Climate Summit 2017

Bonn climate meet: Talks on developed world’s obligations can’t be postponed, says Africa Group

Xolisa Ngwadla, lead coordinator for the Africa Group of Negotiators, lays out the block’s priorities at the ongoing climate summit.

On Wednesday, the third day of global climate change discussions in the German capital of Bonn, negotiators shifted to dozens of small rooms to discuss the minute details of how the provisions of the Paris Agreement will be implemented. The details on how to limit the effects of climate change must be fleshed out by 2018.

The Paris Agreement of 2015 was designed to maintain a fine balance between the interests of the 197 member-countries. In order to reach the deal, some differences between countries were papered over and some were left unresolved. This makes the Bonn talks difficult. Participants fear that an attempted to resolve these unaddressed differences could destroy the fine balance achieved in the Paris Agreement. If this happened, it would lead to a collapse of trust between member-countries even before the pact is implemented in 2020.

For example, it was decided under the Paris Agreement that countries would collectively take stock of their targets on cutting their emissions of green house gases and achievements by 2025 and then look at how these targets could be enhanced after 2025. This exercise came to be known as the Global Stocktake. But on what basis will this stocktaking be undertaken? Will it be carried out keeping in mind that all countries bear the responsibility of fighting climate change but to varying degrees – what is called the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and the principle of equity? If the United States were to walk out of the agreement after 2020, as the newly elected president Donald Trump has threatened, will the emerging economies with their growing greenhouse gas footprints be asked to bear a greater cost of fighting climate change? This will be determined at the ongoing climate summit and at next year’s meeting in Poland.

Xolisa Ngwadla is the Africa Group of Negotiators’ lead coordinator for the discussions on implementing the Paris Agreement and a negotiator for South Africa. In an interview to Scroll.in on Sunday, he explained why these arrangements could be critical for the success of the agreement and what Africa’s views on the key issues at the Bonn talks are.

Excerpts from the interview:

What are the key issues for the Africa Group in Bonn? What are the issues you think should be resolved or can be problematic?
You see, from the perspective of the African Group, there are at least three issues that Bonn should address. Our first concern is mainly about the process through which we arrive at the negotiation text. The second issue is how we ensure balance in terms of how the negotiating text evolves. And third, on the Facilitative Dialogue [to help countries discuss and clarify their first round of targets provided under the Paris Agreement, called the Nationally Determined Contributions], we see it as something quite important going into 2018 as the modalities for it are not being negotiated. It is all being done through consultations, which is an understanding from Paris. But we would like in this conference for the presidency to present us with something really precise in terms of what kind of considerations will be built in the Facilitative Dialogue.

Is the Africa Group at the moment happy with the informal note the joint presidency produced today?
We have not had enough time to reflect fully on the presidency’s informal note but when it comes to the issue as well as what we heard in Fiji, there are a few things that we would like to put across as the African Group. We see the Facilitative Dialogue as an opportunity to address pre-2020 ambition [what countries will do to fight climate change up to 2020]. Because when it comes to Nationally Determined Contributions, which will be implemented from 2020, we have not even started implementing them. And if we look at the emissions gap [the difference between the emission reduction targets of countries and action that is required to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial era], from the Cancun Pledges in 2010, there is a gap of 8-13 gigatonnes of carbon. You also look at the synthesis report of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, prepared by the secretariat in 2015, and see the same quantity of gap. So the biggest concern is having the burden shift to developing countries post-2020. So what is quite important is that currently we are implementing our Cancun Pledges and the Facilitative Dialogue comes in 2018 and if this gap is transferred to post-2020, we need to know how developed countries are going to address it. That is one of the key messages that we have as the African Group.

We have seen that the Like-Minded Developing Countries have put forth the agenda on pre-2020 action. We do not know what they are planning on it or what their ideas are because we have not coordinated or even had an opportunity to hear what they have to say, but for us what they have put forth as an agenda item potentially can address the concern we have. Because we would like a situation where out of the dialogue we come up with a mechanism, a facility, cooperative initiatives that can address the 8-13 gigatonne gap and that need not have to happen only till 2020 but it must continue up until the 8-13 gigatonne gap is filled. So if it has to run till 2030, the developed countries should still continue owning that 8-13 gigatonne gap.

At the talks, we see a greater emphasis on reducing emissions than on talking about the obligations of developed countries to provide finance and technology to the rest – what is called Means of Implementation. What is the Africa Group’s views on this?
In our view, the Facilitative Dialogue should primarily focus on mitigation. And, you must hear my words very carefully. It primarily focuses on mitigation. However, you will recall in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement, it is quite clear the extent to which developing countries can enhance their actions depends on the support [Means of Implementation]. So it is not possible to address the Facilitative Dialogue without having a discussion on the support provided to developing countries. That is the first point.

And the second point is, whatever level of ambition we have, or lack of ambition for that matter, has a direct impact on climate change in developing countries. And in the Paris Agreement, we agreed that the level of mitigation ambition has a direct impact on adaptation [what countries need to do to adapt to inevitable climate change] and its cost. So, you cannot have a complete discussion in the Facilitative Dialogue on mitigation without addressing the adaptation issue. We do believe we should primarily address mitigation in the dialogue but in the outcome of the dialogue, it must be quite explicit and instructive on issues pertaining to support as well as adaptation.

