The UN talks in Bonn, Germany failed to set a stage for developing an “operating manual” that would help implement the landmark Paris Climate Agreement as parties are yet to converge on a range of key issues. The stage still may be far from ready for the big show―adoption of the Paris Agreement Work Program (PAWP).
To move the negotiations closer to the package deal to be adopted in Poland in December 2018, the parties after two weeks of talks have been compelled to decide holding an emergency session ahead of the climate summit.
According to an analysis, besides needing to progress on developing the “operating manual” of the landmark Paris Agreement, the Bonn conference also brought together UNFCCC stakeholders as part of the 2018 Talanoa Dialogue. Built on the Pacific storytelling tradition, the “inclusive, transparent, and participatory” Dialogue seeks to assess global efforts to meet the Agreement’s long-term mitigation goal and is intended to inform parties’ future nationally determined contributions (NDCs). The seven “Talanoas” that took place recently in Bonn spotlighted stories from parties, UNFCCC constituencies, and intergovernmental organizations on addressing climate change and its effects.
Just as the “Talanoas” invited participants to consider global efforts to address climate change through guiding questions, the Dialogue’s three central questions—Where are we? Where do we want to go? How do we get there?—are also useful for understanding the progress achieved in Bonn and what remains to be resolved on the road to Katowice.
Where are we?
Parties’ task in Bonn was to move open-ended discussions on key elements of the PAWP closer to draft negotiating text. Delegates picked up where they had left off in December 2017, resuming discussion of long and often unwieldy “informal notes” prepared by co-facilitators across the different agenda items.
Given the PAWP’s complexity and parties’ desire not to remove or consolidate any elements from the notes at this stage, many considered the Executive Secretary’s assessment of a “satisfactory” outcome in Bonn a fair evaluation. But while parties may leave Bonn satisfied, their decision to allocate additional time for negotiation in Bangkok in September illustrates an underlying sense of urgency. Veteran negotiators believe parties will need to emerge from Bangkok with a draft negotiating text if they are to remain on track for adoption of a package in Katowice.
Part of the challenge in moving the work on the PAWP forward is the need for fair progress across its many components. Throughout the opening plenaries parties echoed calls to deliver a “balanced and comprehensive package” to COP 24, but views differed on what this actually means in practice. For developing countries, who fear that mitigation has taken precedence over adaptation and finance, “no item left behind” emerged as a common refrain. Developed countries, conversely, argued that more technically complex issues, such as the transparency framework, naturally require more time, with the Environmental Integrity Group warning against pursuing a “mechanical parity between clauses.” In addition to needing to strike a balance between parties’ differing priorities, negotiators in Bangkok will also need to find a balance between technical detail and room for political maneuvering across items.
The interlinked nature of PAWP items represents another challenge. Developing guidelines for NDCs, adaptation communication, transparency, and the global stocktake requires not just close attention to detail on each item, but also careful consideration of how they relate to one another. Timing becomes tricky as parties work in parallel negotiations; some are hesitant to flesh out detail on one item when they are unsure how related elements will take shape. In Bonn, the APA Co-Chairs made efforts to address these interlinkages, convening several Heads of Delegation meetings and a “pilot” joint consultation on adaptation communication and the enhanced transparency framework to consider the bigger picture. The mandate for a joint reflections note by the Chairs of the APA, SBI, and SBSTA in advance of the additional session in Bangkok also provides parties with an opportunity to enhance their understanding of the interlinkages among the PAWP elements, and how to move them forward.
These dynamics are heightened by a collective awareness that any package adopted in Katowice will be the last one for the foreseeable future. Parties fear that elements left out of the package could be sidelined in the operationalization of the Agreement, and that this could be the last significant opportunity to elevate concerns such as loss and damage and assurance that finance will flow in the future.
Where Do We Want to Go?
While the contributions of non-party stakeholders in the Talanoa Dialogue were welcomed by many, a key challenge for the Fijian and Polish Presidencies is to build a cohesive message about the state of progress out of this “orchestra” of 700 stories. While highlighting key messages in their report-backs, the rapporteurs were careful to emphasize they were not seeking to capture “consensus” from the stories. Such an exercise would arguably be impossible, and perhaps even undesirable, as the richness of experience on display speaks to the many-faceted realities of climate change and its impacts, and the ways these new realities are being addressed worldwide.
