- With the 25th Climate Change Conference of Parties failing to make headway in Madrid, it was the anger of the young people that caught world attention.
- This CoP was an opportunity to effectively link the Kyoto Protocol regime with that of the Paris Agreement starting in 2020.
- As the world enters a new paradigm in climate change negotiations, most of the previous issues remain unresolved.
Greta Thunberg was not born when the international climate change negotiations started in 1992. She, along with more than 40% of the world population, were born after the complex negotiations to reduce the global greenhouse gas emissions started 27 years ago.
It is the anger of this young population, along with that of the common citizens tired with waiting for years that marked the shift at the 25th Conference of Parties (CoP25) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC – also known as the Climate Change Convention), which concluded at Madrid, Spain, on Sunday.
While the young population, civil society groups and NGOs reminded the negotiators that it is “time for action”, official negotiators laboured without much breakthrough inside closed doors of plenaries and informal huddles. The final decision document was limp, without any clear way forward for the global communities.
With 2019 racked by hotter summers, wildfires, drought, floods, cyclones and hurricanes across the world, those outside the closed doors of Madrid conference called it a “climate emergency” situation. Inside, the best language that the negotiators came out with was that it “re-emphasizes with serious concern the urgent need to address the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation efforts in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.”
This is even while the negotiators recognised the efforts and concerns of the civil society, indigenous communities and the youth for increased ambition, and “noted with concern the state of the global climate system.” They “stressed” the need for increased ambitions on mitigation and adaptation.
Considering the challenge for developing countries to raise finances, technology and capacity the conference recalled “the commitment made by developed country parties, in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, to a goal of mobilising jointly USD 100 billion per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing country parties.”
In short, the final decision document from the negotiators reiterated all the points of concern and contention developed over the years of climate talks, without marking out the pathway on how they could be dealt with.
What Madrid missed
The CoP at Madrid was the opportunity to connect the past with the future. With the Paris Agreement coming into effect from 2020, this was the last opportunity for the international community to connect the Kyoto Protocol and the older system with the new order.
While in the Kyoto Protocol only the developed countries and the economies in transition had emission reduction targets, in the Paris Agreement all countries had to have mitigation ambitions according to their nationally determined contribution (NDC) commitments. This meant a paradigm shift from the pre-2020 system and thus details and framework (called ‘rulebook’) had to be developed.
In December 2018, CoP24, held at Katowice in Poland, worked on this rulebook. However, some of the contentious issues that had been persisting since the beginning of the negotiations continued into the Madrid CoP. The conference was the opportunity to iron out these issues before 2020. That did not happen, and they will again appear at CoP26, to be held at Glasgow in Scotland in 2020.
Especially contentious were the differences related to developing the rulebook for Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which talks about international voluntary cooperation, and market and non-market mechanisms to enhance national ambitions on mitigation and adaptation to promote sustainable development. This article is a direct continuation of the flexible mechanisms that were part of the Kyoto Protocol.
The Kyoto Protocol allowed for Emissions Trading and Joint Implementation of emission reduction targets between developed countries. There was also a Clean Development Mechanism between a developed country and a developing one, where the developed country can take credit for the emission reduction it conducts in the developing countries, thereby opening the way for the trading of carbon in the form of certified emission reductions.
Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, recognises that some of the parties may opt to choose for voluntary cooperation in the implementation of their NDCs. They could also involve the use of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes towards NDC so that it helps in meeting the sustainable development goals and does not result in double counting (i.e., the carbon reduction is accounted for in the accounts of both the cooperating countries).
Under Article 6.4, the mechanism for making this happen has to be developed by the CoP. This mechanism will “incentivise and facilitate participation” from public and private entities” authorised by a member country.
Further, the Article enlarges the scope for including non-state actors into the mitigation action. It adds that part of the proceeds from the mechanisms covered under Article 6 will cover cost of adaptation in vulnerable countries. The non-market approaches are expected to promote mitigation and adaptation ambitions; enhance public and private participation; and enable coordination across instruments and institutions.
Low hanging fruits
As was to be expected, Article 6 became the main point of contention in the post-Paris Agreement years. It was carrying the burden of the Kyoto Protocol, and any unfinished agenda of the earlier system had to be completed before the new agreement came into operation. As the Indian environment minister, Prakash Javadekar, said in his country statement at Madrid: “We expect that guidelines for Article 6 will ensure transition of Clean Development Mechanism under Kyoto Protocol and provide the incentives and positive signals to private sector, which had invested in it.”
He also reminded the parties that it is “time for reflection and assessment as we near the end of Pre-2020 period. Has developed world delivered on its promises? Unfortunately, annexed countries have not met their Kyoto Protocol targets. Neither their NDCs reflect ambitions nor they have shown willingness to enhance their commitments.”
In Javadekar’s words one of the apprehensions among developing countries in the early years of Kyoto Protocol had come true two decades later. There was the fear that through the Clean Development Mechanism the developed countries would harvest the “low hanging fruits” (easier and cheaper options) for mitigation during the first commitment period. And when the developing countries would have to make their own emissions cut, they would have to use the more difficult and expensive options.
In fact, the Indian environment minister went a step forward. He said that not only had the developed countries harvested the low hanging fruit, but also not even delivered on the commitments they had made in the first commitment period, which further got extended until 2020.
Thus, when the Madrid CoP failed to deliver an effective mechanism for transitioning from the Kyoto Protocol regime to that of the Paris Agreement, the differences on Article 6 turned out to be the most important carryover point into 2020. However, it is only the first among the other contentious issues that remain from the beginning – equity, differentiation, adaptation, finance, technology transfer and capacity building.
The face of global impatience
At Madrid, the irony of the situation was highlighted when the youngsters chided the elderly for not doing enough, quickly on climate change. For a generation born into a world of instant results, the elderly heads of state, ministers and officials were taking for ever to come to any decision for effective action. In the meanwhile, in real time, the impacts of a changing climate in the form of more frequent and severe extreme weather events were becoming more devastating every year.
The attention that Greta Thunberg attracted was an indication that nearly half the world’s population is tired of the developed versus developing country politics, the ifs and buts of the negotiations, and the world of square-bracketed texts. Their message was that if even after 27 years of negotiations the contentious issues remain, then the elders are not serious in what they want to achieve. And this is not acceptable to the generation of the future decision makers, who will be forced to live the results of their elders’ irresponsibility.
Banner image: Youth civil society groups at the closing plenary of COP25. Photo by UNFCCC/Flickr.