EU Despair at the Cull of the Brackets


Since I arrived in Paris there have been precious few breakthrough moments. Rather, behind closed doors, negotiators have been banging heads against various brick walls and each other with little to show for it. Despite the background cacophony of cranial contact, French Foreign Minister and COP21 chair Laurent Fabious took to the main stage this afternoon and announced a new ‘clean’ draft agreement on climate change. A hush fell upon the assembled masses…

Earlier in the day I got an insight into the negotiations from the UN’s equivalent of Malcolm Tucker - Halldor Thorgeirsson. Without swearing once, he explained that the negotiations were , ‘like a funnel’, where you ‘slowly and gradually remove the options until nothing is left to decide.’ At the beginning of the week negotiators were faced with over one thousand [square bracket] choices in a draft agreement that weighed in at more than 50 pages, covering everything from money to temperature to blame to ambition.

What M. Fabious said on the stage in the big room made the audience sit up and take notice. He declared that the negotiators had resolved three quarters of those [decisions]. Indeed, so fast were negotiators rattling through the text that someone estimated the brackets were disappearing at the rate of one a minute.

So after the massacre of the brackets, what was left and who was smiling? Well, the biggest beam belongs to China. The world’s largest emitter and second largest economy has managed to negotiate its way out of any commitment to giving funds to help developing countries deal with the challenges of climate change. In previous drafts was to be found the POTODOSO clause on financial contributions, which committed nations of the developed world and those countries in a position to do so, to stump up cash for less developed nations. In the draft published today, POTODOSO has bitten the dust. It is no small victory when the world’s second largest economy manages to dodge any financial commitments. Now, it may be that China makes a voluntary contribution. Maybe. However, the important feature of the agreement in its present form is that the choice will rest with China.

In truth, the Chinese victory is as much symbolic as it is financial. Back in 1992 the UN divided the nations of the globe into two categories, ‘developed’ and ‘developing,’ separated by a firewall. The division mattered, since the first group, the developed world, would become givers of climate change monies, while the second group would be recipients. In 1992, China fell into the second group. However a lot can change in two decades…

Breaking down the firewall, and dragging China into the developed world has long been an ambition of the US, particularly with China snapping on the heals of their GDP and pumping out carbon emissions like they were going out of fashion. Turkey and the Ukraine have also come out as winners from the new draft. Both are singled out for special treatment in the form of cash and technology transfer to help them deal with the climate change challenges.

Although 75% of the brackets have gone, the last 25% will truly bedevil negotiators. After all, it’s not the quantity of the brackets that count but the thorniness of what they conceal. We still don’t have answers on the big questions: the temperature target (will it be below two degree, well below two degrees of below 1.5 degrees), the funding commitment, whether the agreement will be binding (binding in parts) or not binding at all, and how the commitments of any agreement will be monitored.

To say that the European Commission is unhappy is an understatement, like comparing Blackpool Tower and the Eiffel Tower. Although the Commission concedes that the options are still in the text, all optimism has gone. As the officials state, ‘our lines have been crossed.’

There have been major losses: differentiation is still to strong; emissions from maritime and aviation are gone from the text; transparency has been eroded; reference to uniting global carbon trading schemes has been lost; the voluntary contribution from countries like China is not even in bracket text, it’s a done deal and will not be undone; ambition has been sacrificed.

The concluding line from the Commission: ‘We are not accepting this text.’

‘Bothered and bewildered’ would be the best description of the EU negotiators right now with developed countries expected to foot the bill while developing countries continue to produce two thirds of global emissions. The night is still young. Will the EU push back? Will it reassert its red lines? We shall see.