Fairness and finance: How to read a proposed UN climate deal

Success at the Paris climate summit depends on whether governments can solve two outstanding issues. Here’s our take on the task in hand

Stern discusses plans for a global climate agreement in 2015 in the infamous 'huddle' of COP17 (Pic: IISD Reporting Services)

Envoys discuss plans for a 2015 global agreement in the infamous ‘huddle’ of COP17 at the 2011 UN climate summit in Durban (Pic: IISD Reporting Services)

By Ed King

Two themes stand out among the 17,500 words that make up a draft text for a proposed UN climate change agreement: finance and fairness.

Developing countries and emerging economies want assurances that the cash promised to them to green their economies back in 2009 will be delivered through 2020 and beyond.

The call for more money is not a surprise. “Every single milestone agreement at the UN climate body has seen a new financial commitment,” says Oxfam’s chief policy advisor Tim Gore.

Elliot Diringer, former White House senior policy advisor, agrees. “It’s hard to see how we get to an agreement without a collective finance goal.”

Poorer nations also want the pact to reflect historic development differences in around the world, arguing that those who have done the least to cause global warming are being left to pick up the tab.

They want any result in Paris to leave the onus with the EU, US, Australia and other richer nations to lead on greenhouse gas cuts.

The draft Paris 'agreement' as a word cloud

The draft Paris ‘agreement’ as a word cloud. There is a further ‘decisions’ document countries will sign off but for the purpose of this article we are focusing on the main treaty or protocol that emerges

This issue of fairness, known as “differentiation” in the negotiations, touches virtually every aspect of the talks.

And while all countries agree it is important, there’s no consensus on how it should be applied issue-by-issue.

“If there is progress on differentiation, suddenly whole swathes of the text could be streamlined,” a senior EU negotiator told a London media briefing last week.

Explainer: What makes a UN deal legally binding?

Few people with a life outside international climate talks will have bothered to flick though the draft containing the 26 “Articles” that together will make a new treaty. It can seem impenetrable.

So brace yourself for a rollercoaster journey of discovery as we try and make sense of the 31 pages of Times New Roman (size 11) UN jargon that could set the world’s economy on a new path.

A brief clarification: Paris is likely to end with two ‘texts’. One is a set of decisions covering the way forward in the coming year.

The other, likely to be called the ‘agreement’, will come into force from 2020. It’s this text that will offer a long term vision of a low carbon future, and that’s the focus of our analysis.


Here’s where the principles of any agreement are detailed, the spirit of the deal if you like, but in itself not legally binding.

It’s where big picture themes like protecting most vulnerable, meeting the needs of developing countries and emphasising the need for more research will sit.

The opening words in this section usually end with an ‘ing’, and have a variety of implications. [The Legal Response Initiative website has all you need to know on these].

For instance, ‘reaffirming’ is agreeing on a decision already made; ‘endorsing’ is giving legal support to an older decision; ‘considering’ is thinking about doing something but not committing to it.

Article 1: Definitions 

Where the UN fetish for acronyms gets satisfied. It’s tedious but ignore this and the rest of the text will be impossible to read.

Article 2: Purpose

Why are we here? Even the UN needs to remind itself what it’s doing.

Here the deal is global warming, and limiting it to below 2C above pre industrial levels, or as the current text reads [below 2C or 1.5C][below 1.5C or 2C][as far below 2C as possible]. Etc.

Incidentally, one option is to have no purpose at all.

Article 3: Mitigation

This is the meat of any deal and as a result it’s packed with options. It’s about curbing greenhouse gas emissions to slow the course of global warming.

First off we have a long term goal for all countries to aspire to.

It offers a huge number of variants from 40-70% net emission reduction below 2010 levels by 2050, net zero emissions by 2050/2100 to looser ones like “parties aim to reach long-term global low-emission transformation”.

There are a few references to decarbonisation but this is a polarising issue – major oil producers like Saudi Arabia see it as a threat to their economies and hate it.

