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

Why do the LDCs seek mitigation-focused INDCs?

MitigationDuring the ADP 2-6 meetings in Bonn last week, the Party negotiating groups seemed to be fragmenting, or perhaps undergoing realignment. (See our October 27 reflections on the overall meeting.) An interesting example is what appears to be a difference between the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group and the rest of the developing country groups on the scope of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The INDCs are expected to be a fundamental component of the new international agreement the UNFCCC has committed to produce by the end of COP21 in December 2015. Contrary to other developing country groups, the LDCs stated in the opening plenary that, “INDC’s should primarily focus on mitigation,” with adaptation and means of implementation (MOI) (i.e., finance, technology transfer, and capacity building) addressed elsewhere in the 2015 Agreement. One might wonder why the LDCs took this position, which actually aligns with that of the industrialized countries.

The 48 couadaptation-mitigationntries that make up the LDCs are those “last among countries in terms of many indices of development, but [] first in terms of vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change.” Wouldn’t these countries want to make sure that adaptation (and loss and damage, for that matter) along with the means of implementation are equally embedded in those INDCs? What better way to ensure some degree of developed countries’ accountability for helping least developed countries reduce their vulnerability than make adaptation and its attendant elements part of what individual countries promise they’ll do on climate change?

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin summary of the March ADP 2-4 meeting noted that all-inclusive INDCs would “require targets for adaptation, finance and other elements to be subject to measurement, reporting and verification, and assessed within the context of the goal of maintaining a global temperature increase below 2°C.” It also reported that developing countries were strongly pushing for this broader approach. Apparently, though, the LDCs were not completely on board, though they insisted on adaptation and means of implementation becoming strong elements of the 2015 agreement.


Prakash Mathema, Chair of the LDCs at the UN Climate Change Negotiations.© IISD.

In August, an email Q&A with LDC Chair Prakash Mathema conducted by Responding to Climate Change (RTCC) indicated again a clear choice for INDCs focused on mitigation, though he didn’t elaborate on why.

On October 20, the LDCs offered a document containing elements it feels should form the basis of the legal agreement to be concluded at COP21, in which mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage are addressed in separate sections.

Then, in the October 23 session last week, an interesting wrinkle emerged. As reported by the Third World Network, the LDCs expressed seeming openness to adaptation being a part of INDCs, or to adaptation INDCs as a possible companion to mitigation INDCs, with the proviso that these be limited to “how Parties will contribute to help other countries meet their adaptation needs.” Is this a shift? Maybe, though not yet a clear alignment with other developing country groups.

There are perhaps three drivers for mitigation-focused INDCs:

1. Plain and simple – mitigation is the single path to limiting adaptation needs and loss and damage. So, remaining targeted, and not diluting that focus, might seem a “must” for countries most vulnerable to climate change impacts.MekongVietnam

2. Mitigation-focused INDCs can serve as an additional point of pressure, beyond the growing cacophony of voices insisting on serious efforts to enhance ambition in the pre-2020 period, and on ratification of the second period of the Kyoto Protocol (which includes further mitigation commitments on the part of developed country Parties) . Decision 1/CP.19 in Warsaw last December (COP19/CMP9) reiterated these goals.

3. There is quite enough to clarify and decide upon on the mitigation front alone for the INDCs between now and the close of COP20 in December, so why make that harder and possibly delay agreement? This would be especially true when considering the LDC’s quite comprehensive criteria for the INDCs:
• Type of commitment/contribution
• Base year or period
• Baseline emissions trajectory
• Peaking year
• Coverage in terms of GHGs and sectors
• Geographical boundaries
• Percentage of total or national emissions
• Expected emission reductions to be achieved
• Approach to accounting for the land-use sector
• Additional specific information depending on type of commitment/contribution,
• Indicators relating to fairness and ambition

Still, it is interesting that the LDCs seem to be the single developing country group sitting somewhat near the US and other industrialized countries on this matter. We’ll be watching this further at COP20 in Lima, and likely beyond. The ADP 2-6 meeting last week wrapped up with agreement to meet again in 2015 – twice!

Bridge building 101: ADP in Lima

IISD’s final wrap of ADP2-6 came out in yesterday’s ENB.  Summarizing the session’s progress on its three priorities — the content of INDCs, more development of the Paris agreement’s elements, and a decision on enhancing pre-2020 ambition — the reporting service also expressed concern about the slow pace of the meeting and its impact on December’s negotiations in Lima.  “Despite a generally cordial atmosphere, many were concerned that parties were clinging to long-held positions, or even walking back from understandings reached in Durban and Warsaw.”

