The Room Where it Happens: The Indispensable Role of the Observer

_104735890_dui0ypwwoai5suoAs TIME Magazine recognizes its 2018 Person of the Year, observers, reporters, and advocates of the truth find themselves lauded among activists. The Guardians and the War on Truth were recognized as the Person of The Year for “taking great risks in pursuit of greater truths, for the imperfect but essential quest for facts that are central to civil discourse, for speaking up and speaking out.” These Guardians are being praised for their ability to hold our public officials accountable and to bring to them to the task at hand.

Similar to The Guardians, UNFCCC representatives of observer organizations hold sovereign Parties accountable for their actions. They remind Parties of their task at hand—creating international IMG_9729_0environmental policy on climate change. UNFCCC observers can do this by releasing sassy newsletters, publishing revealing emissions reports, and advocating for and commenting on text released by the Parties. As independent actors — with fewer political repercussions than Parties themselves — NGOs interact in spaces and ways that Parties cannot. Where Parties are constrained by politic mannerisms, NGOs can act bombastically, like casual vandalism,*  and subtly, like “liaising with the UNFCCC Secretariat on behalf of the business community.”

Baby-Groot-750x500UNFCCC observers act in between the spaces of international politics, diplomacy, and decision making. Their role in the negotiations of transparency, adaptation, and finance are indispensable because there is no force quite like them. So as discussions of global stock take move forward and rumblings of excluding observer organizations rise, Parties, civil society, and the people** need to defend these staunch Guardians of the Green.

 

*This is in reference to a situation where some observers were de-badged or stopped by police when entering Poland.

**This is in reference to David Attenborough’s “People’s Seat,” which encouraged civil society to be able to encourage world leaders to do more for climate action.

 


The Pre-2020 Stocktake: Disappointment and Resolve

As with any massive undertaking, practice makes better. The Global Stocktake in 2023 is no different.image1024x768
In accordance with decisions at COP21, to implement enhanced action prior to 2020, and at COP23, emphasizing that enhanced pre-2020 ambition can lay a solid foundation for post-2020 goals, this year’s COP held a two-part assessment of global progress. The first event, held on December 5th, was a Technical Review, while the second event, held on December 10th, was a High-Level meeting of the Parties. Each session was composed of two panels. Each answered predetermined questions followed by an open plenary discussion where Member Parties could intervene.
The Technical Review’s first panel, consisting of the heads of the subsidiary bodies, considered “the work of the UNFCCC process related to the mitigation efforts up to 2020.” It addressed issues such as technology transfer, capacity building, and the IPCC 15 report. The second panel, made up of financial bodies and technical experts, highlighted “efforts of the UNFCCC process to enhance climate implementation and ambition up to 2020.” It focused on ease of access to climate finance, as well as on parties’ progress towards their finance commitments.
COP24-6Today’s High-Level meeting saw two panels made up of ministers of various Developed and Developing Country Parties: Poland, Grenada, the European Commission, China, & Australia in the first session, followed by Norway, Brazil, Germany, Ethiopia, Japan, & Finland. The panels began by discussing the pre-2020 efforts of Parties to mitigate greenhouse gases & ways to enhance efforts, and the provision of support for climate efforts and enhancing efforts, respectively.
Discussions in each session forced Parties to consider their efforts to implement mitigation strategies, make climate finance more accessible, and to meet the various commitments and ambitions in the pre-2020 period. While the aim of this stocktake was to “provide a space for holistic reflection by ministers and other high-level representatives,” it raised serious questions regarding gaps between Parties’ commitments and the reality exposed by the IPCC 15 and other reports.
While Panelists focused on the positive and what had been working thus far, such as finding the right incentives to delink economic growth from emissions, doubts were raised during the plenary. Most poignant was India’s intervention: “Are these pre-2020 actions adequate? Have we addressed the task before us?”
To which, it seems, the answer is “No. Not yet.”


The Progress of Global Stocktake in the final APA Informal Sessions.

With Global Stocktake’s expected beginning date in 2023 and pressure from the heads of the APA, there is a race for an informal working document on the Modalities Guidelines and Procedures (MPGs) of the Agenda Item 6 of the APA. Global stocktake is an effort to continuously monitor the collective progress towards achieving the purpose and long-term goals of the Paris Agreement.

On November 12, the APA released the “Revised building blocks for APA item 6 (GST).” These building blocks capture the key elements and commonalities of the proposals made by Parties under Agenda Item 6. This new document contains a table with headings on the left and details on the right. The building blocks contained the headings “Modalities” and “Sources of Input.” Under modalities, the overarching elements provided for “equity regarding process and themes.” However, the term “equity” is never defined in the document. Moreover, the document prescribed an overall process for the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement  (CMA) to implement for GST. This new method includes a preparatory phase (Activity A), a technical phase (Activity B), and a political phase (Activity C). Lastly, the new document prescribes sources of input, which is the information to provide in the GST.
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While these simple building blocks were a good start, parties made clear their frustrations with the ambiguity of the text. There were three main concerns. First, individuals were concerned that the table did not reflect more of the information submitted by the parties. Parties felt since this is a working paper,  the paper should reveal more of their inputs. Also, individuals wanted more reference to the Paris Agreement, specifically Articles 8 and 2. Lastly, some parties raised concerns on the silence of issues on Mitigation and Loss & Damage.

Second, the term “equity” is not defined. Some parties understood equity to mean equity in outputs and time to provide and assess resources.  A lot of parties wanted equity defined or were confused on what equity was referencing. Further, there was concern about how equity was going to be integrated into the GST reporting mechanisms.

Third, the starting date of Activity A was also a concern. In the informal table, Activity A starts in 2021 or 2022 to ensure the adequate and timely consideration of the input from AR6 of the IPCC. India specifically raised concerns about the idea of kick-starting the process in 2021 because 2018 is supposed to be an assessment of what is happening pre-2020, GST is supposed to be an assessment what is happening the after 2020 period. Iran proposed options to the date requirement where there is a choice between 2021 and 2022.

Going forward, these revised building blocks have a lot of strides to go, clarity-wise to be ready for the APA chairs.