How “well below 2°C” flew well-below the radar

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 10.09.47 PMOn December 12, when the Paris Agreement was adopted by consensus, it contained bold new language on the long-term global temperature goal. Article 2 reads:

“Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels…” (Article 2.1(a))

But, from where did this language come?

All through Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 3.59.10 PMthe ADP’s final year of negotiations, from Lima to Geneva to Bonn and back to Bonn, it never appeared in the successive drafts. The “well below 2°C” finally emerged in brackets at the last negotiating session before COP21, on the final day of ADP2-11.Photo-SBs June2015-Bonn

The likely source? Something called the structured expert dialogue (SED).

The story begins back at COP16 in 2010, when Parties agreed to reduce emissions so that global temperature would not exceed 2°C above pre-industrial levels. They also agreed to periodically review this goal to determine whether it was sufficient to meet the UNFCCC’s objective, and whether the Parties were achieving it. Importantly, the Parties decided at COP16 to consider strengthening the 2°C goal, “including in relation to a global average temperature rise of 1.5°C.”

This mandated review happened between June 2013 and February 2015 at a Joint SBSTA/SBI meeting. It was supported by a structured expert dialogue (SED) to “ensure the scientific integrity of the review through a focused exchange of views, information and ideas.” The SED involved more than 70 experts and Parties over 4 sessions. The group released its final report last May for all UNFCCC Parties to consider it at the 42nd session of the subsidiary bodies in June.

Two of the SED’s key messages were:

  • “The world is not on track to achieve the long-term global goal, but successful mitigation policies are known and must be scaled up urgently.” (Message 8)
  • “While science on the 1.5°C warming limit is less robust [making it difficult to compare differences between 2°C and 1.5°C], efforts should be made to push the defence line as low as possible.” (Message 10)

Message 10 also suggested that Parties consider a precautionary path: “aiming for limiting global warming as far below 2°C as possible, reaffirming the notion of a defence line or even a buffer zone keeping warming well below 2°C.”

While not offering the exact language on 1.5°C found in Article 2 of the Paris Agreement, the SED report clearly articulates climate change impacts already being experienced, limits to adaptation, and certain and non-linear increases in those impacts expected between 1.5 and 2°C.1.5DegC

Both IISD’s Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) and the Third World Network (TWN) reported strong differences at the June UNFCCC meeting about what action Parties should take on the Review and SED report. AOSIS, the LDCs and others pushed for sending a draft decision to COP21 for a new long-term global temperature goal of “limiting warming to below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” Saudi Arabia and China were both firmly against changing the long-term goal, and sought language simply acknowledging and appreciating the work/report. Though most Parties supported crafting a substantive conclusion and decision, the lack of consensus on content meant postponement to the SB43 (December 1-4) meeting in Paris. With Saudi Arabia and China (joined by Oman) continuing to block action at SB43, the COP Presidency was ultimately called on to shepherd its direct consideration by the COP.

On the ADP front, the Review and SED report found no apparent foothold in June. By Paris, though, its “well below 2°C” was in the draft and part of the hot debate on long-term temperature goal. The LDCs, AOSIS, the Africa Group and the 40+ country-strong Climate Vulnerable Forum (on which we’ve reported), fought hard for the goal to reference only 1.5°C. The “High Ambition Coalition” (on which we reported here), which included the EU and the U.S., offered strong support. The Saudis, backed by India and China, and unchallenged by the rest of OPEC, firmly blocked it, along with any reference to the SED report. The final compromise language was, in the end, a big step toward acknowledging the climate change dangers already present and the peril posed by a 2°C change.

COP21 did close with a decision (10/CP.21 para 4) that referenced the Review, “took note of the work of the structured expert dialogue,” and offered appreciation for those who participated in it. It also stated the new long-term temperature goal utilized in the Paris Agreement’s Article 2.1(a). “Well below 2°C” is well beyond what could have been.images

What’s next and who makes it happen at COP21?

COP21 Comite de Paris

At COP21 on Saturday, December 5, the ADP transmitted the draft Paris Outcome (the Agreement, as we’ve called it all year) and its accompanying Decision to the COP. The text still contains many bracketed phrases (choices to be made), and there are key outstanding issues, such as on long-term goal, the timing of review of pledges, the provision of support to developing countries, loss and damage, and principles of equity and differentiation. (Be sure to see our posts from Week 1 for more details).

In its first action, the COP established the Comité de Paris (the Paris Committee), chaired by COP21 President, Laurent Fabius, to conduct informal consultations to facilitate achieving agreement by mid-week. These “informals” will cover thematic areas, and thus help to tackle cross cutting issue concerns such as differentiation, ambition, and adaptation/loss&damage. These launched on Sunday, and resumed today with closed meetings, along with bi-lateral meetings arranged by co-facilitators of each issue area to pursue compromise.

We will get a sense of the potential for progress at the Committee’s first Plenary tonight, where facilitators will share today’s outcomes by articulating their “assessment[s] of the possible concepts for solutions.”

The agreed upon facilitators, ministers from member Parties, are being paired for these consultations, and have received guidance from the COP President. Their mandate is clear: “Bridge differences with a focus on issues that require solutions to enable a timely and successful conclusion of the Paris Outcome.” And each duo has been given its “key issues.”

Stay tuned!

