Divergences arise over understanding of Paris Agreement

More than anything, it was discord over what had been agreed at Paris that stood in the way of a full consensus at Marrakech. Meena Raman explains.

ON the second day of informal consultations held on 9 November in Marrakech under the UNFCCC's Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA), divergences emerged on how Parties understand and interpret the Paris Agreement (PA).

While Parties from both sides of the divide insisted that the PA should not be renegotiated as it was 'delicately balanced', they differed in their understanding of the PA.

The divergences were most apparent in the informal consultations in relation to guidance over nationally determined contributions (NDCs) in discussing their features, information and accounting, with differences over what the focus should be and on how to address the issue of differentiation between developed and developing countries in the guidance.

Developed countries and some developing countries were of the view that the focus of the work on 'further guidance in relation to the mitigation section' of the Paris decision (referred to as decision 1/CP.21) should be confined only to the aspect of mitigation and not the full scope of NDCs as referred to in Article 3 of the PA.

(Article 3 reads: 'As nationally determined contributions to the global response to climate change, all Parties are to undertake and communicate ambitious efforts as defined in Articles 4, 7, 9, 10, 11 and 13 with the view to achieving the purpose of this Agreement as set out in Article 2.' Article 4 includes the mitigation component, Article 7 refers to adaptation, Article 9 to finance, Article 10 to technology transfer, Article 11 to capacity-building and Article 13 refers to transparency of action and support.

(Article 4.2 provides that 'Each Party shall prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions that it intends to achieve. Parties shall pursue domestic mitigation measures, with the aim of achieving the objectives of such contributions.')

Several developing countries, led by the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) group, the African Group and the Arab Group, strongly emphasised that NDCs included not only the mitigation component but the 'full scope'. In contrast, developed countries and some developing countries insisted that NDCs referred only to 'mitigation'.

Some developed countries like the United States said that the issues of adaptation and finance were being dealt with under other agenda items and that the mitigation issue needed focus, or there would be imbalance in the work of the APA.

This brought strong reactions from the LMDC, which insisted that the whole scope of the NDCs must be discussed and that it could not agree to advancing any technical work if this was not the case.

The session was co-facilitated by Sin Liang Cheah (Singapore) and Gertraud Wollansky (Austria). Following the exchanges, Wollansky said there was agreement that Parties must respect the PA and the 'national determination' character of the contribution. She added that while Parties had divergent views on the features of NDCs, there was agreement that the features were rooted in the PA. Hence, she concluded that there was some common ground in this regard.

China, speaking for the LMDC, said that the 'feature' of NDCs meant what Parties' NDCs would look like, and Article 3 of the PA had identified what NDCs were and how Parties were differentiated. While some Parties held that Article 4 related to mitigation only, this must be read together with Article 3, China said, stressing that there was a delicate balance agreed to in Paris in this regard. Therefore, the guidance on features must include the nationally determined character of the NDCs and its full scope as contained in Article 3, with the application of differentiation. NDCs must therefore be comprehensive, it added.

NDCs were not only about mitigation and also had other components, said China. In response to Parties which said that the other components were being dealt with under other agenda items, China said it did not find any space where this was being discussed.

On the issue of information, it asked what information related to technology transfer and capacity-building. It said that while Parties talked of accounting related to mitigation, there was no space to talk about accounting in relation to technology transfer and capacity-building.

It stressed that the discussion could not be mitigation-centric with no differentiation, and that Articles 3 and 4 must be discussed collectively and in a balanced way. China said that it was reluctant to engage in technical work if the approach was mitigation-centric.

China said further that the guidance must be useful and practical without placing a burden on developing countries. On the issue of whether NDCs should be quantifiable or quantified, China said qualitative NDCs were more feasible for developing countries as data was not the only parameter to evaluate ambition.

Saudi Arabia, speaking for the Arab Group, emphasised that the PA provided concrete guidance on the features and the task of Parties was simply to collect and compile them. It said that national determination was a feature of NDCs and that further guidance should not dictate the national determination character, stressing that NDCs included the full scope and not just the mitigation aspect, as reflected under Article 3. It said the features should reflect differentiation and the different national circumstances of developed and developing countries.

Responding to Parties which insisted that the mitigation component of NDCs must be quantified and be quantifiable, Saudi Arabia said there was no requirement for such quantification in the PA. It said that this did not mean it was against progression or ambition but that developing countries had lots of uncertainties in their future economic and social development prospects and had to address poverty eradication. Hence, developing countries needed the flexibility as to whether to have quantitative information in their NDCs.

Similar views were expressed by Bolivia, Kuwait, Iran and Algeria.


