United Nations climate negotiations will re-commence in Geneva, Switzerland from February 8-13.
This will be the first meeting following 2014’s Lima Climate Summit, which was widely criticised for failing to take significant decisions to advance international climate rules.
The Geneva session is the first in a series of meetings leading to the Paris Climate Summit in December this year.
The December Paris Climate Summit is the deadline agreed in 2011, under what is known as the ‘Durban Platform’, for the delivery of two objectives: Increasing the level of climate action, including the strength of targets and the provision of climate finance, in the pre-2020 period; and Developing a new agreement ‘with legal force’ to apply to all countries from 2020 onward.
To deliver greater pre-2020 action the negotiations are currently focused on ‘technical expert meetings’ where ideas about policy approaches are shared.
There has been a push by many developing countries to also include discussion of targets and finance levels specifically in the pre-2020 discussions.
Negotiations on the new agreement, for the post-2020 period, will begin by focusing on proposals that have been collated by the UN throughout 2014.
The stated objective of the Geneva session is to turn the proposals into a “zero draft” for the Paris Agreement – or a shorter and refined document that clearly indicates continuing areas of disagreement and competing options.
It is expected that in the first days of the Geneva session there will be differences between countries on the best process to use to reach this draft.
Key emerging questions for the Geneva talks will be: What will the outcome on pre-2020 action look like? How will commitments on finance and technology transfer be incorporated into the post-2020 agreement?
Will there be an assessment of the fairness and adequacy of countries’ future proposals between now and 2020?
Reactions from global civil society
“Climate change is an everyday reality now in the Philippines. European leaders seem to want to talk down expectations for these negotiations – but make no mistake for our people everything is on the line. If they don’t produce an agreement that limits warming to 1.5C then they will have failed our people and failed on the science.
The outcome of Geneva must include a proposal to set an ’emissions budget’ for all countries and to share it fairly.”
Lidy Nacpil, Coordinator of Jubilee South, Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development, said from Manila, in the Philippines.
“In Africa it’s the risk to crops and fish-stocks that is really frightening – climate change could cause huge famines and food price spikes.
The negotiations need to grapple with that reality and commit to strong and clear outcomes on helping people and communities prepare for already locked-in climate impacts. It will be a huge moral failure if European leaders don’t realise what’s at stake for Africans. ” Azeb Germai, focal point on climate at LDC-Watch, said from Addis Ababa Ethiopia.
“The text that comes out of this Geneva session will still have big differences between governments. Still rich industrialised countries are refusing to be clear on how they will provide finance and technology as a part of the agreement.
If there is no finance and technology in the agreement then it will mean nothing on the ground. As India has made clear – for a different development pathway to be taken there must be resources for the world’s poorest.”
Meena Raman, negotiations expert at Third World Network, based in Penang, Malaysia said.
“It’s deeply concerning that only one day out of six has been allocated to pre-2020 action. The science is clear that we need to get off our polluting pathway this decade – too much discussion on action and goals in 2025, 2030 or 2050 delay the urgent transition. Dirty energy corporations prefer fuzzy long term discussions than solid actions now, but governments must listen to people calling for action yesterday.
What matters is concrete steps right now, but governments appear to be downgrading the urgency. This does not bode well for a meaningful outcome in Paris that does anything to protect our planet or its people.” Asad Rehman, Head of International Climate at Friends of the Earth EWNI in London, UK, said.
“Because rich industrialised countries have not done enough to reduce their climate pollution, and since they never adequately supported poorer countries to adopt green development models, we face a grave situation now. We have already locked in unavoidable climate impacts on food, income and survival of the poor.
Any international climate agreement worth its salt will have to address the impacts through adaptation measures and compensating for loss and damages. Governments can’t turn a blind eye to the horrors the poorest and most vulnerable are already living through.” Harjeet Singh, International Manager for Climate Change and Resilience at ActionAid International, in New Delhi, India, said.
“Despite what our misguided Commissioner for climate says, if the talks do not limit warming to 2C or lower they will have failed. And they are on track to fail because here in Europe we are not taking on our fair-share of the effort needed to tackle the climate crisis. Failure to meet that target is not abstract – it is to fail billions of people across the world and millions here in Europe.