How will we measure success in Paris?

peopleAfter observing the first week of COP21, it is clear that reaching agreement is not the measure of success in Paris. Everyone from the Executive Secretary to heads of delegation have expressed confidence that all Parties can agree on a final outcome. In fact, at the closing of the ADP plenary, ADP Co-Chair Ahmed Djoghlaf suggested that we have already made history in that the “final general debate” had concluded at Thursday’s ADP Contact Group meeting and all 196 Parties agreed on the draft Paris Outcome on Saturday.

Now that a Paris Outcome seems inevitable, what is the next measure of success? In describing a successful agreement throughout the first week, Parties have rattled off buzzwords such as “comprehensive,” “ambitious,” “fair,” “legally binding,” “enduring,” “long-term,” and “strong.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon addressed this question with more specificity during Monday’s Leaders Event where he listed four criteria for success. First, he stated, the agreement must be durable by providing “a long-term vision that anchors the below-2-degrees-Celsius goal, and recognizes the imperative to strengthen resilience.” Second, he continued, the agreement must be dynamic in order to “accommodate changes in the global economy, and not have to be continually renegotiated.” The third requirement for success is an agreement that embodies solidarity with the poor and most vulnerable by ensuring “sufficient and balanced adaptation and mitigation support for developing countries.” Fourth, he concluded, the agreement must be credible by ratcheting up ambition every five years, beginning before 2020.

To me, Paris has already been successful. COP21 has raised public awareness about climate change by bringing together an unprecedented number of world leaders, country delegates, CEOs, governors, mayors, civil society members, and investors to “demonstrate that they understand both the risks associated with inaction and the opportunities from being part of the solution.” As President Obama said in his speech on Monday, we are “marshaling our best efforts to save the world.”

Clambering Up the Tower of Babel to Reach the Paris Package

babel-02-800x624Imagine a room full of delegates from 196 different countries waiting to begin a high-stake negotiation. The cacophonous sound of conversations in dozens of languages reverberates around the room. The meeting commences and then proceeds in

Delegate after delegate raises concerns and offers ideal solutions to a controversial draft text addressing the problem of climate change. Sometimes the delegates argue for half an hour over the meaning of a single word. They are all working toward the same end goal: to produce a final climate change agreement by December 11. The delegates’ overarching goal is the same, but they approach it with different blue prints. They are trying to build a solid structure using a miscellany of materials that do not always dovetail.

Coming from so many backgrounds, the delegates do not only come to the negotiation table with differing positions on issues, but also with vastly different ways of reading and interpreting language. As the delegates strive to work through substantive areas of disagreement and allow all voices to speak, one cannot help but wonder if a single, collective voice will form and sing out above the sonorities of divergence.

After a week of negotiations, the Parties agreed yesterday on a draft agreement to send to the Conference of the Parties (COP) next week. The draft is far from perfect and will require more negotiations between the Parties. It is, however, workable. Overall the Parties seemed optimistic during Saturday’s closing ADP plenary session. Speaking on behalf of the G-77 + China, South African Ambassador Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko said, “we have come a long way, but much more must be done next week to fulfill the task.” She struck an emotional and hopeful chord with the room when she quoted Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Having seen the Parties work past linguistic, cultural, and positional differences to produce a workable text for the COP to use next week has been inspiring for me. It has shown me the importance of remaining optimistic and hopeful during times of controversy, and also of focusing on shared end-goals while trying to achieve seemingly impossible agreements. I walk away from the first week of COP21 with optimism. Although it will be difficult, I believe the Parties will be able to focus on their collective, long-term goal of curbing the global temperature increase and will reach an agreement. The top of the tower is in sight.


UNFCCC Negotiations – Coordinating the Dance

NegCourtesy of Creative Commons (Bobbi Vie)otiations are an elaborate dance. Negotiators must coordinate the actions of many partners. Make a misstep and the coordination is lost. What could be an elaborate dance degrades into a chaotic scramble.


On Friday afternoon, the COP21 negotiations demonstrated how difficult they can be to coordinate. After a week of work in spin-off groups and informal informals, the negotiation focus returned to the ADP contact group. What resulted was a classic example of what happens without a coordination plan.


The Co-Chair Ahmed Djoghlaf started the afternoon session by jumping into the process and asking Parties in they had any issues with Article 2 and Article 2bis. Without waiting for the negotiators to catch up, he quickly accepted the Articles as presented and moved onto Article 3.


What erupted next was a 2 hour long discussion of the process of negotiating. Over and over again, Parties voiced their opposition to the plan and the Co-Chair’s tactics.  Over and over again, Parties used the precious remaining negotiation time to debate how to proceed with a review of the negotiating text.


The Co-Chair saw the end goal that he wanted. To get a slimmed down text to the COP. His choice of process was not the right choice. His steps were out of order. UNFCCC negotiations are a party-driven process where consensus decides the pathway. The Co-Chair chose to lead instead of coordinate.


The Parties took a break, regrouped, and returned with a new proposal for coordinating Party input.  Malaysia, the European Union, the United States, and Norway, brought forward a Party-driven sequence for commenting on the proposed negotiating text. A pattern emerged. The Co-Chair reverted back to managing the order and sequence of Party comments. The Parties focused on identifying the key elements that they wanted in the text and making suggestions on what text could be inserted or should be deleted. Each Party suggestion was to be recorded but not debated.


While the first two hours of the negotiation bogged down with discussions of procedure, the second two hours took on a pattern of Party submissions detailing desired key elements. Party after Party presented their key elements. Some Parties submitted no proposals; some Parties made multiple proposals; some Parties made minor proposals; some Parties made extensive proposals. At the end of the meeting, all of the proposals were recorded to be assembled into a reflective note.


