Difficulties expected at year-end climate talks

The year-end climate talks under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement (PA) to be held in Katowice, Poland, are expected to be very difficult and rocky, given where Parties left off from the Bangkok session held recently.

Meena Raman and Indrajit Bose

THE Bangkok talks, held on 4-9 September to accelerate work on producing a negotiating text on the guidelines to implement the PA (known as the Paris Agreement Work Programme), saw big fights between developed and developing countries, signalling the continued battle over the interpretation of the PA.

The PA was a very delicate deal struck between developed and developing countries in Paris in 2015 following years of intense and difficult negotiations between Parties. Since the political deal among world leaders was settled with the signing and ratification of the PA, many expected that the negotiations over the rules and guidelines for implementation of the Agreement would be smooth sailing. However, this has not turned out to be the case.

Wrangling over what had been agreed to in Paris and how the PA is to be implemented continues to expose the deep political divide between developed and developing countries. The challenge in Bangkok was to bridge the gap with 'tools' that would allow the production of a negotiating text in Poland that is balanced and reflects the views and positions of all Parties, so that the real 'battle' for arriving at compromises would be possible.

However, Parties left Bangkok with progress on the items under the Paris Agreement Work Programme (PAWP) uneven and imbalanced, as is clear from the outcome, captured in a 307-page document.

The outcome document is a compilation of all the work under the PAWP tasked to the various UNFCCC bodies, viz., the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA) to craft the modalities, procedures and guidelines (MPGs) for the implementation of the PA.

Some of the issues progressed to draft decision texts, which was one of the objectives of the Bangkok session. But some issues could not advance due to either disagreements or 'complete lack of respect for developing countries' views', a senior negotiator told the Third World Network.

Three overarching issues held progress hostage: (i) developed countries' refusal to include developing countries' views in the draft iterations of text, such as on nationally determined contributions (NDCs); (ii) developed countries trying to go back on what was agreed in Paris, such as attempting to not recognise differentiation in the provisions of the PA or sidelining issues related to equity such as in the discussion on the global stocktake; and (iii) a complete lack of progress on finance issues.  (See below for further details on these issues.)

Developing countries explicitly called out the developed countries on these issues in the joint closing plenary of the three subsidiary bodies on 9 September.

The following are some of the key issues on which the altercations in Bangkok are expected to continue in Poland.

According to sources, underlying these fights are concerns over the 'covert game that is being played behind the scenes' to accommodate the concerns of the United States in particular, which is opposed to having different rules for developed and developing countries in the implementation of the PA and does not want any substantive decisions on finance at the climate conference in Poland this December.

NDCs: Efforts to sideline developing-country views

The battle lines were drawn early in Bangkok in the discussions over NDCs. Led by the US, the developed countries were not prepared to reflect differentiation among developed and developing countries in the guidance to be developed on NDCs, which was the preferred option of a large bloc of developing countries led especially by the Like-minded Developing Countries (LMDC) grouping.

According to sources, an 'evolving document' called a 'draft outline' had been informally circulated among the NDC negotiators, with the idea of testing how to capture Parties' views in textual language. Reflecting differentiation between developed and developing countries became sticky in the draft outline.

In relation to information to facilitate clarity, transparency and understanding of Parties' NDCs, there were different views on the table. One view was that all Parties would provide information on a certain set of elements; the other view was developed countries would provide a certain set of information and developing countries would do it at their discretion or over time. 

A fight ensued for four days on how to reflect these 'views' in the text to be produced.

For the discussion on NDCs, the LMDC suggested that the various views be captured as options in the draft outline. According to sources, a negotiator from the LMDC made clear its stand that there were differences among developing and developed countries on the scope of the NDCs (whether it is only about mitigation contributions or if it also includes adaptation efforts, as well as the means of implementation related to finance, technology transfer, capacity-building) and how the information to be communicated in relation to the NDCs is differentiated between developed and developing countries. The negotiator reportedly said that every Party had a right to its view; that all that was being suggested was to reflect all views as options in the draft outline; and that the starting point for the negotiations had to be 'a level playing field'.

But the US (which has communicated its intention to withdraw from the PA) could not agree to the proposition and sources said that it shot down the option of reflecting all Parties' views as 'options'.

