9 things we learnt from the latest UN climate text

Contours of a global pact are starting to appear, but officials warn progress needs to be radically accelerated 

(Pic: Joe de Sousa/Flickr)

(Pic: Joe de Sousa/Flickr)

By Ed King

On Friday the UN released a streamlined version of a negotiating text for a proposed greenhouse gas slashing pact. Here’s what we have learnt so far.

1 – The two officials running the talks are worried about the speed of talks. They are far too slow and time is running out. There is a “unanimous view that the pace was slow and that there was an urgent need, owing to serious time constraints, to accelerate the work,” they wrote in an opening scenario note.

This means negotiations will have to start on time. “Therefore, the opening plenary of the ADP will be very short and will start punctually at 10 a.m. on 31 August. It should last not more than half an hour.”

2 – Quit grandstanding, start negotiating. This is linked to the lack of time but also to the nature of the talks. The co-chairs want to bypass the long, rambling and often divisive statements groups make at the start of each session of talks. “We strongly encourage Parties to post their statements and remarks on the UNFCCC website in lieu of presenting them orally,” they write.

3 – We’re seeing the outlines of what will emerge from Paris. There will be one headline ‘Paris Agreement’ which will set out the main ambitions for this pact, and a linked but separate set of proposals under existing UN architecture, likely labelled the Conference of the Parties (COP) agreement. The first will contain the main legally binding aspects of a deal, the second could spell out the small print.

4 – So for carbon cuts, the main Paris agreement could deliver the following statement underlining the overall commitments countries will need to make, but not specifying what each country would need to target.


Meanwhile the COP deal will focus on how they will achieve this, but again, this will not specify a target for individual nations.


5 – Developed countries could face an ‘ambition baseline’. One suggestion is that “Developed country Parties shall take on mitigation commitments for the post-2020 period that are more ambitious than emission reductions of at least 25–40% below the 1990 level by 2020.” The EU would pass muster, but the US, Australia, Canada and Japan would struggle.

6 – Shall or should? If you’re a linguist and a grammar fanatic you’ll love the textual machinations going on. Full stops, commas, colons, semi-colons all have various powers. A veteran UN diplomat tells RTCC ‘shall’ means legally binding while ‘should’ does not. But keep your eyes peeled, shall + a modifier (like seek) means that legality is weakened.

For now the key battle will be between shall and should, which have replaced ‘to’ in the text unless, the co-chairs write, explicit auxiliary verbs were already contained in the respective paragraphs. “In either case, the choice of the appropriate auxiliary verb will be up for substantive negotiations by Parties.”

7 – Do not ignore Part 3 of the ‘tool’. It’s a repository for issues that are central to the agreement and need to be addressed, write the officials. These include carbon markets, loss and damage, land use and technology development and transfer.

For instance, the EU wants a 2015 deal to offer a clear roadmap for how markets will be used beyond 2020, but that’s not currently clear.

8 – Paris needs finance. The new text offers a huge variety of options for financing and a variety of proposals for who pays, but it lacks any numbers. Developed countries need to develop a 2020 roadmap to delivering $100 billion of climate finance flows by December.

9 – Do your homework and quit time-wasting. The message could not be clearer: “We expect Parties to come fully prepared for a negotiating session and to engage interactively and constructively with their partners during the meetings so as to fulfil the objective of the session.”

Read more on: Climate politics | UN climate talks