Talk of a long term goal is inextricably linked to questions of how to share the effort.

A tough global emissions target for 2050 would require China, India to curb their pollution faster. They in turn argue the EU, US and other developed nations must make deeper cuts. Imagine president Barack Obama trying to sell that one to Congress.

This is a fiercely contested battleground and a tasty variety of options is on offer. Here’s a flavour:

“Developed country parties and other parties… shall undertake quantified economy-wide emission reduction commitments/targets… covering all GHGs and implemented domestically without any conditions”

“Each party that has previously [communicated][implemented] absolute economy-wide emissions reduction or limitation targets should continue to do so and all parties should aim to do so over time”

In this section, nations could agree their plans should be more ambitious over time, the metrics and data they should be based on and when they should be updated.

And should developing countries be able to adjust their targets if hit by war, extreme weather events *or* if finance to help them runs out?

Bear in mind that for all of these individual questions, countries need to work out how their strategy should be applied fairly to rich, poor and emerging economies.

Article 4: Adaptation

However fast countries strive to contain their emissions, some warming is guaranteed. What can’t be avoided must be managed.

People in vulnerable areas of the world – think Africa, South East Asia, small islands – are already having to cope with intensifying weather extremes.

There could be a global “goal for adaptation”, to increase resilience and reduce that vulnerability. On the face of it, this is about agreeing to guard against climate shocks with measures like flood defences and drought-resistant seeds.

It is also a way to pressure rich countries into footing the bill. References to “continuous and enhanced international support” and “long-term, scaled-up, predictable, new and additional finance” offer a clue as to why some developed nations are wary of this section.

Other potential elements raise the importance of gender – women are often hardest hit – and considering vulnerable groups.

It’s perhaps instructive that the one major textual suggestion on this issue at the October round of talks in Bonn came from the G77 + China group.

The inclusion of a new adaptation plan every 5 years is one suggestion – potentially running alongside the mitigation cycle of regular reviews.

Article 5: Loss and damage

If there’s one issue guaranteed to get diplomats in a lather it’s loss and damage. The idea is there are some impacts of climate change people can’t avoid or adapt to.

Whether it is rising sea levels forcing Pacific islanders to leave their homes or drought destroying livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa, it is about the sharp end of global warming.

In 2013 countries agreed to an international “mechanism” to start working out how to help affected countries. A working group is due to report on the matter in 2016.

But vulnerable countries smell a rat. They think developed countries are not interested in accepting liability for these impacts and want to force the issue, hence its inclusion in the main part of a proposed Paris deal.

For their part, the US, EU and others reject anything which looks or sounds like compensation. This is a hugely divisive issue that experts expect to run until the final night.

As it stands there are two options. One starts “International mechanism to address loss and damage is hereby defined”, while the other has two words: “No text”.

Article 6: Finance

Here is where questions of fairness really come to a head.

Rich countries accept some responsibility to support the developing world to meet its climate goals. They have committed to get US$100 billion a year by 2020.

But should it all be on developed countries (in this process, based on 1992 measures)? Or should “all parties in a position to do so” (think China, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Qatar…) chip in?

China has pledged $3bn to help poorer nations tackle climate change, while other “developing” nations like Mongolia, Indonesia and South Korea have made small contributions.

So in one sense this shouldn’t be a biggie. Unfortunately, that $100bn promise has yet to materialise.

If you're not a fan of ruled changes on Word, don't become a climate diplomat. Here's an example of an evolving text from October 2015

If you’re not a fan of tracked changes on Word, don’t become a climate diplomat. Here’s an example of an evolving text from October 2015

Poorer nations say the trajectory is well off course. A key part of this debate is where the cash comes from. If you just count public funds from the EU, US, Australia and others then they’re miles off $100bn.

If you count other flows like multilateral development banks, overseas development aid (ODA) and loans then according to the OECD the figure is $62bn. Not so bad.

Options in this section include resources “scaled up from a floor of $100 billion a year by 2020… including a clear burden sharing formula among them”.

