UN releases 20-page negotiating text for climate deal

Shortened document makes clear which elements will be legally binding and sets out decisions to be made before Paris summit

Negotiating chamber, Bonn (Pic: UNFCCC/Flickr)

Negotiating chamber, Bonn (Pic: UNFCCC/Flickr)

By Megan Darby

The UN has produced a slimmed-down negotiating text for the global climate pact due to be signed in Paris this December.

At 20 pages, the document is less than a quarter the length of the last version, published in July.

It clarifies which elements will be in a durable, legally binding agreement and which go into a decision document that can evolve over time.

The first category includes a long-term global goal for peaking or phasing out greenhouse gas emissions. It also states that countries should submit carbon-cutting plans every five years, progressively increasing their efforts.

Loss and damage from climate impacts, a key concern for poor countries, is acknowledged in the draft legal agreement, with details left to the decision paper.

Many parts of the text remain in square brackets, indicating the precise wording has yet to be agreed.

Pulled together by the two co-chairs to the process, Ahmed Djoghlaf and Dan Reifsnyder, the document has no official status. Decisions can only be made by negotiators from the 195 countries involved.

But it will form the basis of interim talks in Bonn 19-23 October, the last negotiating session before Paris.

In a separate “scenario note”, the co-chairs said they would put the text up on a screen for negotiators to go through line by line.

That represents a victory for developing countries, who had complained the previous process was difficult to follow.

‘Brave’ brevity

Farhana Yamin, founder of Track0, which advocates a long term net zero emissions target, welcomed the brevity of the text.

“They [the co-chairs] have been quite brave,” she said. “It is really good that they have now come forward with something they consider to be nearer the landing zone, showing clearly where they think the final political outstanding decisions need to focus.”

In fact, in some places it “needs a bit of flesh on the bones,” she added. “The long-term language could be more concrete.”

Track0 has published its own 9-page vision of how an ambitious final deal could look.

Saleemul Huq, a Bangladeshi climate expert, told Climate Home the shortened version represented “a significant improvement”.

He said: “It also includes the issue of loss and damage which was a key demand of the vulnerable countries.

“However, there is still much hard negotiating to be done, not least on a long term goal,where the vulnerable countries are pushing for 1.5 degrees to be agreed.”

For Oxfam’s Jan Kowalzig, the mechanisms for mobilising climate finance, ramping up emissions cuts and protecting the victims of climate change impacts were inadequate.

Missing pieces

Some issues have been dropped from the text. There is no mention of international aviation and shipping, while carbon markets are buried in the non-binding decision paper.

Air travel, which is regulated by the International Civil Aviation Organization, has a climate impact the size of Germany. Marine transport, overseen by the International Maritime Organization, is equivalent to South Korea in its emissions.

IMO chief Koji Sekimizu last week argued shipping emissions should not be capped, as this risked inhibiting world trade.

Those remarks showed why climate negotiators needed to step in, said John Maggs, senior policy advisor at Seas At Risk.

“Without a clear signal from the UNFCCC, the IMO is incapable of making the necessary decisions to ensure shipping takes a fair share of the burden of reducing emissions.”

Earlier drafts contained a proposal to tax “bunker fuel” for the two international sectors, with the proceeds going to help poor countries adapt to climate impacts. That idea also fell by the wayside.

Bill Hemmings, campaigner at Transport & Environment, said: “It’s a betrayal of future generations and a sad reflection on the way the UN has become beholden to special interests. Paris needs to think again and quickly.”

World Bank envoy: Carbon markets likely off Paris summit agenda

The International Emissions Trading Association was dismayed to see little provision for carbon markets.

“Having a more concise text at this stage of the process is welcome – particularly as governments prepare for a final week-long negotiating session later this month, ahead of the Paris talks,” said Dirk Forrister, IETA president and CEO.

“However, it is still unclear whether the agreement will feature rules to encourage cooperation through carbon markets, with many key provisions still to be agreed.”

The ability to trade emissions across borders can make climate action more cost-effective, IETA argued, and has business backing.

Analysis: Rich-poor climate reconciliation in sight at UN talks

Indian journalist Nitin Sethi pointed out the phrase “common but differentiated responsibilities” only appeared once.

A founding principle of the UN climate body, it is of particular importance to developing countries as it puts the onus on rich nations to shoulder the bulk of emissions cuts.

Oxford University professor Thomas Hale, on the other hand, praised the co-chairs for prioritising key issues.

Read more on: COP21 | UN climate talks