The day started off as a chaotic scramble before evolving into a coordinated pattern of Party submissions. What looked like a lost day ended up with the ADP taking a few more steps towards completing its work.



Influential strangers: a journey home from COP 21

UnknownAt an international meeting it only makes sense that the people you would end up meeting may be across the border from you! However, it is not necessarily expected that your new acquaintance would be across a state border. But the latter was just the case on my ride home this evening from COP21.

After three months of learning about the art of negotiation, my VLS colleagues, Bonnie Smith and Rachel Stevens, and I had had the opportunity to meet Thomas Fuitak, author, professor and founding member of Mediators without Borders International (MBBI) on our short bus ride from Le Bourget, the home of COP21, to the train station bearing the same name. Fuitak was an animated personality who at first asked questions related to our traveling trio’s experiences at COP21. However, after entertaining our questions and cautious prodding, he revealed his status as an author, mediator and relevant party of the Paris draft agreement (Agreement).

Our short-term companion was not a household name but one of the generally anonymous that is well known in his circle of expertise!


Professor and mediator, Dr. Thomas Fiutak founded the Conflict and Change Center at the University of Minnesota and is currently a Senior Fellow in the Technological Leadership Institute, and lecturer in Conservation Biology. Our engaged companion has trained mediators in the US, Canada, Europe, Asia and Africa and as is noted founding member of Mediators Beyond Borders International or MBBI. According to his University biography, his work with MBBI has taken him to Zimbabwe, Denmark, Germany, Mexico, Haiti, Thailand, and Panama. He presently leads the MBBI Climate Change team, which has Observer status within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. A past Executive Director of the International Association of Conflict Management and World Bank consultant, his first book Le Mediateur dans l’arene (The Mediator in the Arena) was published in France in 2009.

In his fifteen-minute companionship, Dr. Fiutak became an inspiration to us. His comments resonated with our threesome. He understood the insecurity of COP observation, the perspective of questioning the value of our naïve input and was quick to provide reassurance. His advice was that not everyone has the opportunity to observe or participate in a COP and therefore, we should personally acknowledge the value of our communications from just that simple a perspective. His commentary to us was amplified by his unpretentious comment on the potential insertion of language in the final Paris agreement that would provide ability for mediation to play a role in the continuous evaluation of the Paris Agreement. The latter is a significant incorporation for an anonymous bystander, who was a founding member of the voluntary organization of Mediators Beyond Borders International.

Understanding the Complex Organized Chaos of UNFCCC Negotiations

FractalA fractal is a never-ending mathematical pattern that is self-similar across different scales. Every time you look closer, you see another layer.


The UNFCCC negotiations have a similar pattern. Every time you look closer, you see another layer. The news reports coming out of Paris are using a confusing array of terms: ADP contact groups, spin-off groups, and informal informals. What looks like a bewildering arrangement of groups has a structure and purpose as countries move towards a final agreement on a post-2020 climate regime.


COP 21 negotiations take place in layers. Each layer reduces the number of participants and increases the intimacy. The negotiations start at the ADP, the body tasked with producing the negotiating text for Draft Agreement and a Draft Decision that will be presented to the Conference of the Parties on Saturday December 6. The COP will then be responsible for finalizing the climate agreement.


The ADP process has 196 Party participants and it is shepherded by two Co-Chairs who oversee the ADP contact group. The ADP contact group serves as the organizational heart of the negotiation process. The ADP contact group has spent three years of painstaking negotiations trying to build consensus on the shape, scope, and content of a post-2020 climate agreement.


With only a few days left to find a consensus, the Co-Chairs are using more focused discussion to spur movement from the Parties. The Co-Chairs are creating spin-off groups to discuss specific portions of the Draft Agreement and Draft Text. Spin-off groups discuss specific Articles and related portions of the Decision text. The spin-off groups are lead by a facilitator selected from the Party delegates. The facilitators are tasked with focusing the discussion and seeking areas of common agreement. The spin-off groups break their work load into clusters or themes. The clusters are made up of related paragraphs and sections. For example, the Article 9 spin-off group has created five clusters that will be discussed individually on topics such as Principles and the post-Paris Work Programme.


When spin-off groups bog down on a discussion of a specific portion of the text, the facilitators are creating a smaller discussion group known as an informal informal. The informal informals bring together interested parties from the spin-off group to draft text that can resolve the dispute.


While the negotiating proceedings get smaller and more focused, the reporting structure works in the opposite direction. Informal informals report their work back to the spin-off group. The spin-off groups can accept the work done by the informal informal. If the spin-off group accepts the new text, then they report their work back to the ADP contact group.


The reporting structure ensures transparency and equality between the Parties. The ADP process has 196 Parties with vastly different capacities. Developing countries can staff and participate in all of the spin-off groups. Least developed countries can struggle to cover all of the meetings and follow the discussion. Requiring the spin-off groups to report back to the ADP contact group ensures that information is presented in an open and transparent forum.


As you peer into the ADP negotiation process, the layers reveal themselves. What looks confusing has a purpose and a goal. What appears chaotic has a structure. What appears disorganized has a plan. Move the world closer to a post-2020 climate agreement. Make sure that Week 2 of COP 21 can complete the task set out three years ago.

