TWN Info Service on Climate Change (Dec20/03)
11 December 2020
Third World Network

Developing countries raise concerns over UNFCCC’s virtual meetings

Kathmandu, 11 Dec (Prerna Bomzan): Developing countries, at the closing of the ‘Climate Dialogues’, expressed the challenges they faced over a series of virtual events organized under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The events which began on 23 Nov. ended on 4 Dec. with a closing ceremony.

Guyana speaking for the G77 and China stressed that the “virtual format does not lend itself to negotiations and decision-making in a consensus-based, inclusive and transparent Party driven process,” adding that “challenges were definitely experienced with internet connectivity and differences in time zones” by developing countries. This sentiment was echoed by other developing country groupings as well.

[Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the year-end annual UNFCCC meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) could not be held. In its place, the ‘Climate Dialogues’ were launched by the Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), in collaboration with the preceding COP 25 Presidency (Chile) and incoming COP 26 Presidency (United Kingdom), to advance work under the subsidiary bodies (SBs) and the COP].

The closing ceremony was moderated by Musonda Mumba, Head of the Terrestrial Ecosystems Programme, UN Environment Programme and the panel of speakers included SBSTA Chair Tosi Mpanu Mpanu (Democratic Republic of Congo), SBI Chair Marianne Karlsen (Norway); Julio Cordano, Negotiations Coordinator representing the COP 25 Presidency from Chile; Archie Young, Lead Climate Negotiator, representing the incoming COP 26 Presidency from the United Kingdom (U.K) and Patricia Espinosa, UNFCCC Executive Secretary. (See below for further details).

Various groups of Parties conveyed their reflections with “live’ interventions as well as “pre-recorded” video messages.

Apart from raising issues regarding the difficulties faced by developing countries in their participation due to connectivity issues and differences in time zones, Guyana for the G77 and China also provided its reflections on various issues related to the agendas of the Subsidiary Bodies (SBs).

On discussions under the pre-2020 roundtable (dealing with the implementation and ambition gaps under the Convention), the G77 representative highlighted the “deficit of ambition” and called upon developed countries in particular “to very quickly and decisively correct this” adding that “pre-2020 action and commitments, despite showing some progress, were ultimately and unquestionably inadequate in light of the objective of the Convention and the long-term goals under the Paris Agreement (PA).” Said the Group further, “developed countries failed not only to revise their commitments in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 4th Assessment report but also failed to provide adequate financing for adaptation”.

Guyana also highlighted that “climate finance, technology and capacity building are key enablers to what the PA stands for,” adding that “in the midst of a global pandemic that is devastating in the developing world, and that will have enormous socio-economic and environmental effects that will be felt for years to come, the Dialogues highlighted the central importance of means of implementation, and the need for far greater progress on this in the negotiations”.

Stressing further on finance, Guyana said that “the overwhelming concern of developing countries is on the implementation of the financial commitments of developed countries under the Convention and PA, including the USD 100 billion mobilization goal by developed countries and the perspective of this continued obligation for the next 5 years, coupled with all lessons learned for the upcoming deliberation on a new collective quantified goal on finance”. “Climate finance negotiations must be based on the urgent and pressing needs of the developing world to meet the desired enhanced action and ambition required”, it added.

It added that discussions on adaptation were very disappointing and lagged behind mitigation and stressed the need for balanced progress on the matter.

Guyana also said that the informal dialogues on the Transparency Framework and Article 6 of the PA (on market and non-market approaches) were useful on both the technical and process issues.

It said further that COP 26 will need to have “concrete deliverables on action and support for loss and damage” adding that “many regions of the world are already experiencing limits to adaptation, which translate into loss and damage.” “Increased ambition and action in mitigation must therefore be accompanied by increased ambition and action in adaptation,” stressed Guyana further.

Ecuador for the Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) also expressed problems of “connectivity” in relation to engaging in the virtual meetings that hindered “effective participation” of its members.

On the ‘pre-2020’ roundtable (on the pre-2020 implementation and ambition under the Convention), it said that “the gaps resulting in the pre-2020 period will need to be factored in the post-2020 period. Pre-2020 is not about the time scale, but about commitments. When commitments are fulfilled, the mission of pre-2020 is accomplished”, said Ecuador further.  

On the Structured Expert Dialogue (SED), Ecuador called for “more information on the overall assessment of progress across mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology support” and “to get an overall and balanced assessment” at the next SED session.  (The SED is to support the work in relation to the Second Periodic Review as regards the overall progress of Parties on the implementation of commitments under the Convention).

Ecuador reiterated the need for fulfilment of the USD 100 billion commitment and for a review process under the UNFCCC to track its progress. It also called for “the launch of a process to set the new collective goal based on developing countries’ needs; information to be provided by developed countries under Article 9.5 of the PA this year; continuation of long-term finance under the COP, focused on scope, scale and speed of climate finance delivery, and an agreed definition of climate finance.” It added that “ambition in mitigation is dependent on ambition in adequate, predictable and sustainable finance, technology and capacity building support to developing countries”. (Article 9.5 of the PA mandates developed countries to biennially communicate ex-ante information on the projected levels of public financial resources to developing countries).

On discussions over the Transparency Framework, Ecuador reminded Parties that at COP 25 in Madrid, Rule 16 of the UNFCCC’s Rules of Procedure was applied as regards the issues under consideration (where no conclusions were reached thus resulting in the automatic consideration of the issues at the next session). In this regard, it said that formal negotiations among Parties must resume prior to any further mandates being given. It expressed concerns over “new notions or references” such as “international community” being used in the context of support to developing countries and cautioned that such references should not be developed into “shying away from obligations by developed countries under the Convention and the PA”. In a similar vein, it also cautioned against “new initiatives” being launched outside the UNFCCC framework before consultations with Parties.

