Buried in the detail of the Paris Accord could be some innocuous-looking words that will have a powerful impact on whether it ever delivers the greenhouse gas reductions it promises.
The words could “paper over” deep divisions about whether countries ever have to properly report and account for the promised emission reductions that collectively limit global warming to the already-dangerous 2.7 degrees.
Arguments about reporting and checking rules
Key to the negotiations will be a trade off between developing countries’ demands for financing to reduce their own emissions and adapt to locked-in climate change and the insistence by both rich nations like the United States and climate-vulnerable countries like the small island states that every country should be required to at least work towards the same rules for reporting and checking their emission reductions.
Since the pledges in the Paris Accord will not be legally binding and the more stringent rules applied to developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol are almost certain to lapse in five years, the direction set for this new set of reporting and checking rules is important to ensure the agreement delivers what it promises for the climate.
Countries like India claim the existing rules under the overarching UN framework convention on climate change are fine.
Dr Ajay Mathur, director general of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency in Delhi, said there was “no need to spend time again negotiating new reporting guidelines and rules, when we already have rules that apply to everybody and give necessary flexibility to developing countries.”
No details about how tracking is done
But those rules have far softer requirements for how and what developing countries report about their emission reductions. They do not require comprehensive reporting and do not force countries to detail how they are tracking towards the target they have pledged or to project their future greenhouse gas emissions. And the system for “expert review” of developing country reports is far less onerous than the in-country checking for developed nations.
Bill Hare, chief executive of Climate Analytics, said allowing the current system to continue was “not feasible” and would represent a “complete failure at the Paris talks”.
“It would mean we couldn’t check or track what developing countries are doing,” he said. “There would be no way of knowing what was happening.”
Transparency is the red line – there must be a common goal
Transparency is a “red line” issue for countries like the United States and Australia. They are willing for common requirements to be phased in and for poor countries to get extra help to develop the systems they need to comply with the new rules, but are determined that the goal must be a common system.
It would not include penalties or have any means to force compliance, but it would – eventually – provide a reasonably clear picture of what emissions reductions each country had achieved.
And that, in turn, would create the trust necessary for countries to increase the ambition of their emission reduction targets over time, to bring global emissions to the level that might contain warming to 2 degrees or lower.
Trust necessary from proper reporting by all nations
President Obama made America’s position clear in his Paris speech.
“Here in Paris, let’s agree to a strong system of transparency that gives each of us the confidence that all of us are meeting our commitments. And let’s make sure that the countries who don’t yet have the full capacity to report on their targets receive the support that they need,” he said.
But developing countries like India and Saudi Arabia are adamant different reporting rules are enshrined in the 1992 convention’s recognition of the principle of “differentiation” between the responsibilities placed on rich and poor nations.
In his speech to the conference, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi said a “common but differentiated” responsibility had to “remain the bedrock” of the agreement because anything else would be morally wrong.
The US has said it “would not support a bifurcated approach to the new agreement, particularly one based on groupings that may have made sense in 1992 but that are clearly not rational or workable in the post‐2020 era”.
Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko, ambassador from South Africa and chair of the G77+China negotiating bloc said differentiation was “embedded … and we should not have to renegotiate it here.”
She objected to the “narrative” on transparency rules that cast poor countries as “villains” and also to the idea that rich countries’ promises on finance would be conditional on poor countries’ acceptance of common transparency rules.
Conditionality erodes trust – not responsible
“Conditionality erodes trust … it is not a responsible way to go,” she said.
The Paris Accord will not finalise the reporting and review rules but it will set a direction. Rich countries want a path to a credible, common system. The alternative is wording papering over the fact that the current stand-off remains unresolved.
According to the deputy chief executive of The Climate Institute, Erwin Jackson, “the danger in that outcome is that we continue the procedural battle we are currently seeing forever. It gives countries who want to weaken the process an opportunity to continue to throw spanners in the works for years to come.”
Richard Chatterton, head of climate policy for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said differentiation was the issue that could “derail” the Paris talks.
He said the most likely outcome was the conference would find “wording” that “effectively sweeps differentiation under the carpet”, meaning it would be fought out for years to come.
By Lenore Taylor. Source: The Guardian