Climate summit deadlocked over immediate action

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India Climate Dialogue, Bonn, Germany

US, EU lead opposition to any discussion; India, China and other members of the Like Minded Developing Countries group incensed

The Prime Minister of Fiji, as President of COP23, is trying to break the deadlock [image courtesy: UNclimatechange]

A closed-door meeting over the inclusion of immediate climate action in the agenda failed to break the deadlock between developing and developed countries, casting a big shadow over the ongoing climate summit. The meeting had been called by Fiji – the summit president.From the start of the November 6-17 UN summit in Bonn, Germany, developing countries led by India, China and Iran have been asking for inclusion of immediate climate action in the agenda.

See: India and China raise strong protests over climate summit agenda

Developed countries have been opposing this, because it puts their actions under the spotlight. The Paris climate agreement comes into force in 2020. Pre-2020 actions to combat climate change are largely the responsibility of industrialised countries under the second phase of the ongoing Kyoto Protocol. But many industrialised countries have not even ratified the second phase in their legislatures.

Before the start of this summit, countries in the negotiating bloc called Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) submitted a proposal to include pre-2020 actions onto the COP 23 agenda. The LMDC group includes Algeria, Bangladesh, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mali, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Vietnam.

But from the start of the summit, this has been opposed by developed countries, led by the US and the EU. Outgoing COP president Salaheddine Mezouar of Morocco had been holding informal consultations to break the deadlock. When he failed, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama called a closed-door meeting. But that did not resolve the matter either.

The US, EU, Canada, Japan, Australia, Norway and other developed countries opposed the inclusion of pre-2020 action on the summit agenda, despite strong pleas by developing country delegations that they needed to know what the rich nations were doing right now to “honour their existing commitments”, according to a developing country delegate who was present.

But the developed country delegates said this would be a waste of time, since “pre-2020 issues were already being discussed under several other agenda items and did not need any more dedicated space,” according to a developed country delegate.

The Africa Group, India and China showed examples to make the point that existing agenda items did not address the matters at hand, and “there was need for developed countries to accelerate and raise their ambition in reducing the emissions gap in the pre-2020 timeframe and to not shift the burden onto developing countries in the post-2020 timeframe under the Paris agreement,” a delegate from an African country told thethirdpole.net, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Delegates from many developing countries pointed to the climate change impacts – storms, floods, sea level rise, droughts, ocean acidification – being faced right now, and sought immediate action.

In response, one US delegate reportedly said, “There is no point in adding on more items; pre-2020 issues have been taken up for quite some time.”

One delegate from an EU country reportedly said, “I do not think having this item on the agenda will reduce one single tonne of emissions or add any additional finance.” That angered the developing countries further.

India, China, Brazil, South Africa, Pakistan, Egypt, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, St Lucia, Nicaragua, Dominica, Cuba, El Salvador – all got up at the closed-door meeting to strongly refute the contention of industrialised countries, according to many of the government delegates present.

Speaking on behalf of G77 – the largest group of developing countries – the delegate from Ecuador reminded everyone that discussion over pre-2020 action had been promised at the end of the last summit in Morocco.

The delegate from India pointed out that there had been little work done to address loss and damage caused by climate change impacts, and there should be timelines fixed for promises made.

See: NGOs may take nations to court over climate loss and damage

Countries had “taken several decisions which were not fully implemented and given the short time left to close the pre-2020 gap, there is an urgent need to act urgently and complete the process,” the Indian delegate reportedly said.

Pointing out how recent storms had affected islands, the delegate from St. Lucia reportedly said that when governments “offer commitments to act, they must act on them and not erode what has been agreed to.”

The delegate from China sought clear timelines on pre-2020 actions, and pointed to the “increasing gap in ambition” by industrialised countries to combat climate change. Some countries have even re-adjusted their commitments downwards, he pointed out.

The delegate from Brazil said he found it “incomprehensible” why any government should resist having the pre-2020 item in the agenda of the COP. “Does it also mean that all the talk of post 2020 ambition is also mere lip service,” he reportedly asked.

The meeting ended with Bainimarama asking delegates to meet one another informally and “seek ways to move forward on the matter,” according to one delegate who was present. He added that he would continue with the informal consultations as well.

Speaking to the media the afternoon after the closed-door meeting, delegates from G77 and LMDC country blocs said they needed to examine current climate actions of developed countries because there were lots of gaps. Arun Kumar Mehta, Additional Secretary in India’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, said, “If we believe that climate change requires urgent action, that urgency needs to be shown. Delayed action isn’t going to help anyone. We strongly urge industrialised countries to meet their current commitments.”

India’s lead negotiator Ravishankar Prasad pointed out that developing countries were not asking for anything new, because all current commitments by industrialised countries had been made at previous climate summits. Now, he said, “We need to see what has actually happened. Some parties (countries) have said this is being discussed (in other forums). There is no space where we are discussing past commitments and how we have honoured them.”

Prasad did offer a way out of the deadlock, by suggesting that rich nations ratify the second commitment period of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol by May or June next year, and that all governments inform the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on the actions they have taken. “Then there will be a lot of trust. Then we have confidence that we’re on track to bridge the emissions gap and post-2020 action.”

As he was speaking, COP President Bainimarama sent a message fixing a time three hours later to discuss the issue again, in yet another attempt to resolve the issue.

Senior negotiator in the Chinese delegation Chen Zhihua said, “The whole group of developing countries is very firm on this because there are very big gaps in (mitigation) action by developed countries and their support to developing countries” to deal with impacts of climate change.

Having pre-2020 action on the agenda would be an “important mechanism to revisit targets, but we don’t see much progress,” he added. “In Warsaw (during the 2013 climate summit) it was decided that support (by developed countries to developing countries) would be increased year by year. But we don’t see much of that. We want this on the agenda to discuss how to close the gap. Developed countries are very busy with the Paris agreement. But this is more urgent.”

“By not including pre-2020 action, the message we’re sending out is that COP23 sees no urgency,” Paul Oquist of Nicaragua said. “That flies in the face of reality. Science is being thrown overboard. If we don’t get our act together before 2020, you can forget about (keeping average global temperature rise within) two degrees or 1.5 degrees (Celsius). Technology, capital, finance to do this all exist. What’s missing is political will on the part of developed countries.”

Most of the NGOs observing the climate negotiations supported the stand taken by developing countries. Speaking on behalf of their umbrella group Climate Action Network, Camilla Born, Senior Policy Adviser at E3G, said, “There is a need to talk about pre-2020 action. We need to see the COP presidency find space for it here.”