Lowering commitments, not emissions
NEGOTIATORS from over 190 countries gathered recently in Warsaw to lay the framework for a global climate agreement that is expected to be signed in 2015 in Paris. Warsaw was an opportunity for negotiators to narrow their differences, and increase their ambition for long-term action on climate change. Unfortunately they failed to reach a common understanding on the shape of the new agreement, the level of cuts needed, how they should be divided up, long-term financing needs of developing countries, and providing assistance to those suffering loses and damages from climate change.
Global negotiations, national interests
While the climate issue has moved high up on the political agenda, and the platform on which negotiations take place is multilateral, the interests pursued by negotiators remain firmly rooted nationally. Countries have consistently refused to look beyond their boundaries and interests to deal with an issue that cuts across borders.
Rich countries have to lead the way in cutting emissions and providing support. But developing countries also need to contribute if the warming limit of 2 degrees centigrade is to be maintained. Unfortunately the UN multilateral climate forum is capable of keeping the negotiations alive without yielding progressive outcomes. It is likely we may end up at the 2015 summit in Paris without any bold ambitions and actions to bring down global emissions.
Lowering commitments, not emissions
Climate talks so far have distinguished between richer and poorer countries. Richer countries are those who have polluted their way to economic growth and development and are responsible for the bulk of historical emissions. While poorer countries are latecomers to industrialisation, their emissions are increasing as they need to grow and lift their population out of poverty.
The Warsaw talks saw a major push by developed countries to remove the firewall between rich and poor countries so that all countries take on binding commitments to reduce emissions. But developing countries came out strongly against this move. Developed countries argued that the deal struck in Durban in 2011 required all major economies, including emerging economies, to commit to bringing down emissions, and this was not being adhered to. Developing countries challenged that these commitments were contingent on developed countries playing their role and providing climate funds and clean technology at concessional rates, and that this was not happening. Most developing countries maintain that since the Durban decision was under the UN Climate Convention, the responsibilities to reduce emissions remain differentiated.
For developing countries, historical emissions and the principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) are non-negotiable to ensure that climate justice and equity is respected. They seek that any new agreement has to come under the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on common but differentiated responsibilities rather than ignoring it. Developed countries were against keeping any such reference and this almost led to a breakdown of the talks until a compromise was worked out to replace "commitments" with the more flexible term "contributions".
The negotiating parties ultimately agreed to go back home and initiate or intensify domestic preparations for their intended "nationally determined" contributions to reduce emissions without being legally obliged to do so. Countries ready to do so will submit clear and transparent plans by the first quarter of 2015. The plans will be assessed by other countries to determine if they are ambitious and fair, and whether they will be collectively effective in preventing climate catastrophe. As the emissions reduction goals that will come into force in 2020 will not be decided centrally, but set at the national level, it remains to be seen how these contributions will evolve. They may end up as binding targets in the 2020 framework and take the shape of a new protocol, or simply an agreed outcome to reduce emissions with legal force.
No interim or long term financing
In the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks, developed nations committed to mobilize US$100 billion a year by 2020 for climate change. So far there has only been a trickle of funds. Developing countries want a roadmap on how the funds will be raised. But developed countries have resisted demands to put firm commitments on how they plan to fulfill this pledge. Developing countries also want richer countries to provide interim financing between now and 2020 to keep up the momentum until 2020. But this demand was rejected. Ultimately, no new financing was committed during the talks except replenishment of funds for the Adaptation Fund and adoption of the work programme for results-based financing for reducing emissions from forest-related activities.
Moving ahead from Warsaw
Political and economic realities of bringing down carbon emissions are a complex process and the Warsaw talks failed to overcome them. There is still an opportunity to salvage the trust and ambitions lost at Warsaw. A commitment to interim financing would be a good trust-building gesture and it will also give momentum to get the accord ready by 2015. This has to be followed by concrete efforts to close the pre-2020 ambition gap before an agreement can be hammered out for post-2020.
The writer is the Associate Director, Future UN Development System (FUNDS). E-mail: [email protected] or at www.VikasNath.com