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Paris Climate Poker: Countries State Their True Positions Behind Closed Doors

Nitin Sethi, Business Standard

Behind closed doors as ministers and their negotiators met countries and groups of countries turned candid at the Paris climate change summit. The surprises were unlimited and contentions of countries and groups far from what they speak in public.

At the same time news emerged of heads of states of different countries coming back in to the picture – working the phone lines from their respective countries to make political bargains.

In the informal meeting of ministers and officials, cut from the eyes and ears of observers the Association of Small Island States said it was against a reference to carbon budget and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities which allocates responsibility to fight against climate change based on historical responsibility and equity. It was surprising, considering its part of the G77+China group which has so far collectively asked for differentiation in the Paris agreement between historical emitters of greenhouse gases and the rest.

Business Standard drew together some of the conversations and discussions and these candid admissions by countries through conversations with several negotiators and a couple of ministers engaged in the closed door meetings.

EU went on to say it did not want a reference to the fact that the Paris agreement was being signed under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Again, a surprise considering they had agreed to have it so, along with all other countries in Durban in 2011.

The US joined in to say they too were opposed to a reference in the penultimate draft of the Paris agreement that the pact would follow the provisions and principles of the convention. This was expected but the bluntness of the US statements was noted by others. It said it would not want to have a reference to the Annexures which list countries based on their historical responsibility in the UNFCCC. The US suggested the only way they saw differentiation was for countries to self-differentiate and not have an explicit detailing of what developed countries would do to fight climate change as compared to developing countries.

Developed countries narrowed down to demand that the existing proposal which says the Paris agreement is to enhance the implementation of the UN convention be dropped, again something that they had previous agreed to. They said this suggested that the differentiation as it exists in the UN convention would continue in future.

The developed countries also narrowed down against a paragraph in the draft Paris agreement called 2bis. The paragraph is the only place where the pledges of the countries – called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions – are anchored in the new agreement. It is also the only over-arching part of the Paris agreement that requires developed countries to provide the finance and technology needed for poorer countries to meet their pledges and hinges the latter on the former – just as the UNFCCC mandates legally.

While it was expected of the developed countries would want to resile from their existing obligations but surprisingly Tuvalu – a small island nation also part of the AOSIS group which otherwise speaks loudly about climate finance in public too said the paragraph should be done away with.

China, India and other members of the Like-Minded Developing countries along with the Africa group came out strongly in favour of differentiation. India said the particular paragraph was the only place where the INDCs were set in the agreement including the need to provide finance, technology, capacity building as well as reducing emissions. India asked what the ministerial delegations would tell their heads of states if INDCs did not figure in the agreement considering for two years everything had hinged on deciding these INDCs for the Paris agreement.

There was news for those who thought that China had changed tack after signing two joint-statements with the US. In the closed door meeting it joined India and others in the argument against developed countries on differentiation and keeping INDCs alive. It said the mandate given in 2011 in Durban to was not create a new regime but enhance the implementation of the UNFCCC. It said the temperature goal in the agreement would have to be done keeping the context how developed countries provide finance and technology and create space for sustainable development in poorer countries.

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