Jan 2016: Most summaries of the Paris Summit on Climate Change (a.k.a. COP21) have reached a positive conclusion. However this bears little relation to what happened during the negotiations, the final Paris Agreement or its implications for climate change, particularly for developing countries, as Daphne Davies, Azeb Girmai and Prerna Bomzan explain.
Context – the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ‘the Climate Convention’
The Rio Meeting in 1992 produced the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – known as the Climate Convention, in which countries agreed to work together to limit global temperature increases and to cope with the impacts of climate change. This entered into force in 1994.
An important aspect of the Convention was Article 3: “parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of future and present generations of human kind on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities. Accordingly, developed countries should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof”.
A second aspect was ‘historical responsibility’, meaning that countries which have polluted most over time had to contribute most to preventing climate change, which explains why the US should do more than, for example, China.
Before the Summit began
A month before the Paris Summit a meeting was held in Bonn to finalise the text of the document to be negotiated in Paris. This was a tense meeting as the G77 (which now includes 130 countries) + China complained that the developed countries manipulated the text to ignore their concerns, so insisted that 14 extra pages were added to reflect them.
Finance was a continuing sore. Developing countries complained that they were not receiving the $100 billion per annum via the Green Climate Fund promised by developed countries, while developing countries insisted they had stuck to their pledges. Developing countries also wanted the text to include new finance above the annual $100 billion after 2020, and that is should be genuinely new, not reclassified from that already in overseas development (ODA) budgets.
In order to ensure a successful Summit in Paris the UNFCCC Secretariat had requested countries to submit their Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions (INDC)s in advance. INDCs are individual pledges of actions countries will take to reduce their emissions. As these are non-binding, and non-enforceable it was hoped that this would produce a more realistic outcome than setting an international emissions limit, which had proved unsuccessful at Kyoto, and had derailed the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009.
How events unfolded
The Summit opening on 30 November was addressed by Heads of State, giving a sense of purpose and a willingness to find solutions. Immediately following this, President Obama met a group of leaders from the Alliance of Small Island States, and declared he was an “island boy”, so understood their concerns about being submerged under rising sea levels if temperatures rose by 20C.
Also, as the meeting kicked off, Least Developed Countries (LDCs – the world’s 48 poorest countries) received a pledge of an additional $248 million to the LDC Fund (LDCF) from 11 North American and European countries for immediate climate adaptation projects: National Adaptation Program of Actions (NAPAS). However, as the LDC Chief Negotiator Giza Gaspar Martins pointed out, this was a drop in the ocean relative to the $5 billion needed for the 500 projects the LDCF had already identified, for which only $859 million had been found so far. Given developed countries’ poor record of fulfilling pledges to the Green Climate Fund, there is skepticism that this $248 million will ever arrive in full.
Cynics might surmise that Obama’s meeting with the small island states, and the pledge to LDCs were moves to sooth potentially difficult negotiations.
Reducing temperature rise to 1.50C
A major announcement during the Conference was that over 100 countries had formed ‘a coalition of ambition’ to take steps to reduce global warming to 1.50C, down from 20C, to save the poorest low-lying countries and islands.
However, as this pledge was not coupled with moves to revise INDCs, scientists at the meeting predicted that if all the countries stuck to their INDCs the temperature was likely to rise by between 2.70C and 3.70C.
Loss and Damage
An important element for developing countries was to get a mechanism anchored in the text, with a legally-binding financial facility, to address ‘loss and damage’ in countries affected by extreme weather and climate change. This would supply funds, technology support and capacity building and was in the draft text as Article 5: Loss and damage with ‘A process to develop approaches to address irreversible and permanent damage resulting from human-induced climate change ….with a view to completing this process within four years’.
The notion of Loss and Damage caused panic among developed countries which feared it could make them responsible for billions of dollars in compensation. A strong opponent was the US, whose lead negotiator Todd Stern described compensation and liability as a “line we can’t cross”. It is also understood that US and EU negotiators threatened to leave the negotiations if financial compensation was mentioned in the text.
Ways of conducting negotiations
A recurring refrain from the US during negotiations was that the text had to be such that the US (Republican-dominated) Congress would agree to it.