ENB logoOn INDCs, disagreement persisted on the Warsaw mandate’s scope, namely whether to focus on mitigation only (most developed countries’ position) or also include adaptation and tech transfer and finance (the last two being means of implementation or MOI), the position adopted by most developing countries.

In addition to substantive disagreements, ENB underscored the impact of two process issues: the fragmentation of negotiating groups and the lack of accord on work methods.  On the first, “some long-term observers” point out that “traditional country groupings are finding it increasingly difficult to reach common positions” as COP21 approaches. Specific examples cited were individual country interventions by Palau, Timor-Leste, and Tanzania, developing countries that would normally rely on their negotiating blocs’ (e.g. AOSIS, LDC, Africa Group, G77+China) positions.  One delegate concluded “we were asked to build bridges at this conference, but, as it stands, we are constructing bridges from our own positions and it is hard to see how they will join up, and, if we are not careful we will just build bridges to nowhere.”

draft textThe second process disagreement revolved around whether to negotiate in Lima based on the Co-Chairs’ draft texts (specifically the non-paper and draft decisions provided, as well as post ADP2-6 updates), continue a more conceptual discussion, or enter into text-based negotiations in smaller groups.  (Read here for more detail on closing plenary statements on point.) ENB concluded that the lack of consensus on how to conduct the negotiations “left some parties talking past each other as some addressed the Co-Chairs’ non-paper and draft decisions, while others focused on conference room papers submitted by country groupings.”  ENB predicts that this fundamental process disagreement could “potentially delay substantive discussions” in the ADP’s opening in Lima.

This edition of the ENB began with Christiana Figueres’ exhortation to delegates to “build bridges and find a path forward you can all tread together” and a Jimmy Cliff lyric (“many rivers to cross but I can’t seem to find my way over”).  Likewise it ended on this theme of constructing common approaches and the perils for COP20 absent them:

“As the week drew to an end, the importance attached by different groups to eachbridge building of three Lima pillars made it evident that a successful outcome at COP 20 would require skillful bridge building and balancing of issues, and possibly a much-disliked ‘package.’ While Bonn did not succeed in fully building the necessary bridges, delegates did manage to lay the groundwork for the main pillars of the expected ADP outcome in Lima. With only a few weeks remaining, and a multitude of rivers to cross, delegates will need to do their utmost to explore creative ways to build these bridges together, or failing that, they may need to learn how to swim.”

Looking back at the Climate Summit

As Carla posted here, a number of countries sent heads of state to the Climate Summit two weeks ago.  They or their U.N. ambassadors communicated a variety of pledges.  As the media reported, Presidentun summit plenary photo Obama repeated the pledges he’s made since COP15 in Copenhagen; he also made pointed statements aimed at his absent colleague from China.  Numerous developing countries pledged to pursue less carbon-intensive development.  For example, Costa Rica announced that it will be “powered purely” by clean energy by 2016, and Chile declared that it will derive 45% of its energy from renewables by 2020.  Industrializing southeast Asian countries like Indonesia and Malaysia pledged, respectively, to cut GHGs by 26% and 40% by 2020.  The World Resources Institute (WRI) blogged here its take on the Summit.

ENB logoFor those of us who didn’t have access to the Summit, there are two ways to get an insider’s look at what happened, unfiltered by the mainstream press (or blogs).  For those who prefer to read their information, check out this edition of the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s summary report of the meeting.  It covers the individual ministerial interventions in some detail, as well as the information presented at the various thematic sessions.  Embedded in it are a variety of photos, but IISD’s more glamorous photo gallery is here.  I rely on this reporting service’s impeccable minute taking and summarizing of the UNFCCC/KP meetings that they publish under the title Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB).  You can find the most recent ENB covering the June 2014 SB40 and ADP meetings here.

un tv imagesFor those who prefer watching their news rather than reading it, you can find the archived webcasted sessions here on UN TV. From Ban Ki-moon’s opening speech (and Leo’s contribution not long thereafter) to the plenary where country ministers outlined their pledges, from the thematic sessions meant to convey current information on climate change and health, jobs, agriculture, and the economy to the poem read by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner of the Marshall Islands, it’s all here for your viewing pleasure.

Next stop on your must see and must read international climate change negotiations tour? The webcasted meetings of the October 2014 special session of the ADP and the ENB that will result.  Don’t switch that dial . . .  er, I mean bookmark.