What’s Next for the Climate Governance Talks

Last December I attended the climate negotiations in Lima, Peru that marked the twentieth Conference of the Parties (COP 20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This annual meeting marked another stepping stone on the pathway towards a new international climate regime that will be negotiated and finalized this year in Paris.

While I was there I knew that I had a lot to learn about the negotiating process. Over the past week I have come to realize that my previous amount of knowledge surmounted to just skimming the surface…

The organisation I chose to work for this summer is called the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD). They’re a non-profit that focuses on all trade issues in various facets including agriculture, climate and energy, development and LDCs, environment, and global economic governance (to name just a few).

ICTSD has a multitude of teams working around the world researching and doing analyses, while also reporting on the most recent news developments. The office is situated on the sixth floor of a building titled the “International Environment House -2.” From the office you can see the very top of the Geneva fountain.

Where I work in Geneva at the International Environment House 2
The view of Geneva from my office at ICTSD

This place is always in a flurry of activity and my experience so far has been both challenging and rewarding, which is exactly what I wanted from my summer internship.

When I arrived for my first day I was automatically thrown into the hustle and bustle of what it’s like to be on a publications team. I did some last minute editing for the most recent BioRes issue, found here, and reviewed a few more articles about the climate negotiations that took place in Bonn, Germany from June 1st to June 11th. On a side-note, I must say that after a little bit of practise, I’m starting to get accustomed to writing in British English!

My work so far has focused on writing daily climate briefs on the Bonn climate conference, as well as attempting to write articles on topics ranging from the Clean Energy Ministerial that wrapped up in Mexico at the end of May, and the G7 summit that occurred last weekend. These articles can be found here and here respectively. If you want to stay abreast on these issues check them out!

At the end of last week I had the opportunity to write an article about the EPA’s finding, released last Wednesday, that emissions from the aviation sector are a threat to public health (due to climate change). This sets the stage for the EPA to begin regulating emissions from commercial aircraft! I researched the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS), as well as how avian emissions could be regulated internationally by the beginning of 2016 (stay tuned for the story).

For people who know me, you know that word limits are not my friend. Putting together an article that is comprehensive, balanced, and detailed for a certain audience is certainly an art. My editor has given me positive feedback, but I certainly have my work cut out for me here. As I always remind myself, if you’re too comfortable with what you’re doing, you’re not learning.

So these climate negotiations in Bonn…What has happened? Where do we stand on in tackling global greenhouse gas emissions and limiting global temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees Celsius?

Photo courtesy of the UNFCCC
Photo courtesy of the UNFCCC

Firstly, for “Workstream 1” the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) met to work on the draft negotiating text that was first created at the Lima Conference. This text was then doubled in length at the Geneva meeting held in February.

The results are a mixed bag.

On one hand, there is a showing of trust between the Parties. On the other hand, discussions focused on the mechanical aspects of the negotiating text instead of substantial discussions on the key issues.

The goal of the conference was to streamline the approximately 90 page negotiating text (“Geneva negotiating text”) that is supposed to form the basis for post-2020 action in the Paris agreement to be signed this December. This document includes options within options for all Parties positions on mitigation, adaptation, timelines, finance, transparency, loss and damage, technology etc.

All Parties to the Convention (approximately 190) were supposed to take this draft text and reorganize it. This meant moving certain components of the text, deleting overlapping sections, etc. The end result of this mechanical streamlining would have been a more concise and manageable document.

Over the 10 negotiating days the document was only reduced by four pages. However, the good news is that the Parties put a lot of trust in their co-facilitators. In order to quicken the process, the UNFCCC create 11 focus groups, each with co-facilitators, to discuss various sections of text.

After 75 total sessions, the co-facilitators heard the Parties varying points of view, and it was decided by all Parties that the co-facilitators, in co-ordination with the Secretariat and co-chairs, would produce a streamlined version of the Geneva text before the next negotiating session in August.

This update from the co-chairs can be found here, and a new working document of the Geneva text should be available by July 24th at the latest. After this document is produced, there should be clearer options on the negotiating table. The real political conversations revolving around the nitty gritty issues of the climate deal can then begin.

Secondly, discussions continued for pre-2020 action under “Workstream 2.” Five informal consultation discussions took place, and it was agreed by most parties that climate action to curb emissions must be scaled up before 2020. There is great concern about the significant emissions gap still present between the aggregate effect of all Parties mitigation pledges and the total emission reductions needed to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. Under this workstream there were multiple Technical Expert Meetings (TEM) focused on renewable energy technologies, as well as the benefits of energy efficiency in urban environments.

The G-77/China bloc as well as the African Group is requesting a draft document for pre-2020 action to be created by the co-facilitators for Paris. It’s no surprise that the responsibility to curb emissions before 2020 is believed to lie mostly on developed countries such as the US and the EU. It has been stated by many experts that an agreement for Post-2020 action in Paris will only be reached if all countries can agree to pre-2020 issues, such as the increase of mitigation targets and financing.

All in all, progress is slow. However, if the ADP co-facilitators can create a more concise negotiating text before July 24th that all Parties support, there could be substantial progress made at the next negotiating session scheduled for August. After August there is only one more formal meeting before Paris in December.

This is a very complicated process and I’ll continue blogging about how these developments unfold throughout the summer. One of my next blogs will focus on the structure of the Paris agreement, the status of the climate pledges (known formally as the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs), and the role of nonstate actors in the creation of this hopefully robust, comprehensive, and durable climate deal.

Admiring the Geneva fountain with my fellow Duke Program on Global Policy and Governance peers