Climate Summit 2017

Bonn climate change talks: Fiji’s proposal to raise targets on cutting emissions angers India, China

The island nation wants all countries to compulsorily raise goals before 2020. But some countries say this subverts the accepted decision-making process.

India, China and other members of the Like-Minded Developing countries are upset with a proposal on raising targets on emissions cuts presented by Fiji ahead of climate change negotiations that are set to begin in the German capital of Bonn on Monday. As president of the conference, Fiji, has formally suggested a plan that would force all countries to revise their emission reduction targets upwards before 2020, the year when Paris Agreement comes into effect.

The Fijian proposal has been co-authored with Morocco, the out-going president of the negotiations.

“This is not acceptable,” said a senior Indian negotiator on the condition of anonymity. “It goes against what all countries have collectively decided. It is not the mandate the presidency got from us. We shall take it up when the negotiations start.

The talks in Bonn aim to guide the implementation of the Paris Agreement of 2015, a deal signed by 197 nations to ensure that global temperatures do not rise beyond 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

Bypassing existing framework

The current targets relate to climate actions to be undertaken by countries over a five- or ten-year period after 2020 – this is called the first phase of the Paris Agreement. If the Fiji proposal is accepted in its current form, a process would be set in place to ratchet up targets for greenhouse gas emissions of countries to be reduced before this date. The proposal ignores the difference in opinion several countries have about this suggestion.

Several countries believe the Paris Agreement does not require the targets submitted for the first phase to be revised once again: it only asks countries to provide higher targets for each successive phase. But others disagree.

Usually, such contentious issues are resolved through formal negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, where decisions are taken by consensus. Every country needs to agree. But, Fiji’s proposal, if accepted, will bypass the requirement for negotiations and consensus. It presumes that all countries agree to the ratcheting up of targets before 2020.

Fiji’s proposal will also open the process to inputs from non-governmental organisations – a practice not allowed so far. It would put Fiji and Morocco in the driver’s seat at the cost of decisions being driven by consensus through the UN negotiations.

India along with the Like-Minded Developing Countries will lodge their reservations about Fiji’s move when the talks formally open on November 6. The Africa Group and the Arab Group also have concerns about the proposal. It is also likely to convey these when the talks start on Monday.

The Like-Minded Developing Countries believe Fiji’s proposal goes against the decisions made by 197 countries in Paris. The Africa Group and the Arab Group will also like to communicate objections to the proposal.

Queries sent by to the office of Fijian climate change conference presidency had not been answered at the time of publishing this story. The story will be updated as and when a reply is received.

Credit: Reuters
Credit: Reuters

Facilitative Dialogue 

The disagreement between these various groups has its roots in an arrangement climate-change negotiators refer to as the Facilitative Dialogue, at which countries will clarify their pledges for emission reduction and other climate actions made under the Paris Agreement. These pledges are called their Nationally Determined Contributions. The dialogue became necessary because countries had made their pledges even before the Paris Agreement was sketched out. Since countries had used varying language and parameters to describe their targets, it was essential to obtain clarity on the specific nature of these commitments in light of the provisions of the Paris Agreement.

By now 165 countries have already submitted their final Nationally Determined Contributions. described the debates around the dialogue here.

But on November 1, Fiji and Morocco issued a note describing how they see the Facilitative Dialogue unfolding over the next two years. They have described with a detailed procedure that would lead to targets on cutting emissions being ratchetted up. They have called this the Talanoa Dialogue. (Talanoa is a word used in the Pacific region to describe a process of inclusive and transparent dialogue, Fiji has explained.)

The Talanoa Dialogue has been envisaged as a two-stage process. The “preparatory phase” is for technical workshops outside the formal negotiations. During the “political phase”, ministerial-level consultations, again outside the formal negotiations, have been proposed.

In addition to countries that are members of the Convention, Fiji and Morocco also want to invite NGOS, civil society and experts to attend. The two countries will prepare a report based on their inputs, which be considered during the second, political phase involving round round-tables with ministers. However, Fiji and Morocco will retain a high degree of discretion about what information they will included in the final report on these deliberations.

Credit: Dibgyanshu Sarkar/AFP
Credit: Dibgyanshu Sarkar/AFP

Objections to the proposal

Several elements of this proposal that have not gone down well with the Like Minded Developing Countries.

“The dialogue was to help countries finalise their contributions. That has already been done by 165 countries after domestically considering what are the most ambitious targets they could take. The ratcheting up is now prescribed for the second commitment period under the agreement. Say if a country has set its targets for five years the country would necessarily be required to enhance it after five years after the global stock take has taken place,” the Indian negotiator said.

Other Like-Minded developing country members agree with India. “The dialogue was supposed to be, as the name says, facilitative,” said a senior negotiator of the Like-Minded Developing Countries group on the condition of anonymity. “Countries did not agree to this process being intrusive. Parties did not mandate the Presidency to make it prescriptive. It is not supposed to tell us how to do things and what to do. It is to only help us understand each other’s contributions. Countries can voluntarily decide to increase their contributions at any time but cannot be coerced to do so.”

This person said that the Fiji, as president, seems intent on creating a legacy to showcase. “Nobody asked for this,” this person said. “They cannot over-design the dialogue to take it out of the context the Paris Agreement and other earlier decisions provide for. This is not a political event to try name and shame countries into doing more than what they have already decided to for the first round of commitments under Paris Agreement.”

“Presiding countries have the prerogative, and they have previously taken different political initiatives alongside in guiding and complementing the negotiations. But this is diverting a mandated UN process out from the negotiations,” he added.

Many poorer countries fear that without the involvement of the negotiators and experts in the rooms to advise their ministers, the politicians could be convinced to take decisions without understanding the full implications. If the decisions are made by the ministers, they most often become final and binding formally under the UN convention as well.

Besides, there is also discomfort about the proposal to allow those other than country representatives to intervene in the dialogue. “For the Non-state actors how will we ensure representation from Africa and some very poor countries is also there wherever these discussions are held. This is why reports of even experts outside the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiating process are taken note of only by consensus of all parties. Rarely do these expert opinions become the basis for decisions,” said the Indian negotiator. “At best they are acknowledged for their contributions.”

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