Of INDCs, elements and plumbing

The UNFCCC climate negotiations in Bonn focused in the big picture on national contributions, the 2015 agreement and rather fuzzily on pre-2020 ambition. The is the work in the Ad hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), and lest one forgets, there are two standing Subsidiary Bodies keeping on building the ‘plumbing’ of the Convention on many detailed issues. The future of the climate regime attracts attention, but the devil– and sometimes perhaps also the solution – is in the detail.

The ADP spent most of its time, it seemed on that exciting thing to climate negotiators – a new acronym. Repeat this – Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). INDCs were invented at COP19 in Warsaw, with many – including me – bemoaning another C-word replacing one of our favourites, commitments. But it was INDCs that started off the discussion in Bonn (June 2014). The co-chairs surprised many by producing a text on INDCs early in the first week.

Once the surprise had abated, a key issue of contestation was whether the contributions are only mitigation, or adaptation-mitigation-support. There were different reasons for broadening the scope. Surprisingly, the small islanders, long fighting to get adaptation into the negotiations, wanted a narrow scope – focus on the core task of mitigation. The Africa Group certainly saw no other place to argue for adaptation, while INDCs where the only game in town. Putting finance into a contribution – that may yet turn into a commitment – made donor countries nervous. Which pointed to the approach of the Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDCs, better learn that acronym too) – if you want mitigation to be binding on us, why not commitments to finance for you? Developed country leaders committed to mobilising $100 billion per year by 2020 back in Copenhagen. That, though, was “jointly”, specific allocations by single countries are – more specific.

The importance of adaptation is stressed by almost everyone. The negotiating challenge is that adaptation is still contained in a ‘landscape of issues’ prepared by the co-Chairs, not draft text for Lima. So there is little choice but to argue where you can.

Back to mitigation, another contentious issue was assessment. Assessment is critical in comparing contributions – whether they add up to enough, and whether relative efforts are fair. Assessment relates not only to numbers put forward, but also to rules. And Durban was widely credited for saving the “multi-lateral rules based system” – and so the ADP has to deliver on multi-laterally agreed rules. Without it, the Wild West looms – not only would every country determine its own targets, but would not really subject it to any scrutiny.

At COP 20 in Lima (Dec 2014), the focus will be not even on the detailed rules, but on the upfront information requirements of INDCs. The contributions themselves may be put forward by some as soon as the UN Secretary General’s summit in September 2014, by “those ready to do so” by the first quarter of 2015, and no later than May 2015, if they are to be part of a Paris Protocol (or whatever name is given to the 2015 Agreement)

When the INDCs will be formalised / finalized was another matter of debate. One view is that this is one step and that it should happen in 2015; another is that formalization might take place in 2015, so that INDCs are on the table with the 2015 Agreement, but that finalization (for example, inscription in a Protocol) could happen in 2016. The assessment would happen at different times – 2015 in the former view, 2016 in the latter. Placement is yet another issue – whether INDCs will be part of the Agreement, as an Annex or schedule; or housed entirely separately, as the US prefers. The legal character of the contributions/ commitments is one thing, in which overall legal form they are placed, another (important) matter.

Lima must also agree “elements of a draft negotiating text” in Lima, this was set out in a decision in Doha in 2012. This is the really big picture, but note it is only elements, not the text itself. A draft negotiating text is due also in May 2015 at the latest. But Parties are edging closer to text. An “annex” had been seen in Warsaw, but did not make it into the final text. At the start of Bonn, there was the landscape of issues – which lists all the views on all the options. In 15 pages, which by UNFCCC standards is doing quite well for brevity. By the end of Bonn, there was some sense that the Co-Chairs can start clarifying options and identifying areas of convergence – but on their own responsibility, in reflection notes.

So the ADP sessions in Bonn stepped through each of the headings agreed back in Durban: mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, transparency of action and support, and capacity-building; plus some other issues – fun things like compliance. It does seem, though, that Lima will produce one decision text, on both INDCs and elements of for the draft negotiating text.

Quite excitingly for MAPS, by the way, the in-country MAPS teams have a mandate from their governments to develop INDCs, based on the work done over the last three years and more under MAPS Chile, ECDBC and PlanCC.

All of this is in Work-stream 1 (WS1 to insiders) – what about WS2? That is about pre-2020 ambition. There is a series of very interesting workshops, called technical expert meetings. But I can find fascinating conferences here at my own University, don’t need to go to Bonn for that … In negotiating terms, it seems unclear where these discussion will go. May the Ban Ki-Moon summit will give action a push – if there is political will.   To have a negotiated outcome, WS2 will have to focus, get to some concrete examples, and ways of implementing them effectively. It’s quite a tough question – what is it that the international community can add – that makes the total effort more than the sum of the individual (INDC) parts?

As mentioned at the outside, there is much beyond the ADP, in the SBII and SBSTA. The ‘framework for various approaches’ made some progress, even if slow, including on a new market mechanism (slow progress). There is ongoing work in building institutions, quite notably among which the Green Climate Fund. The Loss and Damage mechanism is establishing governance – all essential work to improve the climate regime. And there are more that could be listed …

There was further work on technical aspects of Article5, 7 and 8 of the Kyoto Protocol. And a few, very few, Ministers appeared in Bonn – unusual, inter-sessional do not usually include a high-level segment. But those who had pushed for early review of ambition in the KP by hoping for early changes from Ministers must have been disappointed.

So what does the road ahead look like? As mentioned, Lima will need to take a decision, on INDCs and elements. That’s the next stop on the road to Paris, in December 2015. Much will depend on how the various alliances position around a crucial issue – differentiation. How can the climate regime be both “applicable to all” but also under the Convention? There are many answer to that, but widely diverging ones – on a spectrum from ‘one template to rule them all’ to ‘binary division forever’. Fortunately, those two phrases are caricatures that no Party is seriously advancing. There are many more nuanced approaches to differentiation, without pretending that the world is homogenous. But the views are still far apart, and a long way from an agreed approach to a more nuanced form of differentiation, that enables all to take ambitious action. That may be what keeps us awake in that last night in Paris.