UN climate talks: rich nations need to deliver in 2014 says Gambia envoy

Leading climate negotiator “optimistic” about UN talks, but says rich nations need to demonstrate commitment to carbon cuts

(Pic: IISD)

Gambia’s climate envoy Pa Ousman Jarju (Pic: IISD)

By Ed King

Rich nations cannot buy their way out of taking tough greenhouse gas emission cuts, a leading diplomat representing some of the world’s poorest countries has warned.

Last November Japan slashed its carbon targets for 2020, but increased climate finance contributions to $16.1 billion, a move the government said proved its commitment to controlling global warming.

The move was widely condemned at last year’s UN climate summit, but recent negotiations within the EU over its own climate ambitions illustrate the deep divides between developed countries over the level of carbon cuts they should adopt. Some have suggested they pay poorer countries to make the cuts for them, while maintaining energy systems based on fossil fuels.

Pa Ousman Jarju, Gambia’s climate envoy and an influential member of the Least Developed Countries negotiating team, said the evolving influence of the UK in the EU’s energy and climate policy is of particular concern.

The UK holds one of the EU’s top climate negotiation posts and is a leading climate finance contributor. The Conservative-led coalition supports deep carbon cuts at EU level, but has so far refused to commit to tough domestic decarbonisation targets, and recently outlined plans to exploit its shale gas reserves.

“They have contributed immensely towards climate financing …. so we want that to continue,” Pa Ousman told RTCC. “But at the same time we don’t want it to be like the Japanese, who put money here and backtracked on emission reductions.”

“We know the Conservatives are sort of backtracking on the position they had in the coalition, but the UK has played a key role in EU climate policy with France, Denmark, Norway and others. So joining Poland along with the laggards in the EU would be disappointing from the British Government.”

The UK Government maintains it is strongly committed to reducing its overall carbon footprint, but says it reserves the right to work out its own energy mix.

Officials also point out the UK has pushed for the EU adopt a 50% carbon reduction target if countries agree an ambitious emissions reduction deal next year.

UN process

This next two months are critical for the development of a global climate change deal, which could be signed in Paris late next year, and come into force by 2020.

Leading European ministers meet in March to discuss the bloc’s 2030 climate targets, which are seen as a benchmark for other leading emitters such as China and the USA.

UN envoys are set to gather in Bonn the same month, with the task of starting work on a text for the 2015 deal, which will outline how warming can be limited to below 2C.

In September world leaders will gather in New York for Ban Ki-moon’s climate leadership summit.

Ousman Jarju says this will be an opportunity for the EU to formally submit its 40% emissions reduction target.

“If that is confirmed in September in form of a proposal, or a declaration by the European Union in the UNSG high level summit, that would be a big boost and a demonstration of the EU’s leadership role in climate change,” he says.

Draft texts are expected to be presented to delegates at a UN meeting this December in Peru, and will likely reveal that any new agreement will not be in the form of a legally binding treaty.

A legally-binding pact is favoured by the EU, LDC bloc and Pacific Island states, but there appears to be a growing recognition that a more nuanced agreement will be needed to accommodate the USA and China.

“We have come to realise that if you want broader participation you have to have some form of flexibility in terms of bringing the national perspective,” says Ousman Jarju.

He adds: “But we also want something that is effective, and we want something that is within a rule-based multilateral system.”

“So if nationally countries determine something within the range of what we call an ambitious target, it should be acceptable internationally based on a multilateral rules-based agreement.”

US ambition

This looks like a mechanism that could allow a US President to bypass a hostile Congress, basing targets on domestic actions enforced by federal agencies.

And flexibility from other countries appears to have been matched by a growing willingness by the USA to engage, says Ousman Jarju.

“I think they have changed. The attitude has changed. In Warsaw the US played a very positive role. They had some red lines, but they have been compromising, and maybe reflective of the Obama administration pursuit to be positive and try and play a bigger role in climate change.”

Obama’s final play is likely to take into account similar measures taken by China.

But unlike Copenhagen in 2009 when President Wen Jinbao was accused of sabotaging negotiations, a John Kerry sponsored dialogue between the countries aims to develop an understanding ahead of the 2015 summit.

“Climate change is a trade issue now. It is a security issue,” says Ousman Jarju.

“If the US wants to address the trade imbalance between them and China, and China and the EU, then China will have to play ball…and China has realised that it is a big player. It is an economic power, and it would have to contribute, and this is why we are expecting China to come forward with something that is going to play a key role in the final outcome.”

Finance as ever remains a constant concern for LDC diplomats, aware that previous pledges by rich countries have not always been fulfilled, and poorer countries are sceptical of private sector involvement.

However, Ousman Jarju sees a potential breakthrough with the UN-backed Green Climate Fund, which is open for business this year.

Its ultimate aim is to raise $100 billion a year for low carbon infrastructure investment, although climate economists including Lord Stern say the figure needed is closer to trillions.

Ousman Jarju says a $20 billion capitalization this year would represent a small success, enabling plans for a loss and damage mechanism, technology transfer and clean energy investments to be scaled up.

These he says are evidence of “incremental steps”, adding  that the world is in a better place to agree a climate agreement than it was in 2009, year of the ill-fated Copenhagen climate talks, which he attended.

“I am a bit optimistic, because at least we are solving the issues.”

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