Mapping global climate action through word clouds

By Sébastien Duyck

As countries have begun to discuss their vision of a 2015 climate agreement, the issue of the responsibility of each has emerged as one of the hottest elements of the negotiations.

The views of different negotiating actors are spread over a wide “spectrum” (the new buzzword here at the climate talks): from those emphasizing the need to rely on the historical responsibility of developed countries and those arguing that only forward looking compromises should be considered.

To gain a better understanding of this negotiating landscape, we have analyzed for you the submissions put forward by the most vocal coalitions and countries.

In some cases, one needs only to generate a word cloud on the basis of a country submission to understand the main proposal of the country (the critical glossary provided on adoptanegotiator can help understand what hides behind the meaning of some of these words).

Looking back to define responsibility

The LMDC advocacy is clearly focused on one key element: ensuring that the structure of the convention applies fully to the new regime.

The Like-Minded Group of Countries (LMGC) was created last year around a central motive: the defense of the “firewall” – the strict separation of countries into two categories (with a strong legal consequences in terms of the obligations falling upon each category).

As illustrated by the word cloud above, the word “convention” is repeated consistently throughout the submission of the LMGC (actually most occurrences of the word are even underlined in the submission).

This heavy emphasis aims at ensuring that any outcome of these discussions will build on the recognition that actions by developing countries is conditional to the support provided by developed countries (article 4.7 of the convention).

This position is strengthened by numerous references by the LMGC to the principles of equity and CBDR-RC, quoting several COP decisions and other key UN documents, and somehow emphasizing more the “differentiated responsibility” component (the historical responsibility of the Western world) and downplaying the “respective capacity”.

For the developed world, the LMGC calls for the continuation of the approach reflected in the Kyoto Protocol: a top-down science based approach supported with a compliance and accountability mechanisms.

Ambitious mitigation action in the global North and a comprehensive agreement covering mitigation, adaptation, financial and technological support would promote, the 18 countries argue, the active participation of developing countries to the regime.

The submissions by China and India also emphasize heavily the need for discussions to take place “under the convention”.

In its submission, China emphasizes that the negotiations under the Durban platform should further define the obligations provided in the convention rather than create a new independent regime.

The country further reiterates its strong commitment to the conservation of the dichotomy between developing and developing countries as presently defined by the annexes of the convention, warning that any discussion related to these two categories would be unsuccessful.

The country recognizes that the final outcome of these discussions should be applicable to all parties but suggests that this wording should be read in the context of the Kyoto protocol: legal rules applying universally but only developed countries being legally bound to emissions reductions.

China also emphasizes the importance of the review and the need to take its outcome into consideration in the negotiations leading to a new legal agreement.

India’s position unsurprisingly builds on the same premises: recalling the importance of the convention, its annexes (and the impossibility to “re-case” those) and the principle of CBDR-RC.

It also recalls the fact that the convention and the Kyoto Protocol already are applicable to all and that this model should serve for the 2015 agreement.

In particular, India notes the importance in the Kyoto Protocol of science and rule-based obligations for developed countries, as well as of a strong compliance mechanism (such a mechanism, India argues, would prevent individual countries from taking unilateral actions against others on the name of climate change).

In its submission, the country elaborates also on the other elements of the discussions, emphasizing the importance of transparent and verifiable financial and technology transfers to support developing countries actions.

The most affected countries

Concerns for the climate are most present in the submissions tabled by the two coalitions representing the most vulnerable countries.

In relation to CBDR-RC, the Alliance of Small Islands States (AOSIS) promotes of a rather conservative interpretation of the principle: emphasizing the importance of historical responsibility (and thus the need for developed countries to “continue” to show leadership) as well as the role of the annexes of the convention.

Interestingly, the position presented by the Least Developed Countries (LDC) is quite different from the one put forward by the AOSIS – and is probably the most ambitious of those studied for this short review.

In relation to the principles guiding the ongoing discussions, LDCs reiterates that all of the principles of the Convention should be considered (including those often forgotten polluter-pays, precautionary principles and intergenerational equity) and warns against the use of principles to weaken the future climate regime, recalling the importance for all to take actions in order to guarantee the survival of all nations.

LDCs also call for the inclusion of strong compliance mechanisms and a guardrail to prevent countries from escaping their obligations without consequences (as Canada has done 18 months ago with the Kyoto Protocol).

Bridge builders

AILAC and the EIG proposals address a broader range of issues with less focus on one particular element.

Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama and Peru – gathered in the new AILAC coalition – suggest that the principles of convention be applied “in a contemporary context”, noting the “dynamic” nature of these principles.

While recent discussions have almost exclusively focused on the definition of the CBDR-RC and the equity principles, the six countries have emphasized the equal importance of the other principles of the Convention (those being intergenerational equity, precautionary approach, international cooperation and sustainable development).

An open discussion should be organized to discuss the “evolution” of the two principles, argue the 6 countries. According to AILAC, implementing these principles in the world of 2015 should mean that all countries adopt commitments to mitigate climate change and that all vulnerable countries receive support to build resilience.

The approach suggested by the Environmental Integrity Group (EIG) – the only negotiating block representing the views of both annex 1 and non-annex 1 countries – the EIG also focuses on a dynamic interpretation of the CBDR-RC rather than on the reliance of the categories established twenty years ago.

The EIG calls for commitment from all parties, but with difference in terms of type, stringency and timing, mentioning other international processes having successfully implementing such approaches.

To establish these commitments, the EIG suggests, top-down (as in the Kyoto Protocol) and bottom-up (as registered in the Cancun Agreements) approaches could be combined in a manner that remains to be defined.

Up North

The submission by the European Union opens more questions than it gives answers as to what the group expect from the future agreement. It does however make clear that the block expects that all countries will take legally binding mitigation commitments.

To reflect the principles of CBDR-RC – which EU expects to reflect the evolution of the situation prevailing in different countries – these commitments would be formulated in different manners in order to provide a full spectrum rather than a binary structure.

The submission by the US refers to “contributions” rather than to obligations or commitments.

The US focuses its submission addressing how the 2015 deal could promote ambitious mitigation action – downplaying the importance of the principles of the convention as only means to this end.

It also emphasize the importance to deliver real-world ambition as opposed to rhetoric commitments to prevent, for instance, that countries join the agreement but fail to implement it (could that perhaps be inspired by their own experience with the convention?).

Unsurprisingly, the country further calls for a bottom-up approach – an approach at the core of the Obama strategy in Copenhagen for instance: country should be free to define on their own what commitment they can abide to.

The US does note some caveats in this approach (for instance, the quite essential question on how to ensure that these commitments do actually aggregate to deliver the overall objective of the convention) but argues that no alternative has demonstrated its effectiveness.

This article first appeared on Adopt a Negotiator. Sébastien Duyck is an environmental advocate, student & researcher.

Read more on: Climate politics | COP19 | UN climate talks