With less than 900 days left to a 2015 deadline for signing the United Nation’s (UN’s) most ambitious environmental deal, the recent negotiations in Bonn sought to lay the groundwork for a ministerial-level huddle in Warsaw in November. Between now and September, countries are expected to submit views on what architecture they foresee for a successful outcome in Paris.
Due to enter into force by 2020, the agreement would for the first time bind all the world’s nations to measurable targets for curbing Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
When negotiators meet again in November in Warsaw for the resumed third session of the Durban Platform (also known as ADP 2-3), they will draw upon submissions by member parties and observer organisations towards formulating a more balanced, focused and formal mode of work.
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At the Bonn Climate Change Conference in June, Mr. Artur Runge-Metzger (European Union) and Mr. Kishan Kumarsingh (Trinidad and Tobago) took over from Mr. Jayant Moreshver Mauskar (India) and Mr. Harald Dovland (Norway) as the new co-chairs of the ADP. Both co-chairs are no strangers to the negotiating process, each holding leading positions in their respective delegations.
Mr. Artur Runge-Metzger has stressed that there is no single formula to describe equity and emphasised that a strong political decision, informed by indicators and analytical input, is needed to reach an acceptable outcome from all Parties.
Mr Kumarsingh’s role as an AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island States) chair of the Durban Platform is an important development, given the strong influence that the group maintains on equity and differentiation.
More balanced, focused and formal mode of work
Come the Durban Platform discussion in Warsaw, countries would have had the chance to submit their views in writing three times, with the most recent call for submissions due on 1 September 2013.
By 30 October 2013, the two technical papers compiled by the secretariat will be made available. These papers will contain compiled information on mitigation benefits of actions, initiatives and options to enhance ambition; as well as synthesize previous submissions on costs, benefits and opportunities for adaptation.
A paper on how to link existing institutions under the Convention such as the Green Climate Fund, Adaptation Committee and Climate Technology Centre and Network to the work of the Durban Platform will also be prepared.
These papers provide insight to the progress of work of the Durban Platform and will likely be a key feature in the negotiations.
With all this in place, countries might be able to come to broad consensus building on the two ADP sessions held this year since they have already identified practical actions that could be undertaken to bridge the ambition gap.
A possible “equity reference framework”
The Climate Action Network’s (CAN’s) position on equity in the 2015 deal has been gaining traction. The call for an ex ante “Equity Reference Framework” (ERF) embodies the Convention’s core equity principles of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities – which recognises historical differences in the contributions of developed and developing States to global environmental problems, and differences in their respective economic and technical capacity to tackle these problems – and the right to sustainable development.
Drawing cues from the latest science, these core principles, reflected in an agreed list of indicators, and including the call for developed countries to take the lead in climate mitigation, will be used as a benchmark when framing, settling and reviewing Parties’ proposed mitigation and financial commitments.
Such a basket of equity indicators will need to be scientifically and methodologically accepted, and more importantly, mutually understood. In the event that Parties are able to come to agreement on a set of indicators, the next step would be to establish a process by which to manage a series of reviews, recurring in parallel to science reviews, to determine the level of ambition of mitigation commitments put forward by Parties.
The ERF is a “reference” framework because it must be flexible to accommodate changes over time, to reflect changing socio-economic realities. Yet, at the same time, it has to be concrete enough to instill confidence in developing country Parties that developed country Parties are taking the lead, and doing their fair share of the global obligation to mitigate climate change, and to provide the necessary finance, capacity building and technology transfer for action.
Under this approach, to be meaningful, the ERF must be well-defined, and clearly distinguish differentiation criteria leading to equitable commitments for all Parties.
The ERF encourages differential treatment usually consisting of less stringent obligations for less-well-off countries such as different timing of the application of provisions (grace periods or delayed implementation of obligations, or priority implementation in specially affected countries), and international assistance in terms of financing, capacity building or technology transfer. While this increases participation, it may not be ambitious enough.
But the ERF itself is likely to be resisted. Even if Parties agree to be obligated to explain their emission budgets and equity assumptions by which they consider their commitments to be fair and adequate, they will want the freedom to choose the terms by which they make those explanations, and indicators to justify them - which will in all likelihood, be in their self-interest.
Another approach that might feature in Warsaw is the facilitative approach, involving a core agreement and a number of optional annexes, tailored to address specific needs and special circumstances, such as dependency on fossil fuels.
This may assist in helping to bring the threshold of entry into the 2015 agreement lower than what was experienced with the Kyoto Protocol, where participation was optimized by including major emitters, both developed and developing, and yet not conceding on stringency and compliance over time.
This is an important point as there needs to be a way to reconcile nationally proposed mitigation commitments with the required level of ambition as indicated by science to stay on track to achieve the below 2°C objective of the Convention. In Warsaw, Parties will have to agree on a work plan for 2014 so as to develop elements for a draft negotiating text by 2014, which will be held in Lima, Peru.
Melissa Low is an energy analyst at the Energy Studies Institute at the National University of Singapore.