The cause of our possible failure to meet the climate test is not abstract – it is the big polluting lobby that wields too much power in Brussels and in the Commissioner’s office. It’s time for officials in Europe to fully support the alternatives that already exist and work like community-controlled renewable energy.”
Susann Scherbath, Climate Justice and Energy Program at Friends of the Earth Europe, said from Brussels, Belgium.
What outcome on pre-2020 action?
Despite the latest science confirming the urgent need to reduce climate pollution to avoid the most catastrophic of projected impacts, there has been little progress in scaling up action in this ‘critical decade.’
In fact, the Geneva session will open with developed countries “pledging” effectively no climate action between now and 2020, and global pledges putting the world on track to risk up to 4C of warming by the end of the century.
This has been further undermined by the fact that Australia, Canada, Mexico and the United States are set to pollute above their insufficient current promises.
This follows on from a Ministerial meeting last June which was supposed to see the 2020 climate targets of developed countries revisited, but saw no movement, and the developed countries in Lima refusing to revisit their targets under the Kyoto Protocol.
In fact Kyoto, the existing international climate treaty that is supposed to cover developed country’s targets until 2020 has not formally ‘entered into force’ because too few governments have made a proper legal commitment to it, despite promising to do so in 2012.
This lack of action by the countries with the biggest history of climate pollution and the most wealth available to tackle it, combined with broken promises on revisiting their targets and legally binding them under the Kyoto system, is severely undermining trust in the talks.
The Geneva Session is dedicating just one day out of six to the issue of pre-2020 action and has limited its focus solely to ‘technical expert meetings’, reducing the scope for a strong political decision in Paris.
Several observers hope that a more focused and collaborative approach on the energy sector could be a substantial outcome of the talks, given proposals by the African Group of countries.
A key idea to be discussed is the Globally Funded Renewable Energy Feed in Tariff, which would ensure decentralized community controlled energy access for the almost 2 billion people without electricity – but without replicating the dangerous existing model of energy generation and distribution.
2. How to cover finance and technology transfer commitments?
An ongoing issue in climate negotiations has been a failure by developed countries to transfer finance and technology to assist developing countries to shift to safer development pathways.
In the over-arching Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed in 1992, developed countries took on commitments to make such transfers, but little has been realized.
The IPCC has recognised that for the world to confront the climate crisis these transfers will be essential, they also reflect a form of justice as it is developed countries who have contributed the greatest share of climate pollution up to today.
Whether developed countries are required to make specific finance commitments or only commit to an aggregate ‘global goal’, like the $100 billion per year by 2020 made in Copenhagen, is a key dividing line.
Similarly, whether developing countries can make ‘conditional’ proposals – where they outline the extra climate action they will take if they receive further finance and technology – will be a central issue given India’s indication it believes this should be a part of the agreement.
Finance and technology transfers are central to allowing communities and countries to prepare for locked-in and already happening climate impacts – known in the negotiations as ‘adaptation’ and ‘loss and damage’ – so how they are dealt with will also determine the overall effectiveness of the Paris Agreement.
3. Will countries’ proposals be assessed scientifically and how?
Whilst countries negotiate the shape of the Paris Agreement determining what types of commitments they will need to make, they are also negotiating the international rules and institutions that will govern climate change going forward.
Of importance to many countries and observers are the rules relating to how proposed ‘contributions’ are assessed before the Paris Agreement comes into force in 2020.
Currently the UN is scheduled to issue a compilation of such proposed contributions prior to the Paris meeting, but included in the draft text at the moment are several more detailed and lasting processes.
Many in civil society have been pushing for the inclusion of an ’emissions budget’ or the setting of a global limit on climate pollution, and for proposed targets to be measured against this limit – an idea advanced in various forms by countries such as Brazil, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Bolivia.
Processes to do this could include:
assessing whether the total effect of governments’ targets would really meet temperature goals that scientists recommend;
whether individual countries’ targets are fair given their history of pollution and levels of wealth; and how much ‘adaptation’ to climate change will be necessary given expected temperature levels.
It could be through this process that the provision of finance and technology to ensure further actions in developing countries could be realized.
Proposals to run this assessment prior to the Paris Summit were not accepted in Lima, but in designing the longer-term rules to come in effect post-Paris it is expected that some system for assessment and revision will be put in place.