COP21 Begins in 24 Hours: Will a Paris Agreement [Decrease] [Solve] [Do Nothing On] Climate Change?

imagesIf all politics are local, but greenhouse gases find their way into the atmosphere’s international space, how can the global community act collectively on climate change? In 1992, the solution was to adopt an international treaty. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) declared climate change a “common concern of mankind,” and committed 166 countries to tackling it. Most UNFCCC parties were developing countries, who had contributed relatively few emissions given their pre-industrial poverty but were nonetheless already experiencing the irreversible, negative effects of climate change. Under the convention’s principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities” (CBDRRC), developed countries and top greenhouse gas emitters like the European Union and the United States agreed to take the lead.

Yet, progress has been slow. In 2007, this leadership took the form of the UNFCCC’s Kyoto Protocol, which placed clear greenhouse gas emission limits on developed countries while imposing none on developing countries. When the United States refused to ratify, its emissions, along with those of rapidly industrializing developing countries like China, India, and Brazil, escaped international regulation. Consequently, when negotiations for continuing the protocol beyond its first 2008-2012 period faltered at COP15 in Copenhagen, a new approach to international limits on greenhouse gas emissions began to CO2take shape. It gained momentum at the two subsequent conferences of parties (COPs) held in Cancun and Durban. Now, almost six years on, there is emerging agreement that all parties—developed and developing countries—should make individual, international climate change mitigation pledges determined by each party’s national government.

At COP21 in December, the current 196 UNFCCC parties will decide if they can sign on to this new paradigm of international climate change regulation. The Durban Mandate requires the parties to “develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties” by the end of 2015. In Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, 2015, the parties will have their last opportunity to shape the international climate change law that will take the place of the Kyoto Protocol when it ends in 2020.

copDuring four negotiation sessions this year, the parties drafted a “Paris Package” that consists of a core legal agreement based on a system of nationally determined contributions and several COP decisions addressing implementation and political issues. The current 31-page draft agreement outlines how parties’ individual contributions will be internationally measured, reviewed, and verified. These pledges no longer focus solely on mitigation. Consistent with appeals from the developing world, the draft agreement pays almost equal attention to adaptation and finance actions. Likewise, it sets out conditions for transparent international reporting. Under it, parties take responsibility for determining whether their national efforts collectively keep global temperature rise below the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s recommended upper limit of 2 degrees Celsius.

This new system of national pledges that are internationally made and scrutinized for sufficiency had a World Resources Institutetrial run this year. By Oct. 1, 2015, 147 parties had submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), covering approximately 86 percent of total global emissions. While each INDC derives from national priorities, overall they tend to include substantive contributions on mitigation, adaptation, and finance, as well as important process pledges on reporting and verification, technology transfer, and capacity building. Developed countries have pledged absolute mitigation targets and resources for vulnerable developing countries. Higher-income developing countries like Brazil, China, and Mexico have made concrete greenhouse gas mitigation pledges. Other developing countries have described their mitigation and adaptation efforts and goals, but made them conditional on receiving financial assistance. Transparency in this pledging process has been prioritized: INDCs are publicly available at the UNFCCC website and have been reviewed closely by the UNFCCC secretariat, non-governmental organization (NGOs), and the press.

CAT_thermometer_20141207That’s the good news. The bad news is that, at least in the short term, these intended contributions do not add up to keeping atmospheric warming below the 2-degree Celsius goal. A Nov. 1, 2015, UNFCCC report concluded that while the INDC pledges—if fulfilled—would slow down the global rate of greenhouse gas emissions, they will not maintain the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius. Likewise NGOs like Climate Action Tracker (CAT) and Climate Interactive reach the same conclusion. CAT calculates that achieving the unconditional INDC pledges would still likely lead to a 2.7-degree Celsius increase. Climate Interactive’s math adds up to a predicted 3.5-degree Celsius increase.

So how could COP21’s Paris Package address this shortfall and result in a new international agreement that leads parties to bend the global emissions curve to a 2-degree Celsius or lower pathway?

  • First, it would use these INDCs as a starting point only and include provisions in the new agreement that require all parties to increase their contributions in regular, transparent cycles. In this way, COP21 serves as “a way station in this fight, not a terminus,” as Bill McKibben recently wrote.
  • Second, it would emphasize the need for all parties to adapt to changes already locked in by historical emissions, and recognize the permanent loss and damage experienced by the most vulnerable developing countries.
  • Third, to achieve these first two, it would show agreement on the amount and kind of financing available for developing countries to achieve their pledges. COP15’s promise of mobilizing $100 billion per year by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation activities is still on the table. A recent OECD report indicates that climate finance reached $62 billion in 2014. But many note that mobilizing private finance is not the same as pledging public funds, and call for developed country governments to do more.
  • Fourth, it would include a COP decision that ramps up the INDC pledges before the new agreement takes effect in 2020. From now until then, non-state actors like cities, states, and provinces, as well as businesses and consumer groups, have focused their subnational powers on renewable energy and energy efficiency actions intended to narrow the emissions gap.
  • Fifth, it would reflect a new understanding of CBDRRC. While this core principle no longer translates into developing countries getting a bye on greenhouse gas emissions limits, it also does not exempt developed countries from their historical responsibility for climate change and their capacity to provide finance and technology for low- or no-carbon development. The deep tension over how to fairly bring all parties into a common framework that recognizes different starting points permeates the draft text through heavily [bracketed] language.

