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International climate negotiations in Bonn that concluded last week showed that implementing the Paris Agreement goals is still an uphill task

There were intense negotiations at the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change meeting in Bonn that concluded last week (Photo by Ainhoa Goma)

In the early 1990s, when I was in school, climate negotiators around the world were finalising the text of the UN Climate Change Convention. After I completed my higher studies in environmental sciences and while working in India’s environment ministry, I got an opportunity to join the contingent of experts, scientists and negotiators on climate change in the UN Climate talks.

Since then, through the long course of climate talks, I have experienced negotiations getting tougher, more complex, lengthier and multidimensional, posing piquant problems and impasses, while at the same time becoming pulsating and promising for a low-carbon, climate-resilient globe. Gradually, climate change was becoming a recession-proof industry and the city of Bonn became famous as the Climate Change City of the world.

In 2015, countries adopted the historic Paris Agreement. It was to be implemented in the post-2020 period and saw a quick ratification and entry into force in 2016.

With a purpose to enhance the implementation of the Climate Change Convention through its various elements of mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology transfer and capacity building, the Agreement is to be implemented on the basis of the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC), by providing a differentiated regime for developed and developing countries. India’s vital interests including securing its development space have been protected under the Paris Agreement.

The just-concluded climate change negotiations at Bonn are sure to witness a focussed discussions on the Paris Agreement Work Programme, which aims to progress towards concluding tasks concerning the implementation of the Agreement, its modalities, procedures and guidelines etc. This is to be finalised in the UNFCCC Conference of Parties in December 2018, in Katowice, Poland.

Main issue

The main issue on the table was how developed and developing countries view the Agreement. While Parties from both sides of the divide say that the Agreement must not be reinterpreted when developing the rules for its implementation, there is no common understanding on how to actualise the operationalization of differentiation (principle of common-but-differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities).

The debates are centred around interpreting Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which means mitigation or just adaptation and the means of implementation, and therefore, the information required to be communicated flowing from the NDCs. While some developing countries took a firm view that the operational details must differentiate between developed and developing countries, developed countries were generally of the view that the rules for implementation should be common, with flexibilities for developing countries provided for those who need it.

Equally important were the pre-2020 commitments by developed countries, which as the name suggests, need to be fulfilled before 2020, including ratification of Doha amendment, provision of finance, technology development and transfer and capacity building support to developing countries. Scientific studies have clearly brought out that delayed climate action will cost more and that the cost of inaction will be immense.

Having said that, there are many question that haunt climate negotiators of developing countries. What happens to the unfulfilled commitments under the Kyoto Protocol? Will the mitigation backlog (ambition gap) be redistributed between the developed and the developing countries in the post-2020 period, that is, in the Paris Agreement? If the Kyoto protocol remains an unfinished task, then what is the credibility of the Paris Agreement?

Challenges remain

In all, a lot of challenges remain in achieving a final Paris Agreement Implementation Guidebook. Finance issues still pose a logjam. Developed and developing countries are divided over the future and nature of the Adaptation Fund under the Paris Agreement, which is currently under the Kyoto Protocol.

Developed countries are more interested in work related to the mitigation component of NDCs, the transparency framework dealing primarily with the mitigation aspects and matters under Article 6 of the Agreement which relates to cooperative approaches (some countries call this as market mechanisms). Developing countries, on the other hand, want to see more progress on issues relating to the means of implementation (finance and technology transfer) necessary for mitigation and adaptation actions. Also, important to them is the full scope of NDCs, which should include   mitigation, adaptation and the means of implementation.

As the world politics related to climate change has been critically changing with the shift in power in few major developed countries that have immense historical responsibilities, concerns are rising in continuing the spirit of the new global climate change agreement. It will be tricky for India to thwart any attempts that could undermine global cooperation and the on-going groundbreaking attempts to combat global climate change.

India has been a leading voice within several negotiating groups under the UNFCCC, including the G-77 and China (comprising of 134 developing countries), Like Minded Developing Countries (comprising about 25 developing countries) and BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China). India should strategically work through these groups to put forth its priorities as it strengthens its position.

Forging and sustaining a universal consensus on climate change would work a great deal to be successful in preserving our only Planet. India should keep up this spirit in the benefit of the Mankind.

The writer was part of the High Level Inter-Ministerial Indian Delegation in over 18 UNFCCC negotiating meetings. He is currently working with UN Environment India. Views are personal.


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