Week One: The story so far
The rain is lashing and the wind is howling here in Edinburgh. Desmond has just touched down, and the storm is building. As the first week of negotiations draw to a close, much the same could be said of the Paris climate change talks. I’m just back from Paris and it is dear that pressure is building.
The talks have reached that sensitive stage where it is rumoured certain parties now take their discussions off campus for fear the rooms are bugged. That being said, one man who certainly isn’t being listened too is the EU’s lead negotiator Commissioner Mr Miguel Arias Cañete. He has taken to Twitter to express his frustration at being frozen out of negotiations by the US and China. We’ve been here before. This is exactly what happened in Copenhagen, and there weren’t many smiles around that COP gathering. Given the gap in ambition between the ‘big two’ and the EU perhaps it isn’t entirely surprising that Mr Cañete isn't on speed dial.
Still, there has been some cause for hope. Friday dawned with two new slimmed down negotiating texts. The first, a ‘bridging dossier’, which will form the core of the Paris agreement has slimmed down from 50 pages to 38 in just 48 hours. Not bad. The second dossier which contains a series of modifications from the 195 negotiating parties has lost less weight, falling from 50 pages to 48. However UNFCCC chief Christiana Figueres had to admit at this morning’s press gathering that both dossiers are still riddled with question marks, ellipses and the notorious [square brackets] denoting different options on key questions which number more than a 1,000. The text is not nearly ready to be passed from the negotiators to the world’s Environment Ministers.
The thorniest of issues to arise this week has been finance. Despite developed countries (including the US and UK) pledging a further $250 million to the least developed countries on day one of the negotiations, the G77 - a powerful negotiating bloc of developing countries led by China - has threatened to halt further progress unless reference to ‘loss and damage’ is amplified. ‘Loss and damage’, is code for compensation. It is different from funding for adaptation or mitigation measures, which is money to address the problems of climate change or to forestall further emissions contributing to the problem. Loss and damage is cold hard cash from the countries which caused the problem to those who didn’t. Is the demand a stalling tactic by the Chinese. If it is, to what end? Expect negotiations to last beyond Friday next week.
In better news, this week saw a final tranche of last minute Intended Nationally Defined Contributions (INDCs in the jargon) from Nigeria, Angola and Palau. The total number of carbon pledges submitted to the UN now totals 183 (out of 195 participating states). Still missing are Syria, Libya, Nepal, North Korea, Venezuela, Tonga, Brunei, Uzbekistan, Nicaragua, Panama, East Timor and Saint Kits & Nevis. Even with the new contributions, the aggregate of the carbon reduction pledges leaves the globe shy of the two degree target and much closer to three degrees.
In a counterintuitive move, the fact that the INDCs fall short of the two degree target has motivated a number of developed nations to suggest that the UN should aim for a lower target, a 1.5 degree limit. Doing so, it is claimed, would drive further emissions cuts by each country able to do so thereby increasing the likelihood of hitting the original 2 degrees target. However the proposal was shot down, vetoed earlier today by India and Saudi Arabia, a double act united in their dependence on fossil fuels.
Other developments in Paris: the UK and the Netherlands have launched a $175 million fund for renewables in developing countries; the World Bank has promised to do more to tackle transport emissions but has been coy about what it has in mind; and, China confirming that its carbon reduction pledge is non negotiable, despite being caught fibbing about how much coal it really burns.
All in all, progress in Paris has been slow and wearying. The sense of anticipation built by world leaders on day one has dissipated as negotiators come to terms with the task ahead. While the negotiating texts are slimming, the key issues remain unresolved; namely how to meet the two degrees target, how to finance a deal and how to ensure the deal binds countries to their commitments. One thing is clear - it may be the weekend but there won’t be much rest in Paris over the next two days.