The latest round of UN climate talks is unlikely to deliver the big breakthroughs required for an ambitious deal to be agreed in Paris
UN climate talks this week are the last major opportunity to refine a negotiating text ahead of the Paris climate summit, but the opening gambits from major emitters suggest a much-needed willingness to compromise remains elusive.
The gap remains wide between fully-industrialised and developing countries on major issues such as who should take the burden of emissions cuts, how to scale up climate finance and the legal status of a future Paris agreement. Without breakthroughs on these critical issues, a weak deal will likely be agreed at the end of the year, making it highly unlikely that the world will have a good chance of restricting a rise in average global temperatures to 2C.
In its last report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had underlined that the 2C goal would require a peaking of global emissions in the next decade and a very steep decline after that, an outcome dependent on much deeper cuts than those proposed so far.
This week’s talks got off to an inauspicious start, as South Africa, the country which chairs the G-77+China negotiating bloc of developing countries, requesting that that rich nations commit to cuts before 2020, a timeframe that predates the likely scope of any potential deal struck in the French capital.
China, which is also a member of the BASIC group of large developing economies, said rich countries should deliver on several fundamental elements of a future deal post-2020, including climate finance and technology transfer, rather than just on emissions cuts.
For many, the depth of emissions cuts, also known as mitigation, remains a major worry. National climate plans submitted by 57 countries (including the 28 member states of the EU) so far have fallen well short of what is required to meet a 2C threshold, while the quality of disclosure has varied widely, says a comparative study published on Tuesday by the World Resources Institute (WRI).
Despite concerns about the scale of emissions cuts, the UN is confident that the climate plans submitted so far can form the building blocks of an agreement that will lock both rich and poor and countries into emissions reductions that can be scaled up in the future.
“On their own, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) received before Paris are not going to keep us below a 2C rise this century. But they underline a sharp and positive departure from business as usual and will form the essential foundation to reach that ultimate goal if governments agree to clearly ramp up ambition over time,” UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said at the start of this week’s talks.
But the draft agreement spans 83 pages, peppered with square brackets, which is the UN’s way of indicating areas of disagreement. This has heightened concern among rich countries that technical negotiations are lagging behind high-level political discussions.