The UNFCCC requires consensus to lift these brackets. The negotiations thus far have produced little of it. Instead, despite its fractured international politics, the G77+China has flexed its negotiation muscle IMG_0920through disciplined coordination of member countries that otherwise align with the diverse agendas of the Africa Group, Arab Group, and Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDCs). AOSIS, which represents low-lying countries whose very existence is threatened by sea level rise, works with the least developed countries group (LDCs) to press for strong adaptation and loss and damage provisions. The E.U. and U.S. are committed to market mechanisms for achieving mitigation reductions and private climate financing along with government contributions. Two negotiating groups, the Environmental Integrity Group (EIG) and AILAC, seek to find common ground. The EIG is the only group that includes both developed and developing countries. AILAC’s members are middle-income Central and South American countries that are growing rapidly yet can still reorient toward low-carbon pathways. But these national negotiators can go only so far: While they are masters of the technical details and crafting precise legal language, it appears that the true power to compromise resides in their national capitals.

Leading up to COP21, weekly meetings of heads of state and their environmental, foreign affairs, and finance ministers have taken place. In this way, local politics are actively engaged on the international problem of climate change. All parties preparing for Paris have said clearly what they want to avoid—no repeat of COP15, no “ghosts of Copenhagen” haunting COP21. It will be a day-by-day proposition with some bumpy rides along the way. Follow the journey here till its finish!


Hot and Bothered

earth on fireThis title appeared today on the Economist’s report on climate change in red hot capital letters wrapped around a vulnerable-looking Earth.

I think it better sums up the report’s tone than its substance.

While the Economist points to IPCC graphs to back up its scientific facts, it totally lacks the global scientific body’s analytical nuance. Instead the report trots out more than a few blanket statements that overshoot the mark, like:

  •  the Kyoto Protocol “had achieved little and become unworkable; its passing was not much lamented”
  • COP21’s “fragmented, voluntary approach avoids the debate that had paralysed climate talks for years, about whether the burden of cutting greenhouse gases should be carried just by the rich world or spread more widely.”

In doing so, this widely read publication shows its short sightedness.  The first commitment period IMG_0876(2008-12) of the Kyoto Protocol not only achieved its overall mitigation target of 5%, but set up the kind of legal, finance, and governance structures that now surround national and international markets for carbon trading.  The last three years of ADP debate about the “Paris Package” to be adopted at COP21 in a fortnight has anything but avoided debate about CBDR (common but differentiated responsibilities), the core enviro equity principle at play in these 196-party negotiations. Anyone reading the current draft negotiation text or reading the global headlines on adaptation and finance pledges pre-COP21 can see this fact.

To be fair, the Economist takes some provocative positions that merit consideration and debate, like:

• “Paying for yet more wind turbines and solar panels is less wise than paying for research into the technologies that will replace them.”
• Mankind “will have to adapt, in part by growing crops that can tolerate heat and extreme weather, in part by abandoning the worst-affected places.”
• “More research is required on deliberately engineering the Earth’s atmosphere in order to cool the planet.”

But it would foster more serious attention to them with less cheek – and less quoting of climate skeptic Bjorn Lomborg of the “Copenhagen Consensus Centre.”


ADP Co-Chairs Briskly Move Forward to Paris @UNFCCC #ADP2 #ConspiracyTheory

ICo-Chairsf the U.N. climate negotiations are like middle school, then Twitter is where the hallway gossip happens.

As the first day of the ADP 2-11 session wrapped up Monday, whispers of an alleged “U.S. conspiracy to sink Paris” began trending on Twitter.  The buzz made its way to the CAN International press briefing room when a ClimateWire reporter asked the panel to comment on a rumor that ADP Co-Chair Daniel Reifsnyder of the United States is sabotaging the upcoming COP 21 negotiations by butchering the draft Paris Agreement.

Liz Gallagher, leader of the climate diplomacy program at E3G, deftly fielded the question by defending the Co-Chairs’ work and pointing out that everyone is having a “love/hate” relationship with the draft—“it’s not just a North-South thing.” While her answer may not have quashed talk of a U.S. conspiracy to upset Paris, the exchange raises interesting questions about how parties are reacting to the Co-Chairs’ “non-paper” and the recent influx of INDCs.

As we’ve seen, many parties are not taking the sizable cuts to the 90-page Geneva Negotiating Text well.  Developing countries argue that the slimmer, 9-page draft ignores adaptation and finance, while developed countries find the draft’s mitigation goals too vague.  Dr. Saleemul Huq of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development told the same press briefing room Monday that the draft was “all hat and no trousers.”  Some believe the Co-Chairs’ aggressive edits to the draft text were “a deliberate attempt to temporarily ‘take some heat’ while ultimately putting pressure on the Group of 77.”

The “U.S. text” conspiracy theory was sparked in part by an article published by Business Standard, India’s leading business daily, entitled “Developed world’s climate change targets less than fair.”  The article references a report finding that the U.S. has committed to only a fifth of its “fair share” in its INDC while “almost all developing countries, including India and China, have taken on more than their fair share of the burden” through their INDCs.

While not suggesting that the U.S. is intentionally monkey wrenching Bonn, yesterday’s buzz-worthy report, “Fair Shares: A Civil Society Equity Review of INDCs,” supports India’s position that developed countries like the United States should do more to close the emission ambition gap.  The report finds that Japan, Russia, the EU, and the United States have the starkest gaps between their climate ambitions and their fair shares.

As evidenced by press room activity this week, ADP 2-11 news is moving quickly from hallways to headlines as parties’ reactions and positions are captured by the nearest smart phone user, posted to social media, and filtered through media outlets within hours.  While this process keeps negotiations transparent and informs the public – without carefully tracking the draft text, the Fair Shares report, INDCs, and other party communications – it’s easy to lose sight of what’s actually happening on the ground in Bonn.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 11.53.41 PM

Outside the ADP negotiation rooms

IMG_0920Some days at UNFCCC negotiations, the glass looks more full outside the negotiating rooms.