Long hours till late into the night were spent discussing how to capture the views of Parties. After three days, a formulation emerged on the text to reflect 'views/options'. This was acceptable to the US with the caveat that the formulation could not be attributed with a number; in other words, the suggestion was to leave the 'views/options' in the text un-numbered in the draft outline, while other texts were numbered, which was seen as an attempt to effectively render the 'views/options' paragraphs 'status-less', according to a negotiator.

This disparate treatment, reflecting what the US could go along with, gave rise to questions from developing countries as to why different status was accorded to different texts.

(The work from the Bangkok session is to be taken forward by the presiding officers of the relevant bodies by identifying ways forward, including textual proposals that would be helpful for advancing the negotiations. Hence, according different status to various parts of the texts raised significant concerns for developing countries.) 

Further discussions gave way to 'huddles' among the negotiators, and in some of these, emotions ran high. According to sources, the co-facilitators from Singapore and Italy were seen to have 'pressured some Parties' to hand over the mandate of drafting the text to them, where they promised to 'weave magic' in relation to resolving the differences among Parties.

Developing countries held their ground to ensure a level playing field and said that if Parties' views were not being allowed to be captured in texts, the starting point for negotiations was clearly still far away.

Even as negotiators spent busy hours in informal consultations, some of which even went on close to midnight, no agreement could be arrived at. Parties thus went back to the 'additional tool' prepared by the co-chairs of the APA prior to the Bangkok session. 

Expressing regret on the issue, the LMDC said during the closing plenary of the Bangkok talks that 'there have been persistent attempts to renegotiate the PA by developed countries, particularly on the essential differentiation between Annex I [mainly developed countries] and non-Annex I [mainly developing countries] Parties coming from the Convention which continues to be reflected in the PA and on the scope of the NDCs as contained in Article 3. Further textual progress has been limited because some Parties did not accept how to reflect differentiation between developed and developing countries as a paragraph and options in the text.' The LMDC called for an appropriate solution on differentiation in relation to this issue.

On the other hand, the Umbrella Group, of which the US is a member, said that 'bifurcation' (referring to differentiation between developed and developing countries) was 'inconsistent with the PA and would hinder [rather] than build trust' among Parties.

The divergent positions over the scope of the NDCs have also spilt over to the negotiations under the SBI in relation to the public registry for NDCs and the registry for adaptation communications (AC), which are under two separate agenda items of the SBI.

Several developing countries have been requesting joint sessions to deal with the subject of the registries instead of having separate discussions, as the NDC and AC issues are intricately linked. They are of the view that there is no need to have two separate registries, arguing that NDCs comprise both mitigation and adaptation, while the developed countries and some other developing countries contend that the features of the registries for NDCs and AC differ. For the developed countries, the registry for NDCs is viewed as only addressing mitigation actions and nothing more.

A joint session was held under the SBI to discuss both registries but Parties are not any closer to resolving the differences of views and positions on the matter.

Global stocktake: Attempts to sideline issue of equity

The PA stipulates that the global stocktake (GST) - an assessment of the collective progress of Parties towards achieving the purpose of the Agreement and its long-term goals - which will take place in 2023 has to be carried out in light of equity.

There is an agreement among developing countries that commonly agreed guidance to operationalise equity needs to be designed in the modalities of the GST.

At Bangkok, India, speaking on behalf of the LMDC, called for equity to be captured in the negotiating text not just as an overarching but also as a cross-cutting issue in all the elements of the GST.

However, developed countries from the Umbrella Group wanted the issue of equity to be 'parked' at Bangkok while Parties discuss instead the modalities of the GST.

'Equity is an important component for preserving the collective and facilitative nature of the GST. No modalities can be arrived at without equity in the modalities,' a developing-country negotiator told the Third World Network, adding that this view had been communicated to the developed countries during negotiations.

'Several indicators have been proposed to measure equity. Historical responsibility, equitable access to sustainable development, and carbon space are among them. We need to find a way to operationalise equity,' the negotiator further said, expressing concerns about attempts to push discussions on equity to a corner.

Work done at the Bangkok session is captured in a revised tool, which reflects the views of all Parties and captured as 'options', including on issues related to equity.