Kenya, speaking for the African Group, said that NDCs contained other elements besides mitigation, including adaptation and the means of implementation. It said that there was a diversity of NDCs and the guidance should provide clarity, transparency and understanding. The issues of features and information were linked and Parties needed to elaborate this in relation to the mitigation component of the NDCs under Article 4.

South Africa said that the characteristics of the mitigation component of the NDCs were defined by Article 4, which did not cover the other features referred to in Article 3. It added that features of NDCs were not limited to mitigation alone.

India said since Parties were working under the PA mandate, each and every element was important, including adaptation, mitigation, finance, technology transfer, capacity-building and transparency, which was based on differentiation. The PA was under the Convention and Article 2 of the PA highlighted the importance of implementing the Agreement to reflect equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDRRC). India said this could not be swept under the carpet but that the discussions must be informed by this.

Under Article 4.1, India said, mitigation actions were to be undertaken on the basis of equity and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty. It stressed that what was provided for under the PA must be implanted as Parties evolved the modalities.

It added that different sets of guidelines were necessary for developed and developing countries, and the guidance should have some features of flexibility for developing countries and respect the country-driven nature of the NDCs.

In developing the guidance, India said, there could not be a selective reading of what were essential elements. Under Article 3, information on support was crucial and if the means of implementation were divorced from the national determination of contributions, this would be a set-up for failure in the implementation of the NDCs.

Argentina said that the scope of NDCs was reflected in Article 3 and that the main feature of the NDCs was their national determination character. It said that Article 4 referred to the mitigation component. It also said that further guidance on the features should not undermine the nationally determined character, and that it would be helpful to identify specific information in relation to the different types of NDCs, address their diversity and reflect differentiation.

Brazil said that Parties should stay away from discussion on the scope of NDCs, stressing that NDCs were not only about mitigation. It however felt that the other aspects of the NDCs were being dealt with under other agenda items. It said that there was no agreement on what the features were as there was no reference to features in the PA. In the absence of any such reference, Brazil feared that discussions could reopen the negotiations held in Paris about whether NDCs should be unconditional or conditional, a matter it felt had been settled in Paris. It said the guidance was for the preparation of future NDCs and what kind of information was needed from Parties for clarity, transparency and understanding.

Saint Lucia, speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that the guidance called for related to mitigation only and Parties did need the guidance. It stressed the common elements of information relating to coverage of gases and sectors, quantifiability, timeframes etc. and that common information was needed.

Ethiopia, speaking for the least developed countries, said that there needed to be clear information relating to emission reductions.

Bangladesh said that Parties were supposed to discuss the aspect of mitigation and should not get into Article 3, and that the relevant articles of Article 4 dealt with how to address differentiation. Since NDCs were nationally determined, it was up to Parties to decide how they fulfilled their obligations.

Colombia said that NDCs were nationally determined and that the scope of the discussion had to be narrow to discuss the features relating to mitigation.

The United States said that there was fundamental disagreement on the scope of NDCs and differentiation. It said that Article 4 was clearly about mitigation and that raising 'political issues' would not allow Parties to move to the technical work. It added that the element of mitigation must be discussed as adaptation and finance were being discussed under other agenda items. It said further that there would be a fundamental imbalance in the work if mitigation was not the focus.

The US added that differentiation had been carefully negotiated in Paris and it was not going to revisit that. It said that the information relating to mitigation had to be understandable.

Switzerland said Parties did not have a common understanding of the features. It said that NDCs should be quantifiable without support and cover all sectors (referring to the mitigation aspect). On the scope, it said that while there were interlinkages between action and support, it did not make sense to look at support every time action was looked at.

Norway said that features were the common characteristics of NDCs and this was reflected under Article 4.

Canada said Parties should not renegotiate the delicate balance achieved in Paris and should be cautious and recognise the concessions made.

Japan said that NDCs needed to be quantifiable and comparable, and those Parties which had conditionalities must also include unconditional NDCs.

The European Union said the discussion had to be about the mitigation contribution, and to clarify what the features and accompanying information were.

Saying that it had heard the concerns of Parties, New Zealand recalled that there had been no agreement in Paris over what the features of NDCs could look like under the PA, but the decision referred to this and Parties were now trying to agree on what the features could look like. It suggested looking at what 'as appropriate' meant (in relation to the information referred to in paragraph 27 of decision 1/CP.21).

Australia said that Article 4 referred to the mitigation section of the PA and stressed the importance of quantifiability of the mitigation contributions.   

*Third World Resurgence No. 316, Dec 2016, pp 29-31