One aspect to remember is that negotiations between unequal partners also reflect on other negotiations and deals – small countries pushing for what is best for them in climate terms must take account of how this might impact on bilateral trade agreements with big trading partners.
For example, during the Summit there was talk of outspoken developing country delegates being removed by their governments. This has occurred before – for example, after the Warsaw meeting in 2013, when the Philippines chief negotiator Yeb Sano, who threatened to go on hunger strike at the slowness of negotiations, was removed from the negotiating team at the Lima meeting the following year.
The Paris Agreement – an assessment
Scrapping the spirit of the 1992 Climate Convention
Firstly, the spirit behind the 1992 Climate Convention, which cited the principles of ‘historical responsibility, equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’ is no longer inherent in the Paris Agreement. The long-standing ‘polluter pays’ principle has been weakened. The wording of the early text of Article 2 of the Paris Agreement has been changed from ‘This Agreement will be implemented on the basis of equity and in accordance with the principle of common by differentiated responsibilities’ to the final text ‘…. implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities’.
As noted above the much-trumpeted move to reduce emissions in order to keep temperature rises to 1.50C has no binding power – it is simply an expression of intent or ‘ambition’. Article 2 of the Paris Agreement states ‘This Agreement …. aims to strengthen the global response, including by…. holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 20C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.50C’.
As mentioned above, country INDCs are likely to give rise to temperature levels over an average 30C. Studies show that at some parts of the globe temperature rises may be as high as 40C.
Even with this weak language relating to emissions, there was a last minute hitch. Just as the Agreement was to be presented at the end of the Summit. US negotiators noticed that Article 4.4 read ‘Developed country Parties ‘shall’ continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets’. They objected that they would be unable to get the document with ‘shall’ through Congress if it implied that developed countries take the lead in emissions reductions. Instead the word was changed to ‘should’, with the explanation that tired typists had made a typing error.
The financial aspects of the final document have also moved away from the principles of the Climate Convention that developed countries had a historical responsibility to provide finance to developing countries (LDCs and Africa). The final text changed from indicating that developed countries shall provide (financial) support to developing countries, to stating that developing countries need (financial) support.
Thus developed countries’ responsibility to provide finance or assist developing countries to undertake adaption for loss and damage has been replaced with an acknowledgment that developing countries’ need to access finance – including borrowing it on the money markets.
In earlier drafts of the Agreement the section on Adaptation had stated that ‘developed countries shall provide support to developing countries’. In the final version this is replaced by the phrase in 46.(a)‘Developed countries will take the necessary steps to facilitate the mobilization of support for adaptation in developing countries’.
Similarly, as expressed in the original text: ‘The mobilisation of climate finance [shall][should] be scaled up in … beyond previous efforts from $100 billion a year from 2020’, is downgraded to 53: ‘shall set a new collective qualified goal from a floor of $100 billion per year’.
Developed countries’ reluctance to produce any additional finance over the $100 billion is indicated in the text. Original wording that ‘Developed country Parties shall provide ‘new’ or ‘additional’ financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation’ has been altered to 53: financial resources provided to developing countries should enhance the implementation of their policies…’
Loss and Damage
As for the section on Loss and Damage, this is downgraded to a toothless mechanism. Far from providing a basis for any liability or compensation, it goes so far as to explicitly say: 52: ‘Agrees that Article 8 of the Agreement does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation’.
The Paris Agreement will open for signature in April 2016 and enter into force (and thus become fully effective) when it is ratified by 55 of the countries that produce at least 55% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
So what of the outcome? On the positive side, we see a statement of intent signed by all 195 participating countries to work to reduce global warming. A major achievement after the failure to reach agreement at previous negotiations. Ironically, this was achieved at the same time as many of the signatories’ INDCs indicated an increase in coal and gas production.
On the negative side, things have got worse for the poorest developing countries. They see no real cuts in emissions from current levels, for which they are already experiencing the negative effects, such as sea level rises devastating their coastlines, and the sun turning their land into deserts. In addition, they will not see additional money to help them with adaption, nor funds to compensate the loss and damage to their lives and livelihoods.
An important question is whether these losses can be reversed during future negotiations, or whether this new text, with its deletions of equity (fairness) or historical responsibility, replaces the original Climate Convention.