2°C of separation: Start of Crucial Negotiating Week for Paris Climate Conference

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Nawaat , Paris

The 2015 United Nations (UN) Climate Change negotiations - also referred to as the COP21  and which started in Paris on Monday 30th November aims to “achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.”

The current cornerstone issue half-way into the negotiations in Paris is gaining consensus from 195 governments for the finalisation of the draft agreement text.  Seven days into the negotiations, progress has been made in including an option of holding temperature increases below the scientific advice of 2°C, however the inclusion or {exclusion} of a reference to loss and damages and explicit reference to financial support for developing countries by 2020 remains a highly politicised issue.  

For the G77 + China, a powerful negotiating bloc representing some of the poorest countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, it defines its role as one of a “negotiating missionary” that is “acting diligently” whilst being “committed to the conclusion of the work of the basis of the Durban platform for enhanced action.”

The issue of the obligation of industrialised countries to provide financial contributions to the developing world remains protracted within the negotiations, with the South Africa G77 + China representative equating the upholding of past commitments as a good litmus test of any future government commitment outlined in the final agreement, stressing that “if we cannot be sure (financial) commitments will be met, how can we assure that commitments in the text will be met.”

Finance at the heart of the negotiations

So far, around $60, 000 billion in financial contributions have been amassed towards the $100, 000 billion yearly pledge by 2020. At the start of the Paris COP21, the figure provided stood at around $10,000 billion, but progress on the issue is still considered by many countries as well as environmental groups in attendance as slow paced and lacking in political will from key countries.

The $100 billion scheme is an important aspect of the negotiations – with the finance pledge tracing its roots back to both the 2009 Copenhagen and 2010 Cancun climate negotiation talks respectively, which saw developed countries committing to jointly raising $100 billion per year by 2020 to help developing countries cope with climate change.

According to Oil Change International representative Alex Doukas “the G20 spends $452 billion each year subsidizing fossil fuels, but only spends $121 billion on renewable.” Doukas suggests that one way of tackling this issue and increasing available finance to address the climate crisis is by shifting “the hundreds of billions of dollars that countries are spending on fossil fuel subsidies to climate finance.”

For Bandon Woo from Action Aid, the most politicised issues at the COP21 also encompasses the issue of equity, stating that “aside from a few pledges, (there is) no clear plan to deliver money in the future,” adding that financial contributions towards the $100,000 billion pledge are not a concessions but “a core part of the climate framework” and also echoing the views conveyed by the G77, “that different countries have different roles” and obligations within these negotiations.

Key Players

On the current US positioning, Woo remarked that “President Obama talked about an ambitious outcome – but we have not seen that reflected (so far) in the negotiations”, adding that during the first week of the negotiations US negotiators provided language in the agreement which places no “obligation on the US or developing countries to supply finance to developing countries .. which is not in the spirit of what our leader said on Monday.”

Another key player in the negotiations is the European Union – which defined its role at the COP21 as one of acting as a “bridge builder.” For the EU, the draft agreement which was handed over to the French presidency on December 5th remains “too complex, with too many options.”

The issue of whether the final agreement will be legally binding also remains a point of contention amongst certain parties - with the EU, and countries including South Africa calling for a legally binding outcome document and countries including the US arguing against.

At a press conference last week, the G77+ China representative reminded journalists of the fact that there are countries at the COP which have not yet ratified or have deliberately opted out of the Kyoto protocol, further revealing that “we cannot keep tip toeing around these countries.”

There is also focus on India’s position at the COP21 and widespread media coverage identifying India as a possible spoiler or blocker of any agreement, which some environmental groups have argued as being unwarranted.

However, thus far, and 7 days into the negotiations, none of these countries have received the dreaded daily Fossil Fuel Award – where members of the Climate Action Network (CAN) vote for countries judged to have done their 'best' to block progress in the negotiations.

So far oil production dependent Saudi Arabia, a country experiencing a higher than average warming prediction for 2040 than the global average, has been identified as the “key derailer”, along with Venezuela, for opposing “decarbonisation in a crucial contact group, despite supporting the stabilisation of greenhouse gases - a worrying contradiction,” according to CAN.

One environmental group highlighted the need to also keep a close eye on “silent” Russia, which has thus far kept a low profile during the first week, but whose emissions reduction pledge has already been earmarked as “inadequate” by Climate Action Tracker before the start of the Paris negotiations.

In the Middle East and North Africa, Morocco - which will be hosting the COP22 – has presented the most “sufficient” emissions reduction pledge from the region according to the Climate Action Tracker analysis on country pledges.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI emphasized in his opening speech that “The Paris conference will be instrumental in shaping the future which we are duty-bound to bequeath to our children.”

International climate policies decided in Paris, if consensus is reached on the final agreement – which is something which has so far eluded past COP processes - will have a strong impact on energy resource and countries whose economies depend on it.

The draft agreement text has now been handed over to the chairmanship of the French Presidency who is now tasked with shepherding through the finalisation of the agreement text in consultation with the ministers of represented governments, in the hope of reaching a historical agreement by December 11th.