Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 28 May 2012

Climate talks end after slow progress

The first climate change meetings this year ended last Friday after very slow progress on the new Durban Platform, showing how difficult it will be to agree even on basics.


This year’s first set of meetings under the UN Climate Change Convention closed last Friday in Bonn.  On that day, the new group on the Durban Platform adopted two decisions it was supposed to have made instead at the beginning: it adopted an agenda and elected its Co-Chairs.

That two weeks of intense negotiations led only to these two delayed results underscored how complex and difficult the new Durban Platform process will be in the future.

At the heart of the contested terrain are the questions: how rapidly must the world cut and avoid further Greenhouse Gas emissions, how to allocate the effort and burden of doing that among countries, how much support in funds and technology will developed countries provide to developing countries, and will the Convention’s principles be allowed to apply, as before?

Since 2008, most of the work on these issues has been done under the working group on long-term cooperative action (LCA) to follow up on the Bali Action Plan, and the Kyoto Protocol (KP) working group (to determine the emission cuts of developed country Parties in the protocol’s second period starting 2013). 

These two groups are tasked with getting developed countries to legally commit to deep emission reductions from 2013.   Under the LCA group, developing countries are also to take actions, supported by transfers of finance and technology coming from the rich countries.

A distinction was made between legal commitments of developed countries and the non-binding actions of developing countries, since the former are responsible for most of the stock of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. They also committed to provide funds and transfer technology to developing countries.

These are part of the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities that are embedded in the Convention itself, and in the KP and the LCA.

The KP and LCA groups are still active this year but are being phased out. The Durban Platform (DP) group is seen as the new powerful body, with the task of producing a new protocol, or another legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force in 2015, to be applicable by 2020.

Do the equity principles still apply in the Durban Platform, and if so how?  Should the DP cover only the post-2020 period (which is specifically mentioned in the DP decision adopted last December), or also the pre-2020 period?

Deep differences of views on these and other questions emerged in the Bonn session, indicating that these basic issues will dominate the initial phase of the DP discussion.

The G77 and China, representing developing countries, stated at the DP group’s opening plenary that the DP outcome must be in accordance with the principles and provisions of the Convention, including equity and common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities.

The Bonn session saw the emergence of like-minded developing countries making joint statements at key moments.  This grouping included Argentina, Philippines, Malaysia, China, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali.

Argentina, speaking for the group, stressed that the term “applicable to all Parties” in the DP decision does not mean that the outcome must be such that all Parties undertake uniform or similar types and levels of obligations. Universality of application is not uniformity of application.

Thus, said the group, the DP work on mitigation should recognise the different nature and level of obligations of developed and developing countries.  Moreover, the mitigation efforts by developing countries are related to the extent of obtaining of finance and technology transfer. Equity must the centrepiece and under-pin any possible outcome of the DP. 

However, many developed countries, especially the United States, think that the differences between developed and developing countries no longer apply, and that all countries have to take on similar obligations.  This is their interpretation of “applicable to all.”

Another contested issue is whether pre-2020 mitigation is primarily the task of the Durban Platform.

The decision in Durban contains a paragraph on launching a workplan on enhancing mitigation ambition and ensure the highest possible mitigation efforts by all Parties.  This is taken to mean mitigation before 2020.

The provisional agenda for the DP group had an item on “work-plan on enhancing mitigation ambition.”  Several developing countries, including China, the Philippines, India, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, opposed having a separate item on this, arguing that it should be subsumed under an item on all the work of the group.

They were concerned that shifting the pre-2020 mitigation issue into the DP group would marginalise the issue that developed countries are scheduled to commit to deep emission cuts as part of the outcomes being negotiated in the other two groups (KP and LCA). 

The focus of pre-2020 mitigation, at least this year, should be in the KP and LCA groups, while the DP group should focus on basic principles, scope of work and post-2020 mitigation.

However this was strenuously opposed by the EU, other developed countries and the small island states and LDCs, which want to start work immediately in the DP group on pre-2020  mitigations.

Eventually, on the last day, a compromise was worked out in which all the elements of the DP decision would be discussed in two work-streams, one of which would be on enhancing mitigation ambition.

A big tussle also took place on who should be the Chair of the DP group, there being candidates from India, Trinidad and Tobago and Norway.  Open meetings and closed consultations took place throughout the two weeks.

Eventually it was agreed that J. Mauskar of India and M. Dovland of Norway would be Co Chairs in the next 13 months, while Kumarsingh of Trinidad and Tobago with a person from a developed country would take over from mid-2013 to end-2014, and an African together with a developed country person would co-chair in 2015.