G20 climate pledges likely to determine success of Paris summit

INTERVIEW: Commitment from handful of major economies to addressing global warming is critical, says top EU official 

By Ed King

The success of the UN’s climate deal will hinge on emission reduction pledges made by major economies between now and October – a senior EU official has told RTCC.

Artur Runge Metzger, head of international climate strategy at the European Commission, and former co-chair of the contentious UN climate talks, said there would only be “clarity” about plans for a UN deal when these commitments are made public.

The EU and US will release their so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) by the end of March, with other countries expected to follow in the coming months.

The UN has set a deadline of 1 October for countries to deliver their contributions.

“I would think China should be able to come forward by the first half of this year,” Runge Metzger said, who added he felt a “sense of urgency” on INDCs among fellow diplomats.

“And I would think practically all the G20 should be able to do so – they have the intellectual capacity and political will to move this forward.

“That would be my expectation – plus a number of high and middle income countries.”

Report: UN agrees new text for Paris deal, but hard work remains

After the October deadline, the UN will calculate whether the proposed greenhouse gas cuts can avoid temperatures warming 2C beyond pre-industrial levels.

Beyond this point, scientists warn of more floods, droughts and accelerated sea level rise.

Runge Metzger spoke to RTCC after the conclusion of six days of UN climate talks in Geneva, which yielded an 88-page list of proposals for a global climate accord.

He suggested that over 20% of this document could be cut, as it contained proposals that were already in the text.

Many countries had “parked their positions” in Geneva, he said, admitting it was “still very hard to see” where areas of agreement among the 195 parties existed.

So far only rules on transparency and accounting look likely to be part of a legally binding pact, he said.

Legal wrangle

Runge Metzger said he was encouraged by the political commitment shown by leaders in India, China and the US to address climate change, but emphasised that the EU would not accept a weak deal with limited legal rules.

It is important that all countries subscribe to legally binding commitments, as it sends a message of the “political will of parties very strongly”, he said.

The EU has long argued that a UN deal – scheduled to be signed off in Paris this December – must have the legal force to compel countries to comply with its goals.

It’s a proposal that has the backing of small island states, but not US officials, who say this type of arrangement would not have the support of Congress.

“Everybody wants to have the US in the agreement – there is no doubt,” said Runge Metzger, while admitting the countries held “very different views” over how commitments will be enforced.

To boost their cause at the UN talks, European climate officials want to develop a “very ambitious alliance” with the world’s poorest in the coming months.

Runge Metzger revealed he is looking for partners among small island states, African nations and least developed countries.

These regions – at risk from rising sea levels and extreme weather events that UN-backed scientists say will increase as a result of climate change – “share a common interest” with the EU, he said.

Slow progress

But the EU official – who recently returned to work in Brussels after an 18-month stint co-chairing the global climate talks – warned that negotiations had to be accelerated to ensure success in Paris.

His successors need to be “a little provocative” in running the talks, he said, in order to “tease out” the real political issues that will determine whether the deal can work.

“There is a risk always that parties get lost in the individual sentences that are there, and then it can take a long time, while at the end of the day what is important is to cut through the political issues,” he said.

“On every page you find a number of those, and those you need to crystallize and to bring out, and push parties to seek a viable compromise.”

Runge Metzger said he was never concerned that the UN’s last major meeting in Lima would collapse, even when it headed 30 hours into overtime and countries started trading insults in open sessions.

But he said that this “tactical game playing” – of holding out until the last minute before compromising – was too risky for a meeting like Paris.

“I would wish it would be changed – and things could happen much earlier in Paris or get close to compromise in the previous session before Paris, so there are only a few questions left,” he said.

“But that’s the judgement of the 195 countries in terms of which way they want to follow.

“If there are a few countries hanging out it also means others will hang out – because everybody plays a bit of tit for tat.”

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