Finance-related matters

In relation to finance, several contentious issues emerged around modalities for ex-ante information on the projected levels of public financial resources to be provided by developed countries to developing countries under Article 9.5 of the PA and setting up a process for a new collective goal on finance based on the needs and priorities of developing countries before 2025. See below for progress on the finance-related issues under the respective bodies. 

Article 9.5 under the APA

Under the APA, modalities for the ex-ante information under Article 9.5 are being discussed under 'possible additional matters'.

During the discussions, developed countries stressed that discussing modalities for communicating the ex-ante information on the projected levels of public financial resources was outside of the mandate of the PA, even though developing countries repeatedly stressed why addressing this issue of modalities was critical. They explained that for whatever information developed countries provide, proving it useful needs the design of modalities to communicate that information. However, developed countries would not accept any explanation and reasoning, continuing to insist that the issue of modalities was not within the PAWP mandate.

The differences persisted throughout the session and the outcome is captured in the form of draft text language in the revised tool reflecting two options. The first option outlines the modalities for such information (which is the proposal of developing countries) and the second option (proposed by developed countries) simply states that the APA does not need to provide any recommendation on the matter to the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA). 

Article 9.5 under the SBI

Under the SBI, the agenda item on Article 9.5 deals with the 'identification of the information to be provided by Parties'. In Bangkok, differences emerged on the nature of the information to be provided.

Sources said that the US mentioned that it did not want to capture information only in 'quantitative finance flows' since much of its support was in terms of 'technical partnerships', while Switzerland said it was not in a position to provide disaggregated quantified information. Sources also said that the idea of 'partnerships' floated by developed countries was not acceptable to developing countries, which were looking for meaningful financial resources from developed to developing countries.

Developing countries also explained that the information to be provided was to enhance predictability and transparency. The PA stated that the financial resources to be provided and mobilised should take into account the needs and priorities of developing countries, and how the needs and priorities were reflected was the starting point for qualitative information, emphasised developing countries.

Another important aspect was the balance between mitigation and adaptation support when the information is provided, how the support is new and additional and how the support takes into account public and grant-based needs for adaptation, developing countries said during the discussions.

Some developing countries also expressed concern over the use of words such as 'donors' in the discussions and asked Parties to refrain from using such terms and to avoid creating artificial distinctions among developing countries.

Even with these differences, developing countries were in favour of capturing the progress of work in a draft decision language format, but developed countries said they could not go along with such a proposal and preferred to work on the basis of an informal note.

Thus, the discussions on the issue concluded with an informal note by the co-facilitators, comprising general considerations, potential considerations for the preparation of quantitative and qualitative information, along with further considerations required. The informal note also contains the submissions from Parties, including a conference room paper by the African Group and the LMDC.

Article 9.7 under the SBSTA

Under the SBSTA, in relation to Article 9.7, Parties in Bangkok discussed 'modalities for the accounting of financial resources provided and mobilised through public interventions' and arrived at a draft decision highlighting different options reflecting the views of developing and developed countries. The draft text was the result of integrating submissions by the developing-country Group of 77 and China, and Australia, Japan and the US.

Even though Parties saw moving to a draft decision as progress, vast substantive differences remained.

According to sources, developed countries wanted references to new terms such as 'reporting Parties' in the text, when the obligation of providing financial support is on developed countries. Developed countries also proposed deleting references to 'loss and damage' and expressed discomfort over the use of words such as 'new' and 'additional' during the discussions, which raised red flags from developing countries.

There were also differences of view on how the information on finance provided and finance mobilised should be treated, with developed countries wanting the clubbing together of both types of information while developing countries wanted a distinction between the two.

In light of the above, the road to and at Katowice, Poland, is bound to be rocky. Whether and how compromises will be reached, given the vastly opposing views between Parties, remains to be seen and is expected to draw much public attention. It will indeed be a testing time for the Polish presidency of the talks.         

Meena Raman is Senior Legal Adviser and Coordinator of the Climate Change Programme of the Third World Network. Indrajit Bose is a senior researcher with TWN. This article was written with inputs from Prerna Bomzan.

*Third World Resurgence No. 331/332, March/April 2018, pp 2-5