Much is expected of the important Paris conference, but so many huge differences remain among the countries and time is running out.
IN just over a month, the United Nations Climate Conference will open in Paris on Nov 30.
Much is expected of it, as a new international agreement on how to deal with climate change will be established there.
But the members of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are still very far from seeing eye-to-eye on the content, structure and legal nature of this agreement.
Expectations are high because the climate change situation continues to be in severe crisis, or has even worsened. This crisis is marked by the highest average global temperatures, the months-long serious haze caused by forest burning in South-East Asia and heavy rainfall causing floods in many parts of the world, as well as typhoons and cyclones.
Against this backdrop, a negotiation session was held last week in Bonn, aimed at making progress on the text of the agreement that will hopefully be concluded in Paris.
But there were so many differences on so many issues that it would take a heroic effort to reach a deal in the two weeks in Paris.
The Bonn session showed the developed and developing countries, or the North and South, still split on key issues like mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology.
Most importantly, they are deeply divided on what are the respective responsibilities and obligations of the North and the South in the new agreement.
The Paris agreement will come under the UN Climate Convention. According to this Convention, established in 1992, the developed countries are required to undertake more obligations, including in reducing greenhouse gases and in providing finance and technology to developing countries.
Developing countries also have obligations to take mitigation and adaptation actions. It is also recognised that poverty eradication and economic development are their top priorities, and the extent of their climate actions depends on the level of financial and technology support they receive.
The Convention’s provisions and structures were built on this equity principle, including the notion of “common but differentiated responsibilities”. All countries have to take actions, but the richer ones have to do more.
In recent years, the developed countries have sought to change the nature of the Convention. Led by the United States, they want to remove the differentiation between developed and developing countries, so that all countries are obliged to take on the same types of mitigation commitments.
Moreover, they want to very much loosen the obligations of the North to provide funds or transfer technology to the South. They want developing countries to make the same commitments as them to cut emissions, and to de-link this from the funding or technology they receive.
The developed countries have made proposals that the new Paris agreement incorporate these ideas. But this is tenaciously opposed by the developing countries who argue that accepting this would be tantamount to overthrowing the existing Convention, as it contradicts the main tenets of the UNFCCC.
And the Paris agreement comes under the UNFCCC, so it has to be in line with and not go counter to the principles and the provisions of the mother body, which is the Convention.
The developing countries were fighting an uphill battle last week in Bonn as the two co-chairs of the committee preparing for Paris issued a draft of the Paris agreement that was very lop-sided in favour of the views of developed countries.
The draft of the co-chairs, an American and an Algerian, was supposed to be the basis for negotiations. But it faced criticism from developing countries’ groupings including the G77 and China, the Africa Group and the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC).
The criticisms include that the draft is one-sided in favour of developed countries and that it departs from the Convention’s principles and provisions.
There is no differentiation between developed and developing countries in the proposed operational provisions. They are all treated in a like manner, wiping out the notions of historical responsibility and equity.
In mitigation, there is a downgrading of developed countries’ obligations and an upgrading of developing country obligations.
The draft also omits the obligation for developed countries to provide the needed funds, with no mention of the earlier promised US$100bil (RM425bil) a year by 2020.
Ambassador Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko of South Africa, speaking for the G77 and China, said the co-chairs’ text “seems to attempt to rewrite, reinterpret and replace the Convention. It is extremely unbalanced and lopsided, and it jeopardises the interests and positions of developing countries”.
The developing countries insisted that countries be allowed to insert their own proposals into the co-chair’s draft. So much of last week was spent in injecting countries’ proposals into the text.
Having the ideas of the various countries in a new draft is more democratic. The different ideas and options can be seen.
The problem is firstly, that the basic differences (especially between North and South) are still there, and secondly time is running out.
How to bridge the seemingly unbridgeable differences among countries in the 10 or 12 working days in Paris, when they have not been able to do so for so many years?
This shows how important but difficult it is to get a good Paris agreement.
It must be ambitious enough to keep the world’s temperature rise to below two degree Celsius. It must be fair so that countries feel they are not being bullied to do more than their just share.
It means the powerful developed countries have to step up to the plate and take the lead in cutting their emissions adequately and according to their “fair shares”, and also providing the means to developing countries to take sufficient climate actions.
And developing countries, assured by the serious actions of developed countries, including on providing finance and technology, should then have the confidence to make their own ambitious pledges.
Given that there are still so many basic differences just five weeks before the Paris conference begins, it will take a huge leap, indeed a miracle, to achieve such a successful deal.
Martin Khor (firstname.lastname@example.org) is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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