatives of ENGOs, businesses, different international organizations, scientific institutions etc.) to take part in the thematic working group sessions. In Bonn, this ban was taken to the maximum, which resulted in a lot of criticism. Japan was the only country to object banning the observers from taking part, but according to the UNFCCC rules, it did not have an effect on the final decision. As for the future of the negotiations process, many pessimistic observers felt that in Bonn, a handful of countries could totally reject the new text. That would have meant retreating to an earlier draft in Paris. The countries are still very reluctant to take steps towards compromise, and if this confrontation is to persist in Paris, it very unclear as for how to reach any agreement at all. According to various experts, the countries may fail to start the line-by-line discussion of the text until an agreement is reached on each of them. They may end up agreeing “in bulk” with compromising formulas proposed by the co-Chairs, a sort of a political package agreement for all the countries to adopt. Some more optimistically inclined observers say that many countries seem to have saved their compromising potential until later in Paris. According to Cuba’s chief negotiator Pedro Luis Pedrosa, “People really started listening to each other… Now I have the impression that people, every delegation, is very much aware that now we do not have more time. Either we get it right, or we don’t get it (an agreement).” According to various experts, the Bonn session confirmed the presentiment that the new agreement, at least in the course of the coming 10 to 15 years, will be more focused on adaptation and finance, rather than the universal movement towards the 2-degree goal. Some experts point out that nothing about coal has ever been mentioned in the drafts of the Paris agreement. It is highly probable that the demand for this climate-unfriendly fossil fuel is not going to increase anymore, and it will be driven out by gas and renewable energy sources in the near future. A number of coal projects are already put on hold, and for the developing countries that are climate finance recipients, the agreement to discontinue any planned coal-related activities may become the prerequisite for eligibility for climate finance.

Environmental NGOs say that having this in mind, Russia needs to think twice, and think critically, about its ideas to boost coal extraction and its export to Asia. "Environmental NGOs would like to emphasize that it makes way more sense to develop energy efficiency measures along with renewable energy," says Olga Senova, head of Social Ecological Union’s Climate Secretariat. “The participation of observers at the negotiations is also crucial, since the process has to be transparent for both experts and wider public.” Both ideas are reflected in the joint position of Russian environmental NGOs for COP21.