Given the 4am revisions of the negotiation texts, meetings today started off slowly.  The ADP gathered in the late morning to acknowledge the new text, send the G77 and other negotiating groups off for coordination on it, and announce the afternoon and evening “spin off groups.” These smaller, more focused meetings are drafting sessions.  Under the UNFCCC rules of procedure, the Parties may choose to exclude observers.  On Day 2 of this penultimate ADP session, that’s precisely what happened.  So Parties met behind closed doors to work on four parts of the draft agreement (mitigation, finance, capacity building, and technology transfer) and the draft decision on Workstream 2 from 3pm till 9pm.

Good thing.  This gave civil society organizations (CSO) even more time to shine light on the UNFCCC Parties’ slow progress in achieving the Article 2 goal of “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” One CSO project merits special attention.

Fair Share:  A Civil Society Equity Review of INDCs was launched at the ADP negotiations on Day 2.  The review’s authors are “social movements, environmental and development NGOs, trade unions, faith and other civil society groups,” who “have come together to assess the climate commitments that have been put on the table through the UN climate negotiations.” (A full list of them may be read here.) Thefair shares bar graph methodology is straight forward and simple (two adjectives rarely applied to the UNFCCC):  compare a country’s historical GHG emissions to its INDC pledge filed during the last eight months.  Fair Shares does this number crunching bearing in mind the IPCC’s calculation that we have a limited global carbon budget remaining before catastrophic warming sets in. Reviewing the voluntary, nationally determined INDC pledges in this light, the review “seeks to ascertain whether the Paris Agreement will be ambitious enough and tolerably fair.”

In the end, the review recommends that the Paris Agreement should include:

  • Targets to reduce emissions in 2025, 2030, 2040 and 2050, working toward “near-zero emissions” by mid-century;
  • A “step-change” in international climate finance;
  • A “clear and fair plan to address the emissions gap through new cooperative action fuelled by scaled-up support from the developed countries that are most responsible.”

Before Paris, comes Bonn

IMG_5490The last negotiation session of the ADP before COP21 began today in Bonn, home of the UNFCCC Secretariat.  The goal of this meeting is to produce a new agreement text that delegations may take home to their national leaders for final preparations for Paris.  The ADP Co-Chairs issued a “non paper” (meaning it hasn’t been endorsed by the Parties and so lacks legal status) two weeks ago that cut the 90-page Geneva Negotiating Text down to a more manageable size (9 pages) and offered draft COP decisions (11 pages) that would implement it.

But the route to Paris was bumpy today.  All Parties found fault with the text.  As a Greenpeace advisor put it, “there is no question that this new text will definitely anger some parties, or all parties in some ways.” While each one applauded brevity, at the same time all Parties sought to bring desired provisions back in.  Today’s ENB recounts well the morning session’s focus on process, and the afternoon’s review of the draft agreement text article by article.  Three negotiating groups – the G77+China, Africa Group, and Like-Minded Developing Countries –  refused to proceed with the day’s scheduled negotiations in smaller “spin off groups” using the Co-Chairs’ proposed starting point.  South Africa, the G77 coordinator this year, drew an apartheid analogy when saying that developing countries – 134 strong in the G77 – were disenfranchised by the non-paper.  Despite concerns expressed by developed countries like the U.S., New Zealand, and Switzerland about taking a road back to Geneva rather than forward to Paris, the four-hour afternoon session saw everyone reading the draft agreement article by article and adding back “must have” provisions that would enable them to proceed.  IMG_5469

The language of differentiation ran through many of these proposals, notably on finance, mitigation, and reporting requirements to permit transparency. References to Annex 2 Parties brought back the “bifurcated” approach of the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol.  Regular references to historical responsibility for climate change were made as the basis for obligations under the new agreement. Some Parties roundly rejected the “in light of national circumstances” language used in the Lima Call for Climate Action (coined a month earlier in the US-China bilateral climate change announcement).  Brazil declared that “CBDR is contradicted when it is subordinated to national circumstances.”  For a more detailed account of the four-hour discussion, read ENB’s measured note taking here.

As I left the hall tonight, the G77 was holding a coordination session. The revised text was due to the website by midnight Bonn time.  Still no new document, and tomorrow’s daily programme of sessions is notably blank.  But as WRI said yesterday, “what happens in Bonn can pave the way for a universal agreement in Paris that can be the turning point on climate action that the world needs.”

We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

UPDATE:  The revised agreement text came out at 4am this morning local time, and has grown from 9 to 24 pages.  This version includes some “light touch editing” by the UNFCCC Secretariat staff, as requested yesterday by the Parties.  Nonetheless, the Secretariat also posted the rough cut version here, considered to be more of a compilation document.  It shows that the pre-dawn editing was indeed very light, for this version looks to be only a paragraph longer.

Posted in ADP

2 steps forward, 1 step backward

IMG_6375It would be easy to characterize the last 1.5 days of ADP negotiations as a setback.  The tune,“What a  difference a day makes”, ran through my mind while sitting in Room XIX.  The bounce felt by all from the productive sessions on Sunday and Monday and the first half of Tuesday dissipated quickly as Parties and ADP Co-Chairs struggled to agree on the next steps in the negotiation process.

