United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks in Geneva this past February began and ended on the same note as the Lima conference some months prior: with a glimmer of hope. The Geneva meeting was scheduled less than four months before a proposed agreement will be sent to UNFCCC Party countries for review, and ten months before world leaders convene in Paris to sign off on it. However, despite the tight timing in which to reach a climate agreement, when June meetings in Bonn close after two weeks of what will surely be intense negotiations, we expect to have not just hope but also confidence that an ambitious and effective agreement will be adopted in Paris in December 2015.
Lima’s 2014 Call for Climate Action was a good starting point for this year’s negotiation rounds. By the end of the Lima conference, Parties seemed willing – more so than ever before – to come together to produce a balanced and equitable agreement. The atmosphere was positive at the start of Geneva sessions, and Parties came as close as they have ever been to reaching consensus. The reality, though, is that there is still much to do in just a short time.
Geneva participants were under pressure to produce a working draft within the week, and newly elected Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) co-chairs Mr Ahmed Djoghlaf (Algeria) and Mr Daniel Reifsnyder (United States), to the surprise and appreciation of negotiators, were quick to encourage a Party-driven process that aimed to speed up talks and pave the way for a fair text that reflected all views. Developing countries responded positively and felt that this was a process where they could finally be heard.
While the new methodology was welcome, any and all views were added into the mix, doubling the size of the 38-page document that came out of Lima and turning the already cluttered text into a mammoth. The new methodology slowed down the negotiations considerably, but both Parties and civil society preferred the transparency of the new negotiating process.
In theory, a Party-driven process will produce an agreement that is a product solely from Parties, with co-chairs only guiding talks. Any text would be produced directly by Parties, who will have the common responsibility of streamlining the working draft. If such a method is to be continued at the Bonn and Paris conferences, last-minute or controversial ‘manna from heaven’ texts might bring the process to a halt and ought to be avoided.
The difference between the process from previous talks and the new methodology in Geneva was noticeable. Negotiators were much more relaxed and optimistic, which created a more conducive and constructive environment for working on drafts. However, negotiators do not have the luxury of time, and much work remains, particularly on elements such as finance, adaptation, technology transfer, and mitigation, which seem to only get more complex as talks advance. No text streamlining was done at Geneva, and there has still been no decision regarding the final text form. The challenge for upcoming sessions will be to agree on the issues that can be resolved, and to settle what issues must be decided by world leaders in Paris.
Still, spirits remain high. The Geneva talks opened up many negotiating doors, and with upcoming informal consultations, a G7 summit in June, and other major gatherings on the calendar, many hope that progress will be made on all levels necessary for a successful new climate agreement that includes increased ambition across the board, especially from developed countries.
Another recent positive development has been the proposal made by the Agreement on Climate Transformation (ACT) 2015 consortium, which has outlined what key aspects of the Paris agreement might look like, including suggestions for legal text. Led by global research institute the World Resources Institute (WRI) and supported by the ClimateWorks Foundation (CWF), the European Union (EU) Commission, and the Prospect Hill Foundation, ACT 2015 brings together the Ateneo de Manila University School of Government, Ecofys, Energeia, the Institute for European Studies (IES) at Vrije Universiteit Brussels, the New Climate Institute (NCI), the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Third Generation Environmentalism (E3G), and Tsinghua University to conduct research and convene global discussions to identify the elements that could be agreed upon in Paris.
Among other features, ACT 2015 proposes two long-term goals that aim to operationalize the overall UNFCCC objective. This will send clear signals to all stakeholders for the urgent need to catalyze climate action, and will provide a clear and steady path for Parties to follow. The long-term goals are:
- 1)To ensure that global temperature increase stays below an average of 2° Celsius (C) in comparison with preindustrial levels, by implementing a phase-out of all GHG emissions to net-zero as early as possible in the second half of this century; and
- 2)To reduce vulnerability and build the resilience of communities facing climate change impacts, through collective actions applicable in all countries based on common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) as well as respective capabilities.
These two goals can be achieved through cycles of improvement enabled by a complementary cycle of support: finance, technology transfer, and capacity building.
For all intents and purposes, Geneva laid the groundwork for a beneficial and productive year in climate negotiations. Parties must continue to work together in trusting cooperation to reach the finish line in Paris, in order to produce an outcome that upholds the principles of the Convention. Avoiding the routines of previous years – minimal progress made at the expense of transparency – is essential to creating a balanced and adequate stepping stone to more ambition, more innovation, and more imagination post-2020.
No one is under the belief that the coming sessions in Bonn, which begin Monday this week, will be smooth sailing. What the Geneva meetings have shown, however, is that it is possible for countries to display the camaraderie necessary to produce an agreement with vital and essential elements expressed in a clear, concise, definite, and balanced manner. The next sessions must draw from the inspired clarity and transparency that were present in Geneva.
The Geneva session brought hope back to the process that many had thought was on the brink of collapse. But even as bumps and detours will need to be overcome, the road to Paris is now clearer than ever before.