06 Oct 2014
Priorities for the climate negotiations: a climate regime that works
5146 view(s)



Global climate policy is being reframed, moving away from an exclusive focus on emissions, the symptoms, to the causes of the problem, use of energy, and new sustainable development architecture.


The Co-chair’s Non-Paper, as the draft negotiating text,shows that divergent perspectives on how best to achieve the Objective of the Climate Convention continue to prevail. The choice before the Parties now is to see whether the differences can be resolved at Bonn, in light of the most recent science, or seriously consider a new approach at Lima, because inaction is no longer an option.


At the Ministerial Meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate Change, held on 21 September 2014, John Kerry, Secretary of State of the United States, stressed out that “the solution to climate change is energy policy. If we make the right choices about how we build buildings, how we transport people, what we do with respect to providing electricity and power to our countries, this problem gets solved”.India pointed out that its energy needs would grow at least four times, and reiterated its rejection of a universal approach as it needed more time for emissions reduction. Speaking at the UN Climate Summit, on 23 September, Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli said China is willing to “take on international responsibilities that are commensurate with our national conditions and actual capabilities," and laid stress on expanding renewable energy and lowering emissions intensity. At the UNGA India’s Prime Minister reiterated that the principle of a “balance of collective action” must continue to shape the architecture of the new climate regime.


The most recent science on climate change supports a shift to a sustainable development perspective. The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in 2013 - 2014, for the first time


·        concludes that cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide are the dominant factor determining the global mean surface warming, that is, the use of energy, and it now nudges international cooperation around the global climate budget;


·        includes a chapter on ‘Ethics and Justice’ and its importance in dealing with the problem and strengthening international cooperation;


·         emphasises that sustainable development and equity provide a basis for assessing climate policies; and,


·        Focuses on risk and stresses that climate resilient pathways are sustainable development trajectories that combine adaptation and mitigation to reduce climate change and its impacts.


The Bonn session in October has to incorporate these elements of “fairness” into the new regime to meet the requirements of the next 25 years.In this context the Parties will need to focus on the Guiding Principles in the Co-Chairs Non paperwhich negates notions of “fairness”.


First, the Principle in the Convention is really “on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities”, and this reference to equity is important because addition of the words “while taking into account national circumstances” will focus only on present and the future emissions, whereas temperature increase is caused by the concentration of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. It will also negate the CBDR-RC principle and the scientific understanding that climate change has the characteristics of a collective action problem at the global scale.


Second, “universality” does not have an agreed meaning and saying that it “does not mean uniformity” is repetitive and does not provide the needed clarification.  Universality must ‘recognise diversity’ as a part of the architecture, and not in the form of special treatment, to take into account national circumstances because climate resilient pathways will be specific to countries.


Third, it is not the individual commitment of Parties, but must be a “collective” commitment, according to CBDR-RC principle;the Principles should not merely ‘reflect’ equity which cannot also be ‘achieved through nationally determined contributions’, but must be guided by equity because, according to the IPCC, it is essential for assessing national actions as well as for international cooperation; the equity elements should not be expressed as “further considerations” implying they are not a part of the basic architecture; it not the “collective aspects” of mitigation, but “collective action”, and mitigation is not the “core” of the new regime ignoring the equal importance needed to be given to adaptation, otherwise the burden of mitigation and adaptation shifts to developing countries .


Fourth, the overall goal of limiting increase in global temperature serves to define the objective of the Convention, according to the Convention and the IPCC it is dependent on the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and national ambition must be based on each country’s fair share. This will require a focus on the carbon budget, instead of on emissions reduction, as well as new rules for sharing technology to make the pie bigger as placing restrictions on emissions of carbon dioxide from the use of energy will allow some to take a larger slice (Article 4.5 on technologytransfer is absent from the mitigation section).


Fifth, ‘leadership by Parties with the greatest responsibility and highest capacity’ also needs to be specified – does it refer to cumulative emissions according to science or current emissions? Is capacity based on GDP or PPP? What about the overriding goal of eradication of poverty? Will this be assessed in per-capita terms that recognize the ‘right to sustainable development’, which is one of the Principles of the Convention by which this text is guided?


Sixth, why qualify Article 4.3 and 4.7, and leave out Article 4.5, and limit them to the nature and extent of “enhanced Action” and “relevant” decisions of the COP? Article 4.3 also applies only for implementing measures covered by Article 4.1, and provides incremental costs of these measures. The formulation in the non-paper will lead to continuing tension between Parties in the annual meetings, whereas the effort should be to enhance international cooperation. It is best to leave these provisions as they are in the Convention.


The draft text on ‘intended nationally determined contributions’, in Para 5 limits “fairness of ambition and the level of ambition” to “national circumstances and capabilities”, ignoring equity and CBDR-RC, and refers to the temperature goal without a reference to the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which, that determines increase in temperature, and the carbon budget. 


The assessment of the reports from Parties will not be a “technical paper” as value judgements will have to be made when fairness and justice are considered, and this has also been clarified in detail in the IPCC AR5. Assessments are best done by the Subsidiary Body for implementation, in accordance with Article 10.2 (a), which provides for the assessment of the ‘overall aggregated effects of the steps taken by the Parties in the light of the latest scientific assessments concerning climate change’. Clearly, agreement on the Guiding Principles is the first step and immediate priority for the Bonn Session, otherwise Parties must consider alternative framings of the problem.


What about an alternative sustainable development framework, if there is no agreement on how to include “fairness” into the Kyoto framework of focusing on current emissions of Partiesthat are at different levels of development?


First, focus reporting on energy use and the global carbon budget, as that alone directly relates to global temperature increase.


Second,establish new rules for sharing renewable energy and agriculture technologies and financial resources to enable all countries to modify their growth pathways.


Third, recognise levels of development in the national actions of all countries so that they contribute their fair share to the global effort in accordance with global trends in use of energy.


Fourth, the annual meetings of the Climate Convention should discuss how best to modify longer term trends in energy use, provide access to adequate and affordable energy to all keeping related emissions of carbon dioxide within planetary limits, exchange experiences on adaptation to support climate resilient growth pathways and assess the aggregated effects of the steps taken by the Parties.


This framework will be fully in accordance with the Objective of the Climate Convention and replace the Kyoto framework as it has not found universal acceptance. The experience of the successful Montreal Protocol is that the focus must be on measures that are practical, have clarity and enhance international cooperation.

[1] Ex civil servant and Director UNFCCC