Bhutan for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) also voiced “logistical challenges” faced by its members in connecting to and accessing the virtual Dialogues. It said that the LDC Group “needs to see COVID recovery plans and policy decisions from all governments that are consistent with the PA and Sustainable Development Goals” and prioritised in 2021, deliberations on a “new climate finance goal that is based on science and actual needs of developing countries” as well as to “empower” the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) so that it delivers “tangible outcomes” in relation to “action and support for loss and damage”.

Belize for the Alliance of Small Island States in reference to the virtual Dialogues said that they were not intended to be a replacement for the formal setting but it said that on the positive side, it has “democratized the process”, reaching out to many more people. It highlighted the “drive for ambition” and the need to “hit clear targets” on transparency matters, Article 6 and finance.

Saudi Arabia for the Arab Group also raised concerns over connectivity issues in relation to the virtual meetings, adding that it was a “challenge” for many of its members. It cautioned against any “outcome” out of the Article 6 discussions and underlined the need for “advancement of agenda” under response measures urging for “necessary” arrangements in 2021. It said that the discussions on climate finance were very challenging, reminding Parties that climate finance under the Convention is a “commitment by developed countries to developing countries”. On the Transparency Framework discussions, it conveyed “very strong reservations on the Global Initiative for the Enhanced Transparency Framework” which was proposed by the UNFCCC Secretariat, cautioning against the role of non-Party stakeholder efforts in the intergovernmental process.

The European Union (EU) said that the “information of exchange” and “deepening of understanding of challenges” went particularly well in the two weeks. It highlighted that the first reports received following Article 9.5 of the PA (on the ex-ante biennial communication on provision of finance by developed countries) gives “more confidence that climate finance continues to flow” and that it is becoming “larger at scale as well as more predictable”. It called for advancing negotiations with the help of all the technology to achieve the outcomes that are essential at COP 26.

Switzerland for the Environmental Integrity Group (EIG) said that the Dialogues “really worked” with an “inclusive and transparent process”. It said that more “preparation, interaction and work” was needed towards a successful COP 26 and proposed to “continue to work together using this (virtual) format.” It also proposed for plans for meetings of the Subsidiary Bodies (SBs) to be held early next year, adding that “if physical meetings are not possible, then to plan it virtually”. It further supported “virtual meetings as often as possible before the next SBs and before the COP”, while maintaining that “these virtual exchanges are important but do not replace physical meetings”.

At the opening of the event, SBSTA Chair Tosi Mpanu Mpanu (DRC) remarked that the closing discussions will reflect on the activities of the past 10 days and on “how to best organise in the preparation of the UNFCCC negotiation sessions in 2021”.

In his remarks, he provided a summary of the events undertaken under the SBSTA and underlined that despite the progress made, there was need to speed up the implementation on a number of mandated activities, “in particular, the implementation of the six-year work plan of the impacts of the implementation of response measures”, which was adopted at COP 25 and hence, how to expedite the work in 2021. He also highlighted constructive engagement of Parties on “unresolved issues under Article 6 as well as outstanding work on transparency matters” and that the “sense of urgency was clear and evident by willingness of Parties” to advance work on these outstanding matters mandated for finalisation in Glasgow (COP 26).

Mpanu further informed that he intended to organise more expert meetings in similar format in 2021 particularly on unresolved issues under Article 6. On the Transparency Framework matters, informal consultations scheduled on 2 Dec could not take place and informed Parties that he has asked the Secretariat to look for “possible dates and timing and will inform Parties as soon as possible”.  He added that the engagement of heads of delegation is “important all the way through until COP 26” and that they “cannot and should not be diving into every unresolved issue” but they “can direct the process and help unlock the more difficult issues”.

SBI Chair Marianne Karlsen (Norway) provided figures about the Dialogues stating there was more than 8000 attendees from across the world. Out of the broadcasted events, 9 informal consultations were convened as closed sessions and recognized that challenges of the virtual set-up. She provided a summary of the activities and work undertaken under the SBI agenda and said that “in 2021, when we resume our formal deliberations, I’m confident that we will harvest the fruits of these past two weeks”. She added that the informal consultations with Parties gave “important guidance” to facilitate technical work in the lead up the to the next SBs and said again that the virtual format is “not an optimal setting”.

COP 25 Presidency Negotiations Coordinator Julio Cordano (Chile) said that the two weeks have shown that “when there is a will there is a way” given engagement by Parties, and with their exchange of views, making “progress in their common understanding”. He acknowledged that “virtual systems have their limitations and virtual means will not replace actual negotiations”. He was of the view that the two weeks “have been extremely successful”.

The incoming COP 26 UK Presidency’s Lead Climate Negotiator, Archie Young talked about the next COP being an “ambitious” one and relayed the UK’s new nationally determined contribution of “at least 68% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 1990 levels, by 2030”. He also stressed the need for “ambition across mitigation, adaptation and support”.

Young said that given the uncertainty of time, looking ahead to 2021, the COP 26 Presidency “intends to provide maximum clarity and direction”. As a “Party-driven process, we will take our guidance from you”, he said and stressed the UK’s priority on “transparency and inclusiveness”.  He informed Parties that the COP 26 Presidency will be hosting a series of “bilateral and multilateral” consultations throughout the year, involving all stakeholders, and hoped to “achieve a balanced, comprehensive negotiated outcome” at COP 26 in Glasgow.