UN climate chief expects national plans to cover up to 80% of emissions before Paris

Christiana Figueres tells RTCC Brazil and India will soon come on board with climate plans, but admits more ambition required

Christiana Figueres, head of the UN climate change body (Pic: UN Photos)

Christiana Figueres, head of the UN climate change body (Pic: UN Photos)

By Ed King in Bonn

The UN’s top climate official expects up to 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions to be covered by national climate plans by the end of 2015.

In an interview with RTCC, Christiana Figueres said she was confident Brazil and India will soon add their names to the 56 countries who have submitted proposals, boosting emissions coverage beyond 62%.

“Already we have a good sense of what is happening here,” she said. “The more the better. Our expectation is 70% at least – maybe we get between 75-80% – but that’s a very sizeable chunk.”

Analysis suggests even with these new plans – known as intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) in UN jargon – the world is on course to blow the 2C warming ceiling deemed dangerous by governments.

Figueres rejected the idea this would invalidate a UN climate deal due to be finalised in December, based on those contributions.

“What is clear… even when we have 100% of INDCs, they in themselves will not deliver 2C,” she said.

“[They] need to be understood as probably a multi-decadal process where every time countries will be increasing their effort and over time we will be closer and closer to 2C.”

Bonn stalemate

The climate negotiations veteran was speaking four days into a five-day session aimed at clarifying how a global climate deal will work.

Despite intensive talks and the delivery of a new set of proposals by the two officials guiding talks, little progress appears to have been made on whittling down an 83-page negotiating text into a finished document.

At the heart of the discussions is a longstanding debate over who cuts greenhouse gas emissions the most and who pays to help poorer countries go green and adapt to future climate impacts.

A stormy meeting of envoys from the 195 participating governments on Wednesday saw most warn progress was too slow, although few offered any sense of why or how this could be resolved.

Figures – who observed that 90-minute meeting from the back of room – said she sympathised with the frustration, but emphasised this is “not an easy process”.

“What we’re seeing here is a very important transition point that needs to occur and is occurring in front of our eyes where the ownership and authorship of the text is beginning to be transferred from co-chairs to governments,” she said.

“It is not pretty or linear – it’s messy for some and painful for some but it is an important part of the process. You cannot get to final part of the agreement without governments having owned for themselves what is in front of them.”

Constructive attitude

Figueres also urged negotiating teams to start developing suggestions for the agreement that “begin the exercise of ensuring it is a compromise text”.

“Governments need to begin to put textual suggestions on the table that do not just represent the positions of the person or government placing the text,” she said.

And she admitted it was not clear how the problems facing negotiators would be resolved, stressing the French hosts of December’s summit, the co-chairs guiding talks and her own office were on close contact.

“If you ask me exactly how are they going to get from here to Paris that is never foreseeable,” she said.

“We do know we have incremental steps, like this week, then some steps that are a little more ambitious, and we hope to see that between now and October or October itself.”

Help could come from a series of carefully staged meetings between now and Paris, including a set of ministerial gatherings and a proposed conference of 40 selected world leaders chaired by Ban Ki-moon on the sidelines of the General Assembly.

These, said Figures, could offer a chance for governments to outline their long term vision for a climate deal, free from the shackles of technical climate negotiations.

“The challenge is to create communication channels to feed into the text and that is a process that is currently under way,” she said.

Pessimism persisting

Still, some national envoys RTCC spoke to on Thursday expressed doubts over the pace and control of talks.

“It’s clear we are working at two speeds – with a great deal of convergence at political levels but not at technical levels,” said Giza Gaspar Martins, an Angolan diplomat representing the world’s least developed countries.

“We do need more time, at least another good session,” he said, revealing that there are proposals to either extend the final October session of pre-Paris talks in Bonn to two weeks or add a new session in November.

“It is my impression that if we are given enough time we will see that political convergence translate into text here but we have not been given the chance,” he added.

Ronnie Jumeau, Seychelles climate ambassador, questioned whether a separate process was taking place away from the official UN talks as a back-up in case too little progress was made.

“Are we being set up? Is there going to be a political decision where we said ‘look guys, we gave you enough time, this is how it’s going to be’,” he asked.

“Some people here have noted that China and India are not as vocal as they have been. People are saying – is there another process going on somewhere?”

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