You are coordinating the negotiations on what is called the Global Stocktake – assessing mid-way into the 2020s what countries have done and what is left to be done to keep temperatures in check. What is the link between the Global Stocktake and the Facilitative Dialogue?
Let me start by saying that there is significant difference between the Global Stocktake and the Facilitative Dialogue. I mean in our view, as much as we see a parallel between the two. But fundamentally, they are different. The dialogue is a one-off exercise and is structured primarily for mitigation. But in its outcome, it addresses issues that pertain to support as well as adaptation. The Global Stocktake, on the other hand, comprehensively addresses all actions pertaining to climate change. It is periodic. It happens every five years. So, drawing parallels between the two can sometimes be shortsighted.

How is the principle of equity to be applied to this Global Stocktake in the Africa Group’s view?
You will recall that the stocktake is the only provision in the agreement that it says will be performed in the light of equity. The question is how. When countries communicated their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions in 2015, they had to explain how their contributions are fair and ambitious. Various parties put forward their equity considerations in doing that. So, in our view, this is something we need to build on.

In the African Group’s view, how one can build equity in the Global Stocktake is that we have got all these metrics [to measure equity between countries and the responsibility they bear to reduce emissions] and interestingly enough they are not more than six – we have not identified more than six equity metrics. But the narrative from the developed countries has been that the equity is oh-so complex to define.

But all countries used just six metrics to demonstrate their contributions were equitable. So, what we are saying is let us take those metrics, multilaterally define the methodologies through which you compute those metrics and then post-2020 parties can select the metric for measuring equity that they want to deploy. But the methodology for this metric will be fixed and clear. We call for a technical paper on the metrics for equity and then we can engage with all parties next year on it.

The Paris Agreement asks for a Global Goal for Finances. This goal is to decide what funds developed country need to provide the developing world to undertake emission reduction and to adapt to inevitable climate change. We hear that some developed countries want the discussions on the Global Goal for Finances only after 2023-2024. How does the Africa Group see this?
We find it difficult to accept the narrative of developed countries that we should start discussing the global financial goals later. Let us look at history, because that is the only basis on which we can work. Developed countries pledged to mobilise $100 billion annually by 2020. This they pledged in 2009. But we are still only discussing items like methodologies for accounting for the pledges, the roadmaps, and so on. It has been more than eight years since that pledge was made.

It is going to be even more complicated on deciding a Global Goal for Finances because the Paris Agreement says this will depend on the needs of developing countries. So, there is more work to be done now than when the $100-billion target was announced.

Our view is that it is unacceptable that developed countries do not want to start a discussion on that because these are substantive issues that are important to the balance of the Paris Agreement.

Similarly, there is a provision in the Paris Agreement for a Global Goal for Adaptation? Where does the Africa Group stand on it?
The Global Goal for Adaptation is the baby of the African Group. We recognise the importance of sequencing issues. In the sense that we must define elements and features of adaptation and communication first because that discussion will determine how the Global Goal for Adaptation gets operationalised, and on the basis of which we can assess during the Global Stocktake whether we progress towards achieving it or not.

What is the concern about some decisions being made in advance at the Bonn meeting while others are postponed to next year – what is called an early harvest? India and others in the Like-Minded Developing Countries group have raised concerns about it. Is that a concern for the Africa Group as well?
Let me first start by saying that what we are negotiating right now are the modalities for the implementation of the Paris Agreement and not a rule book. And second, when it comes to early harvesting, we are not happy about it. A specific concern for us is actually Article 9.5 of the Paris Agreement [it asks developed countries to biennially give information on how much funds they are providing and are likely to provide to poorer countries].

Going to Lima [in 2014], all developing countries called for a finance component of the Nationally Determined Contributions [countries putting targets on how much finance they would provide under the Paris Agreement]. We negotiated it in Paris, and we got Article 9.5, which is the only provision that places an individual obligation of finance by developed countries, and this does not even exist in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Convention only makes a collective responsibility for the provision of finance by developed countries. It is amazing how the Like-Minded Developing Countries, for example, supported that fight but kind of left it to the African Group to fight it. Article 9.5 is the only provision in the Paris Agreement where individual commitments of developed countries to provide support to developing countries are mapped. And it says that every two years, they must communicate their public finance, to be specific – not all these other finances called leverage finances – to the developing countries for what they are accessing. But the developed countries are saying that in Bonn we will only discuss information they will provide but not the modalities for communicating that information.

Could you explain this please? Why is it important for the Africa Group that we have clear modalities for developed countries to provide information on their financial commitments under the Paris Agreement and not just know the nature of information they will provide?
This is of particle concern for us. Because if you look at the Paris Agreement, there is no party that has an obligation to achieve its commitments but there are procedural obligations of conduct that you will communicate on the Nationally Determined Contributions. You will provide a report on your performance, and it is only on the basis of those procedural aspects that any compliance mechanism can function. Because nobody is obliged to achieve what they have communicated but everybody is encouraged to achieve what they have communicated. Now if you do not have modalities of communicating individual obligations of developed countries to provide support, then there is no way you can have them on the compliance mechanism. There is no way you can have a functional Global Stocktake because how they provide that information has not been multilaterally negotiated.

So, for me, it is really disappointing that my colleagues in the Like-Minded Developing Countries have not taken up this point that the African Group has been insisting on for at least a year now, from Paris. We have been saying this is important, Article 9.5 is important. Without Article 9.5, the only group of parties who will end up with the possibility of not having complied with the Paris Agreement’s procedural requirements are the developing countries. If the modalities are not clear for developed countries to inform their financial commitments, and if compliance is based on whether you do what you are obliged to do, not necessarily on whether you achieve it or not, then only the developing countries will be subjected to it.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

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  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

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This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.