Given the almost complete lack of media coverage, most people will be unaware that the road to an historic climate treaty to be agreed in Paris next December was opened up considerably last week in Geneva. The talks between 194 states was the latest phase in the process put in place by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to agree a binding treaty by the end of this year.
While the meeting began with the hope that the Lima Call for Climate Action agreed at the last global climate summit in the Peruvian capital last December could be reduced and streamlined, in fact the opposite happened. The co-chairs, Algeria and the US, quickly saw that streamlining the Lima text could be divisive, and opted instead to go into what UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica called ‘listening mode’ so as to help participants ‘understand each other better.’
The result was that the text more than doubled, ending up with all proposals included, and now stands at 86 pages long. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, the outcome has been welcomed all around, including by the usually very critical NGO representatives. As Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute was quoted as saying: ‘At this early stage, the palpable positive spirit coming out of Geneva is a much better measure of progress than the current length of the negotiating text.’
Though long, what the text essentially does is to map out the options for what to include in the Paris Treaty under the headings of mitigation (targets to reduce emissions), adaptation (measures to develop resilience to the impacts of climate change), finance, technology transfer and capacity building (helping countries develop the capacities to make the necessary changes to move towards low-carbon development). As always, the greater responsibility of developed countries is emphasised as they are the cause of much of the problems.
The text is therefore very instructive to examine. On mitigation, the target of holding warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels which has been the accepted target for over a decade, appears to be tightened considerably as the text in many places reads ‘below 2 or 1.5 degrees’ reflecting the latest scientific opinion. Significantly, the objective of ‘full decarbonization by 2050’ is in the text, though so also are some far looser objectives such as cuts of at least 50% by 2050 over 1990 levels or levels ‘consistent with the findings of the best and latest available science’.
The chapter on finance mentions a floor of $100 billion per year to be transferred from developed to developing countries with larger contributions in the years before 2020. Mention is also made that developed countries should transfer the equivalent of 1% of their GDP to developing countries to help them make the transition. Given that only five countries have met the target set by the UN in the 1960s to give 0.7% of GDP in development aid, and that pledges of climate finance barely reached $10 billion last December as the Lima summit began, these targets seem extremely ambitious.
So, with just over nine months to go, the hard negotiating on the commitments to be given legal form in the Paris treaty has yet to begin. Geneva has given us the parameters, and the process now moves forward on two levels. The first begins immediately as countries must between March and June notify the UNFCCC secretariat of their intended emissions reduction targets. The hard negotiations open at a meeting in Bonn in June with two further sessions planned between then and the Paris climate summit in December. Meanwhile, various ministerial meetings will be where the hard decisions are made.
Everything is to play for therefore between now and December. Last week’s meeting left us with a range of different possibilities; civil society needs to keep up pressure on governments to ensure that the more ambitious and demanding possibilities are chosen. Anything less condemns future generations to frightening scenarios.