More controversial lines (for rich nations) include “public funds distinct from ODA will be the main source of funding” and “the short term quantified goal by developed country Parties shall be (periodically) reviewed and assessed based on needs and priorities identified by developing country Parties”.

One side wants finance to be from a wide spread of sources, including lenders. The other demands cash to be predictable, public, in grants with no strings attached.

Article 7: Technology transfer

Access to green energy technologies, batteries and energy efficiency gizmos is a huge concern for emerging economies.

At the moment some blueprints and hi-tech inventions are way too expensive for them to buy from abroad, so they want to make them at home.

One ask is for “developed country Parties to provide financial resources to address barriers created by policies and intellectual property rights”.

Sounds reasonable? Not necessarily to international property lawyers or companies hoping to make a buck selling their products to foreign markets.

Check the opposing views in more detail. Exhibit A comes from the US, Australia, Canada and Japan. Exhibit B from Africa.

Article 8: Capacity building

Thought finance and fairness was over? Not a bit of it. Different name, same pudding.

This is about the skills and institutions to put climate plans into action. Without help, poorer nations will not be able to develop plans to green their economies, protect citizens from future impacts or measure, verify and report (known as MRV) their emissions.

Proposals (asks) here include “to enhance ability and capacity in all areas on climate change for developing country Parties, facilitate access to finance, technology, transparent access to communication”.

Another suggests “developed countries shall scale up support to enhance the capacity of developing country Parties to implement this Agreement… mainly through the financial mechanism”.

There’s even the possibility to launch an “international capacity building mechanism” (diplomats love mechanisms).

Interested in who’s driving this? Check submissions from the Africa Group and G77 + China.

Article 9: Transparency

This is super-important. In October, this section expanded from half a page to three.

The launch of a new MRV system could be one of the major achievements from the conference, allowing the world to assess what countries are doing in a comparable way.

As the proposals here stress, it’s important that this respects the different capabilities of wealthy, emerging and developing countries. There’s also a suggestion for a system of transparency for action and one for support (fairness and finance again).

Individual submissions here offer useful insights. China just wants something simple, with some kind of unspecified review at the end. On the other hand the EU, US, Japan, Canada and Switzerland want expert review teams to go into countries and run their own figures.

There could be a grace period of 5-10 years for developing nations to get up to speed.

You can see the push-pull here. Developing and emerging economies say transparency measures should look at the money they’re getting, while the developed focus heavily on emissions

Article 10: Global Stocktake

Let’s have more meetings. A new round of major UN summits reviewing carbon cuts, money and general “ambition” will likely be the result.

The agreement proposes every five years from 2023/24. The more detailed decision document has a wider range of potential dates, including a French push for a 2018 stocktake.

Again, you’ll find money coming up: “The extent to which developing countries can participate in the global stocktake will depend on the provision of finance resources” reads one proposal.

Article 11: Implementation and compliance

How can we be sure everyone will do what they say they’re going to do? The reality is we can’t. No-one wants punitive measures apart from Bolivia, which wants to roast some countries at an International Tribunal of Climate Justice.

This section has some fairly weak aims. One is to “promote compliance by developed countries and to facilitate implementation by developing countries through provision of adequate financial resource”.

For developing countries this should be “facilitative, non-punitive, non-adversarial and non-judicial”. One of the toughest compliance suggestions is a “declaration of non-compliance” followed by a “compliance development plan”.

For a variety of views on implementation check these from Africa, Latin America, Norway, and the least developed countries.

Articles 12-16 are pretty dull

You’re spared.

Article 17: Further requirements

Poses the question whether any country that hasn’t submitted a climate plan can become a party to the agreement. Bad luck Venezuela if the answer is yes.

Article 18: Entry into force

When would an agreement come into force? Plenty of options here but it’s unlikely to be earlier than 1 January 2020. No deal for five years is one part of the proposed 2015 climate change deal that’s clear.

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