Raising ambition for a lower pathway

Raising ambition for a lower pathway

National negotiators have talked for five days in these rooms, but what have they said?

The Paris Agreement (PA) calls for keeping global temperature rise well below 2˚C, yet we are still on the pathway of above 3˚C with the current set of nationally determined contributions (NDCs). it’s time to ratchet up our collective ambition.

As the Bangkok intersessional climate change negotiations draw to a close with just a day left, Parties are scrambling to the finish line. The mandate is for the Paris Agreement Work Programme (PAWP) to be complete by the end of 2018. In the May session in Bonn, it was recognized that the only way that would be possible was to organize an additional session in Bangkok.

Despite having just over five days of negotiations, many issues may be left on the table in Bangkok without being resolved. If this were to happen, negotiations to prepare draft texts would have to continue at COP24 in Katowice, Poland,  where there will only be five or six days of negotiation.

Even though COP24 will be a two-week conference, it will see an absurd amount of time taken up by high-level ministerial meetings that will eat up into crucial negotiation time. Other issues and  points of discussion regarding COP24 have been deliberated over the past few days in Bangkok, including a new daily badge system, a shift in the date of the first day of COP, along with the expected outcome of the Talanoa Dialogue – which may be downgraded to a Presidential note or high-level ministerial declaration.

While focus in Bangkok is to prepare draft negotiating texts in time for COP24, the talk of ambition has barely been heard

Article 4.3 is clear.

Each Party’s successive nationally determined contribution will represent a progression beyond the Party’s then current nationally determined contribution and reflect its highest possible ambition, reflecting its common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.

It means that Parties need to update their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) over a period of time by including more ambitious climate action goals each time. This provision in the Paris Agreement to continually increase ambition is called the “ratcheting mechanism”.

So how can we increase ambition? There are a number of ways; such as means of implementation led by developed country Parties, feeding in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Special Report on 1.5˚C, and the Talanoa Dialogue outcome. If we are serious about hitting our 1.5 ˚C or even 2 ˚C target, all three methods need to be utilized to the fullest.

Leadership by developed nations and means of implementation

Financial flows, capacity building, technology transfer and development are all pillars of the means of implementation. Trust-building is at the core of building ambition via means of implementation. If developing nations are being called upon to increase their ambitions, they should only do so on the back of increased ambitions by developed country Parties, who do not have conditional contributions in their NDCs.

In addition to leading by example, developed countries also need to fulfil their promises of providing developing nations with the means of implementation. Taking historical emissions into account, it has been reinforced time after time that the equitable way forward is to have nations that developed their economies on fossil fuel-intensive industries must pay up and provide support to developing countries that will be more affected over the coming decades, yet not be able to respond to the climate crisis.

Inherently built into many countries’ NDCs is a mini-ratchet mechanism of sorts – namely conditional contributions. Only upon support from developed nations with means of implementation, will developing nation Parties strive to achieve their more ambitious conditional contribution. With financial flows, technology development and transfer, and capacity-building we will be able to push for overall increased ambition.

Giving space to the Special Report on 1.5˚C (SR1.5) at COP24

Next comes one of the most important reports ever put out by the IPCC, the SR1.5. In decision 1/CP.21, paragraph 21, the COP invited the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to provide a special report in 2018 on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways.

Parties are set to meet in early October to review and agree on the summary for policy makers of the report in Korea. This report has monumental implications should it reveal that global temperature rise will not be kept under either 1.5 ˚C or even 2˚C should we stick to our current NDCs.

While this report is a scientific paper, it will be highly politicized due to how it is meant to inform Parties on the reality of 1.5˚C pathway, by way of the Talanoa Dialogue. Although the report has been finalized, the summary for policymakers (SPM) is still in its draft phase and will be approved at the 48th Session of the IPCC in Korea in the first week of October.

When the SPM is approved and released, Parties must take its findings into consideration when finalizing the PAWP in Katowice and use it to call for stronger ambition in getting the world on the 1.5˚ pathway. While there is no information on plans from the IPCC for the COP24 opening plenary, the COP24 President has already indicated that there will be a dedicated space for the Talanoa Dialogue to consider the SR1.5.

Legitimizing the Talanoa Dialogue

Since launching in January this year, the Talanoa Dialogue (f.k.a. 2018 Facilitative Dialogue), has been lauded for its intent, the storytelling platform it provides, and its nature of being inclusive, participatory and transparent. It is still unclear as to exactly how the Talanoa Dialogue will conclude in COP24, but it should end meaningfully, with the collective input over the course of the year contributing to raising ambition.

The ratcheting mechanism in the Paris Agreement
Pic: Carbon Brief

Is the Global Stocktake (GST) make or break?

The one ambition mechanism built into the Paris Agreement is the GST. Currently, the modalities, inputs, outputs and outcomes are still being negotiated in Bangkok. As the GST draft negotiation text begins to take shape, it’s important for it to be robust as it will inform and improve NDCs to come. Finally, it’s crucial to ensure there is space for inputs from all stakeholders – not just the Parties themselves, but third-parties as well as non-party stakeholders.

What the final draft text from Bangkok will look like remains to be seen and although there is little time left, there are still some avenues to promote ambition in order to better the current set of NDCs. Let’s get finance flowing to countries that need it the most. Once that happens, the rest will follow, and we’ll continue on our fight to 1.5˚.

Written by Mike Campton

Reviewed by Shaqib Shahril

Principles vs Practicalities: The Drama

Principles vs Practicalities: The Drama

The most recent round of climate change negotiations started with a bit of a furor. At the very last minute, constituencies and parties were suspended from giving interventions. The SBSTA Chair came around, asking the constituencies if they would be agreeable to this. Safe to say, the request was more of a formality than anything else.