It’s important, however, not to overstate what happened.  The Co-Chairs were looking for a way to move the Parties from the relatively simple process of amending the Lima draft elements text to the more fraught, collective work of streamlining it.  The product of the halcyon early days of this week in Geneva now weighs in at more than 100 pages.  Everyone agrees that while it is “owned” by the parties, it is unwieldy – and hard to present outside Room XIX as a way to keep planetary warming in check.

Yet there was a time lag between the Parties making their amendments and the Secretariat being able to produce a revised text.  That lag is further compounded by a need for Parties to review it for accuracy and then analyze it, in whole and its individual parts – and then consult with their negotiation groups about how to streamline it.

So, as a practical solution, the Co-Chairs proposed discussing how to streamline the Lima text (“the text as it started”), as an exercise for doing theIMG_6374 same with the Geneva text, as it’s come to be called, when it was out and ready for the limelight.  These ideas would be captured in a separate document (from the draft agreement negotiating text) that Parties could “reflect on” between now and Bonn, when text negotiations are to begin in earnest.  Co-Chair Reifsnyder assured Parties that this was the “beginning of discussion, not end” and said bluntly that “there’s no way we’ll take a 300-page text to Paris.”

That’s when the Parties suggested, with increasing vehemence, that this approach was moving backward, not forward. You can read yesterday’s ENB for more detail. After about 2.5 hours of back and forth and round and round, several practical suggestions emerged:  wait for the Secretariat to finish the last updates (which are all now available here); ask the Co-Chairs and Secretariat to do the “technical” work by creating a table of similar/overlapping provisions (which will also help Parties see divergences) and even empowering Co-Chairs to remove duplications or very similar language; and give the Parties and their negotiating groups more time to consult with one another. In the end, the Co-Chairs acknowledged their desire to move ahead with the new text, and so adjourned early (with the admonishment to use the extra time for group consultations), called for a 10am start today with an open discussion on what the new agreement structure could look like, then spend the afternoon working on streamlining.

IMG_6370But the Co-Chairs didn’t have the last word.  Several parties spoke up, urging each other not to waste time.  “If we want to be ready for Paris, we need to get to work as soon as possible,” said Mexico, adding pragmatically that despite the growth of the Geneva text, there is “nothing new under the sun. If we keep on giving one more day, at the end we’ll have no more days left, let’s get back to the text as soon as possible.”  Brazil phrased it more philosophically, in terms of negotiation dynamics.  “The point is that we’re engaged in a collective exercise, to build mutual trust, and it’s important that every Party can see themselves in this revised text.  But we can’t keep adding.  We must engage in the negotiating process to build bridges.  We needed a comprehensive document as the basis.  Now we have a document that includes those elements that weren’t there when we left Lima.” So it is time to switch gears, from working individually to working collectively.

When the Parties reconvened very close to 10am this morning, they had a robust discussion about the architecture of the new agreement.  Their comments hewed closely to the specific questions posed by Co-Chair Reifsnyder, which included:

  1. How will the new agreement advance what we have in the Convention?
  2. Is this a one-time agreement or is it meant to endure through multiple periods?
  3. Mindful of the new institutional frameworks created since Copenhagen (e.g.  Adaptation Committee, Standing Committee on Finance, Technology Executive Committee, Center for Technology CN, Green Climate Fund), should they be included in the new agreement?
  4. Now that adaptation and mitigation are “seen as on par,” does that mean equal obligations? Does this logic also apply to means of implementation (MoI) like finance, technology, and capacity building?
  5. What should be in the new agreement versus COP decisions?

The Co-Chair stressed that this was an open-ended conversation not leading to a specific outcome, but rather helping to navigate the route to Paris.  He emphasized that the Parties had created this open space created “by working with such diligence and in a disciplined manner.”IMG_6371

The ensuing discussion produced plenty of disagreement. But this time, it was about substance, some of which had already been offered in submitted papers.  Again, I think that ENB captured it well in today’s edition, so I won’t repeat.

But when this conversation ended and Co-Chair Djoghlaf sought to restart the streamlining discussion, process disagreements came to the fore again.  Chile, who was poised to offer a few suggestions on behalf of AILAC, was interrupted several times by points of order.  Several delegations, including the LDCs and LMDCs, said that they simply needed more time to review the Geneva text before they could speak intelligently about streamlining. Egypt asked for the text to be put on the screen (which happened immediately). South Africa, on behalf of the G77+China, said that the first task is to get agreement on a  party-owned text – one that is “accurate” – before leaving Geneva, and also agree on the organization of work both in the two remaining days of ADP2-8, as well as at ADP 2-9 in Bonn in June.  Agreeing with South Africa, Brazil and Mexico again offered concrete steps for reviewing the Geneva text and making it more “accurate” and less redundant – one version of streamlining, perhaps.  The Marshall Islands suggested breaking into informal groups around specific provisions and Ecuador encouraged hearing from all parties the reasoning behind their proposals.  Iran asked for an attributed text that showed which countries had proposed which new language. This sparked a strong reaction, with Venezuela and Colombia making the point that once proposals are in the text, they belong to everyone.  If so, then perhaps the Parties had already started the transition urged earlier by Brazil to move from individualistic proposals to collective engagement?

We’ll see tomorrow.  When Co-Chair Djoghlaf gaveled the meeting closed, few questions had been resolved.

Posted in ADP

ADP2-8: Avoiding BAU?

IMG_6372“No one will say that this text is not your text.”

