Climate negotiations: What is going on?

Recently the ADP* had its 3rd of 4 pre-negotiations held in 2015 before the climate summit in December. As a young PhD candidate in climate change law, being an observer to the climate negotiations is a unique chance and a privilege. Sitting in the room where the talks take place makes you able to witness how treaty provisions are shaped and drafted. After the negotiations, scholars will be dissecting the text of the agreement, but you were there when it was put together.

What is the role of an observer? Generally meetings of the UNFCCC bodies are convened for negotiations between Parties to the Convention. NGOs – including research centers- can be appointed as observers. According to Article 7, paragraph 6, of the Convention “[a]ny body or agency, whether national or international, governmental or non-governmental, which is qualified in matters covered by the Convention, […] can be represented at a session of the Conference of the Parties as an observer”.

So far the main result of the negotiation sessions is the Geneva text (GNT) released at the ADP Session in Geneva (February 2015). As ADP co-chairs have made clear several times, this text is the only official draft negotiation text on the table. All themes under discussion are reflected in the GNT’s sections which are: preamble, definition, general/objective, adaptation, loss and damage, mitigation, finance, technology development and transfer, capacity building, transparency and monitoring, time frames and commitments, implementation and compliance, and procedural and institutional provisions. Negotiations are still ongoing. There is a unanimous view that there exists an urgent need to accelerate the work Besides that, the progress achieved so far by the ADP is a testament to the strong political will of all Parties to ensure the successful implementation of the ADP mandate and to their commitment for a universal climate agreement to be adopted in Paris at COP 21.The submission to date of intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) on behalf of 52 Parties is also a demonstration of such commitment.

The most common question that I am usually asked is whether there is any risk that States Parties will not to sign any agreement as in Copenhagen (2009). I think we should be careful with our expectations for what reaching an agreement will mean. The main objective of COP 21 in December is to produce a cooperation framework among governments.. More than looking for a legally binding agreement that will solve everything right now, we should evaluate how much countries are themselves are ready for to change towards a low-carbon economy.

Compliance mechanism is one of the topics under discussion. There are two alternative options on the table. One is to make a compliance mechanism following the model of the Kyoto Compliance mechanism. The other is to establish a climate justice tribunal. Besides the challenges related to structure and membership of these bodies, the greatest threats/challenges would be how to agree who would trigger compliance procedures. In the best scenario, the Paris Agreement will provide a sketch of a compliance mechanism, which will be worked out in detail in later meetings. This happened with the Kyoto Compliance Mechanism that was sketched out in the Protocol of 1997 and its workings finalized through a package of COP decisions under the Marrakesh Accords of 2001. The value of the agreement will correlate with the achievement of a similar outcome.

*The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. In the framework of the UNFCCC bodies, this body has the specific mandate – to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties-, which is to be completed no later than 2015 in order for it to be adopted at the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP), – next December 2015 (Decision 1/ CP. 17, 2011).

Pledges, promises and a poem – The UN Climate Summit 2014

On 21 September 2014, the world has seen the biggest ever climate march, which drew about 400.00 people to the streets of NYC. On 23 September 2014, about 120 heads of state and government followed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s invitation to the UN climate summit 2014. Many states – as well as corporations – made pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While with these events momentum is brought back in the climate talks, the pledges amount to “too little, too late”. Much more action needs to be taken soon to keep global temperature increases somewhere close to 2 degrees Celsius.

Under the umbrella of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), states currently negotiate a new global agreement which can take the form of “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties”. This agreement is to be adopted at the 20th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in Paris, December 2015, and to come into effect and be implemented from 2020.

While the negotiations on this agreement have advanced significantly over the last year, no draft text exists yet as to show how the architecture of the agreement will look like. Certainly, elements such as mitigation, adaptation, means of implementation and institutional arrangements will be a part of it. Yet, how much will be done and by whom are still open questions. The UN summit has given some indications of what states might be willing to agree to. The pledges of states – which in the climate negotiations currently take the form on “intended nationally determined contributions” – will have to stand the scrutiny of the world public before they find their way into the agreement. Other states, civil society, businesses will have the chance to see what is on the table. It can only be hoped that public pressure – and peer pressure – can and will increase these pledges to a level where they are adequate for meeting the 2 degree goal.

One voice at the UN climate summit made clear the urgency of the task: A young mother’s letter to her 7 months old daughter. In this beautiful poem, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands brought home to the delegates the fact that climate change does not respect spatial nor temporal boundaries. The poem is also a promise to her child – and all children, including those yet to be born – that the world will stand up to this immense task.

The next round of climate negotiations is set for 1-12 December in Lima, Peru. It is expected that a draft negotiation text emerges from the Lima talks. This draft will give an indication of what can be expected from the Paris summit next year. It might also give an indication of the fate of the world.