As one of the people who was supposed to deliver an intervention on behalf of Climate Action Network, I was somewhat annoyed. It was an inconvenience, especially since several of us had spent time drafting and editing the intervention. However it was nowhere near the level of the Youth NGOs. A heated exchange ensued between a YOUNGO representative and the chair. Both parties brought up salient points which I thought served as interesting talking points to the principles and practicalities of the UNFCCC.

 Me eagerly (with a hefty dose of nervousness), looking forward to delivering an intervention for the very first time ever.  

The UNFCCC process is built on being inclusive. However, many civil society groups complain that they do not get enough of a say in the process. At this point in fleshing out the Paris Agreement Work Programme, inclusivity is an important factor because if a document is not inclusive and representative of everyone’s viewpoints then inevitably people are less likely to adhere to something they cannot relate to. It is also important that people have confidence in the UNFCCC process so that they will have faith in the outcomes such as the Paris Agreement Work Program. These were some of the arguments the representative brought up.

The Chair on the other hand, highlighted that the UNFCCC is a party-driven process, which means that ultimately the text will be written and finalised by parties alone. Time is of the essence here as parties aim to have an agreement on the Paris Agreement Work Program by the end of COP 24 in Katowice and therefore it is essential that parties get as much time as possible to work on the text.. Hence this additional 6-day session in Bangkok. Cutting out this section would save an hour and a half. However, it could be argued that parties interventions can be cut while keeping the opportunity for civil societies. Parties already have plenty of opportunities to voice their opinions. This was certainly a point YOUNGO representatives reinforced over and over.

Members of the youth constituency sitting down with the SBSTA chair.

The  move to cut out the interventions was a pragmatic one. However, it has ideological and substantial repercussions – it signals that the voice of non-party stakeholders are not as important to the process. While there are of course other opportunities for non-party stakeholders to interact with the text, such as through and bilaterals, this is much less than the opportunities parties receive. Also, interventions are one of the few formal avenues that is visible to the outside world as the sessions are video-recorded and uploaded online.

After the heated exchange and some discussion among the other youths, once again YOUNGO chose to go up to the Chair to have a sit-down discussion on this matter. Youths are a key stakeholder because they are one of the most vulnerable to this process and also climate change in general. Firstly, because youths are usually self-funded and are not experienced in this arena. They are usually students who are passionate about climate change issues and have to study while doing this on the side. Secondly, youths will feel the impact of climate change much more in the future and will be the most impacted by the policies to combat climate change.

The outcome of the decision was that the chairs and the secretariat agreed that this would not set a precedent for things to work out like this in the future. They apologised for the impromptu decision and said they really believed this was the best choice. This incident reflected an interesting clash between practicality and principles. Which should be prioritised is up in the air. As a youth I would definitely be inclined towards principles as someone who is going to live the rest of my 60 years or so under the governance and impacts of the Paris Agreement.

Parties singing from the same book in Bangkok

Parties singing from the same book in Bangkok

Day 2 of SB48-2:
Negotiations in APA, SBI and SBSTA moving into informal consultations and informal informals

As the Bangkok climate negotiations kicked off yesterday, it became clear very quickly that parties, for the next week, will be saying the same thing. From the opening ceremony, to the plenaries, to the contact groups as well as the informal consultations, almost all chairs, facilitators and parties started their interventions with similar themes; we’re running out of time, we should not waste any more time now, and we must leave Bangkok with a draft text to bring to COP24.

Parties are so eager to get straight to work, that they proposed and agreed to forgo the opening plenary interventions from parties as well as CSOs. While it is clear to see why parties chose this course of impromptu action, several Youth CSO representatives did not appreciate the decision to cut out one of only two opportunities for CSOs to speak at this SB session.

While parties continue to reiterate the need to move fast with negotiations in Bangkok, CSOs are calling for parties not just to move swiftly but also to produce a strong and robust draft text for each facet of the Paris Agreement Work Programme (PAWP). The hope and expectation is to head into COP24 with draft texts that will be ready to be negotiated on in Katowice, Poland.

What does it mean to have draft negotiating texts coming out of Bangkok?

Currently, agenda items relating to the PAWP are being negotiated on the basis of informal notes and tools which have been drafted by the respective facilitators of each agenda item. These informal notes and tools contain inputs from parties from the past several sessions, dating back to SB44 in May 2016. The task ahead of parties in Bangkok is to distill the inputs and streamline the options with clearer and meaty text.

With stronger and more focused text coming out of Bangkok, the hope is that it will facilitate a good session of high level negotiations at COP24, with the ultimate goal of completing the PAWP by the December 2018 deadline.

What are the potential risks in Bangkok?

While it is promising and encouraging that parties see the urgency and feel the pressure, they also run the risk of pushing out draft texts that are weak. On the other hand, should parties take their time to negotiate, or come across stumbling blocks, they run the risk of ending the Bangkok session with incomplete draft texts.

Either option is unacceptable. And parties have no other choice than to work in overdrive. The current situation was perfectly captured in the opening address by COP23 President and Fiji Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, who said, “In three months’ time we will be in Katowice, and frankly, we are not ready. I don’t think that statement should surprise anyone in this room.”

Although discouraging, the COP23 President’s words were necessary. He told it like it is. The situation is dire now. Parties have left it all to the last minute and need to find as much common ground as possible over the next four days if we are to get any closer to implementing the Paris Agreement in 2020.

Written by Mike Campton
Reviewed by Daniel Teoh