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).