Environment

Paris Package Gets Green Light from 196 Nations

On Saturday, after four years of negotiations that began in 2011, negotiators from 196 countries finally stamped their approval on the penultimate draft of 48 pages for a Paris agreement. It will now be taken up at the ministerial level for approving the final package and will set in place a new global regime to fight climate change starting 2020.

The penultimate draft came through earlier than expected on Saturday morning. But, that happened as countries decided to postpone finding solution to almost all of the difficult questions which had plagued the negotiations, with the hope of resolving them once ministers arrive at France’s capital over the weekend. For a majority of the developing countries the one big and cross-cutting issue of operationalising the principle of differentiation across all elements of the Paris climate change package remained unresolved. The arguments over the week had been bitter and it got reflected even as the meeting on Saturday drew to a close while accepting the penultimate draft.

Malaysia, speaking on behalf of the Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDC), and South Africa, speaking for the larger G77 and China group, both reiterated that the final deal would necessarily have to see equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities deeply embedded in all its parts – mitigation, finance, adaptation, compliance, review, clean technology sharing and capacity building.

The LMDC group warned that developed countries could not ignore all the scientific and economic data available which pointed to increasing inequality between developed and developing countries and how many of the latter were structurally locked in to staying either at low or at middle income levels even in future years. They warned that the claim that the world had changed since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was first agreed to in 1992 was an attempt to shift the developed world’s existing obligations on to developing countries under the new agreement.

The warning shots from developing world during the process of approval of the draft text on Saturday were fired as a consequence of the volatile negotiating process through the first week of the Paris summit. The Africa Group of Nations had complained on Friday evening and the LMDC noted on Saturday morning the constantly changing rules of the game on Saturday. Both put on record the fact that the rules of negotiations had changed too often to the disadvantage of countries with lesser capacities than the rich world.

The first week of the negotiations were under overseen by the two controversial co-chairs who had earlier faced flack for their bias in favour of the US. The penultimate draft had to be approved under their watch and the final one would be negotiated by the ministers overseen directly by the host French government.

The lack of trust in the two co-chairs, one from the US and the other from Algeria, remained evident in the passage of the penultimate draft. Over the week the negotiations had been conducted through multiple parallel negotiations behind closed doors, called spin-off groups. The developed countries had blocked progress towards compromises on issues closer to the interest of the developing countries, such as finance and clean technology. Simultaneously they had kept up the effort to block a clear operationalisation of the principle of differentiation. This meant the draft for the Paris agreement was still riddled with brackets (showing disagreement between countries) when on Friday it was stitched back together based on the negotiations in the spin-off groups – called the compilation text.

At that stage on Friday, developing countries had two options. One was to entrust the two co-chairs with producing a revised and more compact version. The other was to live with the fact that the ministers would have to deal with all the major concerns in the second week when the French presidency would be in command and not the co-chairs.

Singed by their earlier experience, when the co-chairs had misused their positions to redraw the first Paris agreement draft favouring the US, the developing countries decided to bank more on the incoming French presidency. They did not ask the co-chairs to revise the draft and instead approve the brackets riddled version of 48 pages as the basis to move in to the second week of negotiations by the ministers.

At the time of writing, the French hosts were still to announce publicly how it would handle the second week of negotiations when it’s in greater control. The format and method by which the ministers get involved would remain critical. The Copenhagen summit in 2009 had failed as ministers from smaller countries had been sidelined during the ministerial rounds. The Durban summit had barely managed to scrape through after a rather bruising round of ministerial discussions that weakened trust between country groups. The French, observers said, so far had done much better in engaging with all countries. But as one observer noted, “Only Monday will tell what Monday is like at Le Bourget (the venue for the negotiations in Paris).”

This article originally appeared on Business Standard.