Climate Talks Close With Progress on Paris Pact ‘Rule Book’

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By Eric J. Lyman

May 26 — The first round of United Nations climate talks since the Paris Agreement was finalized six months ago came to a close May 26, with progress on the earliest beginnings of what will become a “rule book” for implementation of the Paris deal marred by unexpected clashes in several areas, including potential conflict-of-interest rules.

The Bonn Climate Change Conference got under way May 16 with most of the day in the plenary filled with congratulatory remarks about the Paris Agreement, the world's first global climate pact. But during the course of the talks, the long-standing rift between rich and poor countries—which was briefly bridged in Paris—began to reveal itself.

Conflict of Interest

On the final day of the negotiations, differences flared up over conflict-of-interest rules. With backing from several other developing countries, Ecuador added some draft language that would have started the process to build a set of rules to the draft language within the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), one of the main negotiating forums in Bonn (39 INER ???, 6/1/16).

But as talks wound down, the language that would have created a mandate to gather information on how other UN entities and multilateral processes handle their own conflict-of-interest issues was removed, based on suggestions from the U.S. and the European Union.

Conflict-of-interest rules would limit the role that organizations that stand in opposition to the goal of the process—such as large fossil fuel energy companies—can play within the process.

Near the end of the talks, Ecuador called for the language to be reinserted into the draft, but the Polish chair of the SBI said he did not see the Ecuadorian flag requesting the floor, and the talks were closed. Several countries—most notably Egypt and Nicaragua—echoed Ecuador's call, but the SBI chair refused to reopen the session, blaming the problem on a technical glitch. In the end, the controversy was “noted” in the record and countries supporting the development of conflict-of-interest rules said they would bring them up at the November climate summit in Marrakech, Morocco.

‘Negative Emissions.”

There was a smaller controversy over the role of experimental “negative emissions” technologies such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, now being referred to in the process as BECCS.

The Paris Agreement calls for limiting global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius” compared to pre-industrial levels, with a call to “pursue efforts” for a 1.5 degree Celsius limit (2 degrees Celsius is 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit; 1.5 translates to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

There is a split within the process between those who believe BECCS and other relatively unproven technologies are necessary to have a chance to keep global warming to within the limited stated in the Paris Agreement, and others who think the technologies are too risky and would delay the implementation of more proven options.

On May 26, several developing country delegates and social organizations issued a statement, “Sacrificing the Global South in the Name of the Global South.” Global South is a reference to developing countries that are mostly located in the southern hemisphere.

According to the statement, poor countries would suffer even more issues related to hunger if scarce farmland is used to grow bioenergy for BECCS projects.

In another area, language that would have asked the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to write technical papers on three main areas: information that should be included in national climate plans, guidelines for communications on efforts for countries to adapt to climate change, and transparency issues. In the end, developing countries said it was too early for such papers to be useful and the language was pulled.

“The honeymoon from the Paris Agreement is over,” said Amjad Abdulla, a delegate from the Maldives speaking at a briefing on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States. “You get married, you have a honeymoon, but then you have to continue with life. And this is what is happening here.”

On to Marrakech

Most of the measurable progress in Bonn came on an array of highly technical topics that will evolve into a rule book for implementation of the Paris Agreement, ranging from the rules on transparency, adaptation, support for developing countries, and financial issues. No big decisions were made in Bonn, but observers said it set the stage for some “deliverables” to emerge later this year at the Marrakech Conference of the Parties (COP) summit.

“There's some reason for hopefulness,” Alden Meyer from the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Bloomberg BNA. “The path to a successful climate summit in Marrakech is probably clearer now. But there is a lot work ahead if we want to close the gap between the national commitments now on the table and the far greater ambition needed to give us a fighting chance of meeting the temperature goals in the Paris Agreement.”

Meyer continued: “We also need to ramp up support for efforts to help vulnerable countries deal with the growing impacts of climate change.”

Delegates said they are starting to look at 2018 as the most likely date by which the Paris Agreement would enter into force, something that requires at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of worldwide emissions to ratify the text. There was speculation earlier that the agreement could enter into force as soon as next year, with the U.S. and China both likely to ratify the agreement before the end of 2016.

But with Russia casting doubts on whether it would ratify before the rule book is complete, and the ratification process for the European Union looking like it could last up to two years, the optimism is waning.

“I think it will take until 2018,” French climate change ambassador Laurence Tubiana told Bloomberg BNA. “That is fast enough for what we need.”

Looking Ahead

Regardless of when the Paris Agreement will enter into force, most of its terms will be applied starting in 2020. But delegates have said an early entry into force is important as a political signal and to give countries a framework on which to base national policies.

Delegates and observers said the Bonn talks put new pressure on the process to delver concrete results by the Marrakech summit.

“If we don't want to lose the momentum from Paris, Marrakech has to produce some tangible results,” a Dutch delegate told Bloomberg BNA, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “I think poor countries would like to see concrete progress on finance issues, including loss and damage, industrialized countries on transparency, and observer groups on progress for actions taken before 2020.”

Loss and damage is a kind of insurance policy that would reimburse poor countries for some of the losses stemming from climate change. “Transparency” is shorthand for rules on how national actions are measured, reported and verified.

Sven Harmeling, CARE International's climate advocacy coordinator, agreed: “The implementation of the new climate deal remains a challenge,” Harmeling said in a statement. “Some countries seem to be reverting back into their old position, questioning the positive processes started in Paris.”

Despite the divisions, Christiana Figueres, the outgoing executive secretary for the UNFCCC, remained upbeat. “I would say that these two weeks can translated into a commitment for countries to do more, do more, and then do even more,” an emotional Figueres said just after a special plenary tribute to her. After six years on the job, Figueres will step down in July. Former Mexican Secretary for Foreign Affairs Patricia Espinosa will take over.

Aziz Mekouar, Morocco's ambassador for multilateral negotiations, who will likely be president of the Marrakech COP, echoed Figueres's optimism: “Lima was the COP of negotiations, Paris was one of decisions, and COP-22 in Marrakech will be the conference of action,” he said, referring to the host cities of the previous two COP summits.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric J. Lyman in Bonn at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com