The Bonn Talanoa Dialogue also characterized a diversity of visions that the PAWP must take on board. In the interest of reaching global consensus, and buoyed by the political momentum of COP 21, parties meeting in Paris in 2015 “papered over” profound differences on such issues as mitigation, adaptation, differentiation, predictability of finance, technology, and loss and damage. The 2018 deadline for adoption of the PAWP requires parties to revisit these differences to find a “landing ground” where the Agreement’s overarching principles are translated into detailed guidance acceptable to all.
Still, finding that “middle ground” is no easy feat. One observer noted the Bonn Conference may have represented “the most difficult stage” of negotiations on the PAWP, given countries’ desire to keep all options on the table even as the contours of a possible compromise should begin to emerge. However, the format and atmosphere of the Talanoa Dialogue may offer inspiration. Many welcomed the Dialogue’s informal and non-adversarial configuration, which allowed participants to engage with each other “not as negotiators, but as human beings.” With its focus on values such as “mutual trust,” and “loyalty to the planet,” the conversation provided an opportunity, at a critical moment, to reorient countries towards the bigger picture on which nearly all agree: the need to achieve the vision set out in the Paris Agreement.
How Do We Get There?
But how can this vision be achieved? During the Bonn Climate Change Conference, it became clear that certain issues would benefit from further technical consideration, with calls for the APA to dedicate more time to deliberations on adaptation communications, finance-related issues, and transparency when it reconvenes in Bangkok. With the prospect of complex discussions ahead, many welcomed the mandate to the APA Co-Chairs to prepare additional “tools” to facilitate countries’ work, including proposals to streamline the informal notes developed in Bonn and examples of how parties could progress towards the development of negotiating text.
In some cases, progress in the negotiations may require issues to be addressed at a higher political level. As at COP 23, finance emerged as a “possible make-or-break” political issue for any package deal in Katowice. Developing countries, led by the African Group, continued to push for modalities to enhance clarity on developed countries’ biennial indicative (ex-ante) communications of climate finance under Agreement Article 9.5; as well as more clarity regarding support provided and mobilized (ex-post) under Article 9.7 of the Agreement. Developed countries insisted modalities for Article 9.5 are “out of the question” given their electoral and budget cycles. Sensitivities around this issue were heightened by a perception among many developing countries that developed countries are not on track to deliver on their commitment to mobilize US$100 billion by 2020. They insist that the trust necessary to move forward with PAWP cannot be realized until finance commitments are delivered.
The scope of, and information to be included in, NDCs may also require engagement that goes beyond the technical. Although a “navigation tool” agreed to in Bonn will help countries navigate the informal note that emerged from APA 1-4, the 180-page note remains on the table as countries grapple with the question of how to preserve these plans’ nationally determined nature, while ensuring a sufficient level of credibility and comparability to maintain trust in the Paris Agreement’s bottom-up “pledge and review” system, and build the necessary confidence to do more in subsequent NDCs. In Katowice, progress on mitigation, in particular, may need to take into account the importance many developing countries attach to ensuring comparable progress on adaptation and finance.
High-level engagement is also critical for moving the Talanoa Dialogue forward to its “political phase,” which commences at COP 24. Leaving Bonn, however, there were calls from parties and non-party stakeholders alike for more clarity on what this phase will look like, and how it can help enhance global ambition on climate action and scaled-up NDCs. Meanwhile, many stakeholders are also placing stock in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on 1.5 C warming as an objective science-based input that will highlight the urgency of increased action. As one delegation highlighted, this impetus will be critical since this is the last opportunity for the international community to assess progress on climate action before the first global stocktake under the Paris Agreement takes place in 2023.
Who Leads on the Road to Katowice?
Leaving Bonn, it is increasingly clear where we are, where we want to go, and how we achieve success at COP 24. And yet, as Katowice approaches, some parties could be heard speculating on an additional question: who will take the lead to help deliver a credible and balanced PAWP package, and the enhanced NDCs that the Talanoa Dialogue foresees? Past agreements in Kyoto, Cancun, Durban, and Paris benefited from clear leadership from key countries, such as the US, the EU, China, and coalitions like AOSIS and the LDCs, combined with a willingness to build alliances across traditional divides. A reconfiguration of the multilateral landscape since Paris leaves some questioning who will step up and assume leadership in Katowice. As delegates look ahead to their next stop in Bangkok, some hope the Talanoa Dialogue, with its emphasis on forging a shared and inclusive vision for climate action, will inspire key parties to “finish what was started in Paris.”