Stalemate on Pre-2020 Climate Actions Breaks as Draft Agreement Emerges

The text, a sort of gentlemen’s agreement at the moment, will now have to be approved by the COP and countries’ ministers. If they do, it will be adopted at a COP plenary on Friday.

Supporters of 'Friends of the Earth' at the UN climate talks in Bonn, calling for justice for people affected by climate change, an end to fossil fuels and other dirty energy, and support for community-owned renewable energy. Credit: foeeurope/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Supporters of ‘Friends of the Earth’ at the UN climate talks in Bonn, calling for justice for people affected by climate change, an end to fossil fuels and other dirty energy, and support for community-owned renewable energy. Credit: foeeurope/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Aruna Chandrasekhar is a researcher and photojournalist working on issues of development, land alienation, indigenous rights and corporate accountability in India for the last six years. She tweets at @aruna_sekhar.

Bonn: In a key development at the UN climate talks underway in Bonn, a stalemate around how countries are taking urgent action on climate change has just been broken. Negotiations have been rocked since the talks began, as developed countries – including the US, Canada, Australia and the European Union – opposed an assessment of what they’re doing to mitigate climate impacts prior to 2020, when the Paris Agreement takes effect.

After an outcry by a group of developing countries facing the worst impacts – small island states, the least developed countries, Arab and African nations as well as India, Brazil and China– the Fijian Presidency of the Conference of Parties (COP) requested former hosts Morocco to engage in informal consultations to broker a way forward.

During the consultations, countries like the US complained about “a very, very busy schedule”, asking developing countries to discuss these issues elsewhere. On the other hand, developing states likes Malaysia responded saying that they’ve been discussing these issues elsewhere for a long time now, and will continue to do so till infinity because no action was being taken. “Infinity times zero is still zero.”

So when it emerged that zero progress could be made at this year’s talks without addressing the elephant in the room, a draft decision agreed on by all parties emerged the morning of November 15 to change that. The text, a sort of gentlemen’s agreement at the moment, will now go to the COP and countries’ ministers for approval. If they give it their blessing, it will be adopted at a high-level COP plenary to be held here on November 17.

The Moroccan presidency has applauded the constructive nature of all parties to come to a compromise. Aziz Mekouar, the Moroccan ambassador to the climate talks, clarified that pre-2020 actions were important to everyone, but just that finding a space for it during the current negotiations on a rule-book for the Paris Agreement had led to a disagreement.

The draft text has important ramifications for developed and developing countries alike and lays down the urgency to act now – not just after 2020, when the Paris Agreement comes into force. It asks parties to disclose what they have done towards enhancing their actions and support prior to 2020, as required under the agreement. This is significant because many developed nations saw pre-2020 actions as outside the Paris Agreement’s work programme, even though they’re firmly embedded in it.

The decision also matters because it reminds all countries that they can’t simply write off or forget their commitments to the few legally-binding (and fast-ageing) decisions on climate change, such as the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2012 Doha amendment to it.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, which turns 20 this year, developed countries were supposed to commit to finance and support to developing countries before 2020, as well as significant carbon cuts. Developed countries were also supposed to raise $100 billion before 2020 to enable developing countries to meet their emissions targets.

The text calls for the COP presidency and the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to write to all parties to show what progress they have made towards ratifying the second period of the Kyoto Protocol, and urged them to think of ways to promote the ratification of the Doha amendment. So far, only 84 countries have ratified the Doha amendment; it needs 60 more states to sign up to come into force.

According to the draft text, progress on pre-2020 actions will also have to be reported at a stock-taking exercise at next year’s COP in Poland as part of what is called a “Telanoa dialogue”. This will involve reviewing what mitigation actions countries have taken and what support has been provided in terms of long-term climate finance. It also calls for a similar stocktaking at the COP in 2019, ensuring that actions will then have a firm place on the agenda in negotiations going forward.

The text is a much-needed breath of fresh air and should pave the ground for more trust between worlds developing and developed, as well as trust that the Paris Agreement might have some teeth if this draft decision is adopted on November 17. It is also a testament to the fact that both worlds agree on the need to get along in the spirit of the Paris Agreement, and to get on with it while not forgetting a history of promises made to be honoured.

And for the world outside these insular corridors, the development offers a sliver of hope that negotiators and the UN might live on the same planet as they do and that the time to act is now, even if it might take another year to get around to understanding how. For the ministers arriving today, who will be considering this draft text, one thing is clear: the world will certainly be watching.