With that comment, new ADP Co-Chair Ahmed Djoghlaf of Algeria closed this morning’s session of the ADP.  On time.  Having completed the planned review of the entire draft text of the 2015 agreement one day ahead of schedule. Djoghlaf and his Co-Chair, Daniel Reifsnyder of the United States, celebrated the parties’ hard work and discipline, and previewed the work to start this afternoon.  This feat in and of itself is one form of avoiding business-as-usual or BAU.  For the ADP has chronically fallen behind in its work and then raced to produce tepid work product at the last moment.

So what has changed in the ADP’s negotiation process (some of which you can watch here)?  Most obviously is the style of these new co-chairs, who were elected to their positions at the end of COP20 in Lima.  Both of them are seasoned in multilateral environmental agreements, but are relatively new to the UNFCCC negotiations. They bring a fresh perspective, experience in other complex treaIMG_6373ties, and little baggage (think Copenhagen).  In their approach to leading the ADP discussions, simple things matter.  Since Sunday morning, the clear rules of engagement have included starting on time, reminding parties to stay on topic, and not brooking delay tactics. The goal of the last 2.5 days has been to hear new additions to the Lima text, both orally in session before all 196 parties and via written submission emailed to the Secretariat for scribing ease. Because of both, revisions of the new agreement’s draft provisions have appeared on the UNFCCC site later the day of negotiation or early the next. Parties – and, importantly, all of civil society, including you! – may read how the text is changing from that adopted in Lima.  Co-Chair Djoghlaf annouced this morning that the draft agreement had grown from 36 to 83 pages, with now more than 300 paragraphs (up from 103). Of course, adding text is different from resolving disagreement about it.  That’s on the docket for this afternoon.  Stay tuned.

I’ll come back with more substantive comments on what I see – for example in the language of differentiation being used throughout the provisions, calls for treating loss and damage separately from adaptation, inclusion of a human rights and gender focus. In the meantime, IISD’s daily ENBs have captured the WS 1 conversations very well.  Here also are TWN’s views, and well as CAN’s daily take in the ECO.

Behind the scenes of the US-China negotiations

Rolling Stone recently published this intriguing backstory of the US-China climate change announcement made just two weeks before COP20 kicked off in Lima, Peru.  Obama and Xi Jinping

The bilateral conversation started last February with a phone call from U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern to his Chinese counterpart, followed up by a private letter to President Xi from President Obama a month later. (Xi had already traveled to the U.S. in the summer of 2013 just after becoming China’s president, to meet with Obama for two days of informal talks that resulted in an agreement limiting HFC emissions.) In early June, the EPA formally announced the Clean Power Plan, aimed to cut carbon dioxide from power plant emissions by 30% by 2030. This development showed the Obama Administration’s seriousness about using its executive branch power to limit GHG emissions.  According to Rolling Stone, “a few weeks later, a swarm of U.S. diplomats, including Kerry, Podesta and Stern, flew to Beijing for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, a high-level diplomatic meeting between the United States and China.”  Despite private, data crunching meetings with Chinese officials, they left without a deal.  President Obama then sent President Xi “a focused two-page letter on what could be delivered during the November APEC visit to Beijing, and it emphasized the climate joint announcement.” In September, when Xi turned down Ban Ki-Moon’s invitation to the UN Climate Change Summit (going to India instead, where he and Prime Minister Modi signed new trade deals) and sent his VP in his place, little was expected from China in New York.  But behind the scenes, VP Gaoli told Obama that Xi wanted to do the deal and announced it at the upcoming APEC meeting.  This development set off a flurry of negotiation on the details that still weren’t set when Obama traveled to Beijing for the regional economic meeting.

In addition to providing a somewhat breathless account of these secret negotiations, this gripping article analyzes a number of pragmatic points about the deal.

COP20 decisionFirst is the potential political payoff from closer climate change relations between the world’s current highest GHG emitter (China) and the country it unseated for the top spot.  For the U.S. (and other developed countries), it means a breach in the UNFCCC/Kyoto Protocol wall between developed (Annex 1) and developing (nonAnnex 1) countries.  As Jairam Ramesh, a member of Indian Parliament and climate negotiator, was quoted, “In one move, Obama and Xi broke the logjam of climate politics. Until now, China has insisted that the U.S. and the EU are largely responsible for climate change. But this raises the bar for other nations.”  Of note is China’s influence on other advanced developing countries, like Brazil, South Korea, India, Mexico, and Indonesia. The deal also provides a retort to the U.S. climate change skeptic argument that any U.S. GHG reductions would be for naught given China’s high emissions.  As Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island was quoted saying, “now China is doing something pretty significant, while Republicans are still huddled in the dark castle of denial.” For China, with the dramatic announcement on the eve of COP20, President Xi had proven his diplomatic skill by cutting a deal with a world superpower while simultaneously attending to the national need to reduce China’s infamous air pollution.**  Second is the economic pay off of this deal for both countries. The stated focus on renewable energy while weaning themselves off carbon-based fuels provides clear signals from the U.S. and China to the business community about where to invest money.

john podesta in greenMost interesting for this blogger is the central role that John Podesta is credited for playing in bringing the deal to fruition.  Recall our opening question when he was hired by the Obama Administration last December?  While he may not have had an impact on last March’s special ADP meeting in Bonn, there is no doubt that he will at this February’s special ADP meeting in Geneva. And more to come in the long term, if Rolling Stone’s conclusion about his role in the next administration proves true!


**This news update: With asthma cases alone on the rise, the Asia Asthma Development Board says that China has the world’s highest mortality rate from asthma, with 36.7 out of 100,000 patients failing to survive.