State of Play: Back from the Brink

Hamish M | December 8, 2015.

The charade of consensus is over, and Paris is now a game of trade-offs. The big question is: who is willing to trade?

The Paris negotiations on a new global climate deal are back on track after an unexpectedly successful intervention by conference president and French foreign minister Laurent Fabius.

As tensions emerged, Fabius managed, at least in appearance, an agreement between developed and developing countries, prompting them to settle upon a streamlined draft negotiating text. But deep points of contention remain unresolved. 

Taking control of the deliberations, Fabius announced the four main sticking points – finance, differentiation, short term ambition and the long term temperature goal – would each be debated separately by various breakout groups.

“Out of all the chaos, order has emerged.”- Malaysian Chief Negotiator

In this new phase, ministers have take over from diplomats, charged with producing a final version of the agreement by Thursday. But fault lines within these groups are beginning to emerge.

It is clear that no text will be universally supported as national interests are simply in conflict. From here on, parties will be forced into trade-offs, with cherished policy positions sacrificed for the sake of agreement. One clear trend has emerged in Paris: everybody wants to avoid the failure of Copenhagen in 2009.

Countries are testing one another other to work out who is willing to sacrifice what. This is high stakes brinkmanship, and no-one wants to blink first. As Fabius declared when opening this final week of negotiations: “Nothing will be decided before everything is decided”.

Today’s main three points are as follows:

The process for increasing ambition over time has been gutted

There is no clear start date for the mechanism for each country to ‘ratchet-up’ its target. Since current ambition pledges are not even consistent with the stated 2°C goal, the Paris agreement will be useless without a system whereby countries periodically review and increase their ambition. The text on this is currently extremely vague and non-committal.

The EU is pushing for the next round of commitments to be in 2021, whereas blockers are pushing for 2024, which would lock in current targets for almost a decade.

There is also concern that the ambition mechanism has been sacrificed for the 1.5°C target, a deal slammed by civil society groups and the Climate Vulnerable Forum. Certainly, with no mechanism to achieve it, the long-term goal loses its teeth.

Expect the Pacific islands and other vulnerable countries like Bangladesh to push hard for strong results on both of these.

The push is on for a long-term goal of 1.5°C, but at what cost?

A coalition of the most vulnerable countries reiterated that “the guardrail of 2°C is wholly inadequate”, and have won the backing of the EU and Umbrella Group for a 1.5°C target.

The UN climate science body released a report prior to the conference calling for a downward revision for the long-term temperature target from 2°C to 1.5°C arguing that the cost to the economy of the extra 0.5°C outweighs the cost of avoiding it.

After Saudi Arabia and India moved to quash the report, the issue exploded into what may be the defining issue of the conference. Other developed countries are pushing back for 2°C, suggesting that they will compensate with more generous financing arrangements.

This has the potential to split the most vulnerable countries between those willing to accept greater financing, and those, particularly Pacific island states, desperate to limit warming to 1.5°C. The cabinet secretary for climate change of the Philippines stated they had 120 parties in support of 1.5°C.

Debate continues to rage over who should pay for it all

The least-developed countries issued a statement registering their concern that they were being left with no financial support for adaptation. The United States, who entered the conference refusing to commit to short-term compensation for climate-related damage, has thrown yet another curve ball by moving to eliminate all reference to potential future liability for compensation, sparking allegations of foul play. India continues to rattle its chains, demanding for more transfer of technology to assist its massive renewables ramp up.

The talks had an injection of energy today with Norway announcing a doubling of its financing to over half a billion dollars, and Germany committing an additional 50 million euros specifically for adaptation. Whilst welcomed by developing countries, figures on this scale are unlikely to resolve the issue and the impasse over money will likely define the final outcome.

For more analysis on the potential outcomes of COP21, check out The Verb’s Negotiation Compass

comments powered by Disqus