This Is [Not] The End

The diplomats who run UNFCCC climate negotiations are fond of doing what they call a “stock take” every once in a while. As we wait and wait for the final COP25 plenary to begin, a day into overtime, let’s do the same.

We came to Madrid with the situation in Chile in our minds and hearts. We have tried to echo the demands of the streets in the halls of power, as have many others.

At every opportunity we told the COP25 Presidency that we stand in solidarity with the movements in Chile. We supported their demand that Chile stop all repression of peaceful protestors, and take responsibility for human rights violations committed. We also supported calls for the government to establish a constituent assembly.

Chilean movements are clear in their opposition to an economic system which creates and perpetuates inequality. The same system is pouring fuel on the flames of the climate crisis – all around the world.

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COP cazeloraso

We marched with 500,000 others against such a system.

And we took the anger of the streets into the halls of power. Because as climate justice movements we are for the many, not the few.

For this the UN security ripped our banners away, shouted at us and kettled us. Over 300 of us were pushed outside, into the cold, before finally being taken outside the venue, to a militarised police escort, before being split up and made to wait.

This all happened a matter of hours after Greta Thunberg gave a powerful speech to the conference, in which she said:

In just three weeks we will enter a new decade. This coming decade will define our future. Right now we are desperate for any sign of hope. Well I am telling you there is hope. I have seen it. But it does not come from governments or corporations. It comes from the people.

Of course this wasn’t the first or last action that we took.

No Ambition

Arriving in Madrid we knew that time is running out. A new decade is weeks away. We lamented the loss of the previous decade to inaction and distraction.

We hoped that when countries took stock of their climate actions prior to 2020 they would see the shocking gulf between what they’ve done what what they needed to have done. And then *do* something about it. But just like in 2014, 2016, and 2018, we sat through yet another pointless talk-shop. Neither the COP President nor the UNFCCC offered a process for this ‘stock take’ to lead to anything concrete.

Developing countries proposed to set up a work programme to properly examine the actions taken during pre-2020 period and bridge the “implementation gap.”

It’s good to see a few more people here than at the technical pre-2020 stocktake. Tellingly the room is a lot less crowded that the plenary with Greta this morning. Priorities, right?

In that plenary we heard for the umpteenth time that we have an extremely limited amount of time in which to completely transform our economy and societies.

We’ve already glimpsed the horrors that await us if we don’t – a world on fire and battered by storms. An even less equitable world, less able to react properly to this emergency.

What we haven’t seen is any serious response. Developed countries were supposed to lead but have done next to nothing since 1990. UNEP talks about a lost decade; we should actually talk about 3 lost decades.

It is very hard to build trust with broken promises. I said it at the last plenary: it is a joke that 7 years after it was agreed, Parties have still not ratified the Doha Amendment. The Paris Agreement was ratified in under a year.

We enter the Paris Agreement carrying the failings of the recent past and present. Both mitigation and finance has been wholly inadequate in pre-2020, and sets us up for post-2020 action which will be more challenging, and less fair. 

So here’s a question: How can we expect anything from the Paris Agreement if pre-2020 agreements have been cast aside? 

Here’s another: what’s the point of distant, loophole-ridden, false-zero 2050 targets such as the UK’s, when pre-2020 action has been forgotten? Today’s leaders won’t be alive, let alone in power in 2050. We know your 2050 pledges are just more lies.

For these reasons, we echo the proposal by LMDC, supported by Africa Group, Arab group, and others, for COP25 to mandate a work programme on closing the pre-2020 implementation gaps on mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, and capacity building and to close those gaps. We need more ideas like this.

We don’t need any more conversations or reflections. Do your fair share.

No Accountability

We have another potentially useful tool to assess and hold northern countries accountable for the climate action they have or haven’t taken before 2020. It’s called the 2nd Periodic Review. The last report of this kind produced language about 1.5 and 2 degrees goals which eventually made its way into the Paris Agreement.

But developed countries were aware of this and made proposals which would make the 2nd Review yet another meaningless talk-shop. The US proposed to cancel the review, and when that was not a viable option proposed to narrow the scope to just science. The EU tried to remove the words “assess” and “adequacy” from the text.

Instead the text includes a very watered down phase, “aggregate effect,” which could mean individual country’s commitments can’t be singled out. So there’s no way to hold polluters to account.

“Article 6”

The main course for the past 2 weeks, leaving us all with indigestion, was a re-heated dish called “Article 6.” Or, as it has come to be known, “how to pollute more and get away with it” (for background, read above).

Article 6 emerged from negotiations on how countries could work together to reduce emissions. But many polluting countries have fixated on carbon trading and offsetting. Which is frustrating, as these approaches have failed to reduce carbon emissions, and have detrimentally impacted human rights while simultaneously commodifying nature.

These discussions are highly contentious and highly complex. This issue nearly scuppered the COP24 last year in Poland and could potentially do so for real this time. Under pressure to reach any agreement, countries risk landing on a bad agreement. In such a case we think that no deal is better.

Some of the main issues of contention, still unresolved at 4am on Sunday 15 December, are:

  • whether or not to include language about respecting human rights, indigenous rights, and gender safeguards
  • whether or not to carry over carbon credits from a previous trading scheme
  • whether or not to allow for carried credits to be sold or used by the country that generated them
  • how to conduct “corresponding adjustments” to countries emissions’ data after a trade, in order to avoid “double counting” of emissions reductions
  • whether or not to include metrics other than reductions in greenhouse gases in the mechanism
  • whether or not to allow for all forms of greenhouse gas removal, rather than merely “removals by sinks”
  • how to take the conversation forward on “non-market approaches” to collaboration
  • whether or not some “share of proceeds” from profit generated by the new mechanism would go towards the Adaptation Fund
  • whether or not some of the emission reductions generated through the mechanism remain unused by any entity to compensate other emissions, to achieve “overall reduction in global emissions.”

On Friday night the “landing zone” for these questions resembled a sort of crash-site. Human rights are probably in, but in an annex. We think that either carry overs or double counting will make it in. But the countries basically do not agree at all and everyone is saying they won’t back down.

Loss and damage refers to how we deal with the impacts of climate breakdown that are already happening and cannot be avoided. Sudden disasters and slow onset events like droughts lead to loss of lives and livelihoods, but also loss and heritage and culture.

Negotiators disappeared behind closed doors early on and stayed there. Developing countries were very active and put forward their ideas in writing. This directed discussions more towards concrete implementation than ever before. Many civil society groups also advanced the idea of setting up a loss and damage finance facility.

However, rich countries repeatedly blocked loss and damage finance. The US in particular played a lead role in wrecking this lifeline plan for the world’s poor. They proposed to insert a no liability or compensation clause into the Paris Agreement. This would give historical polluters blanket protection against any liability and compensation claims.

The proposal was too hot to leave to technical negotiators and so went to the COP25 Presidency to sort out at a higher level.

The small islands made a rather weak proposal which didn’t include a finance facility. Instead they asked for a ‘window’ under the Green Climate Fund (one of the UNFCCC’s multilateral funding mechanisms). Other proposals watered down demands for “new and additional” finance from the historic polluter countries – seemingly in exchange for getting sort term relief on the ground.

Eventually they produced a draft text that would:

  • Establish a long-overdue “Expert Group” by 2020
  • Establish a “Santiago Network” to catalyse technical assistance
  • Contain no language on new and additional finance
  • “Urge” developed nations to “scale up” finance
  • Refer to available finance rather than generating new and additional finance
  • Ask for loss and damage finance to come from the Green Climate Fund (GCF)

This last point is a problem because it “cuts the same cake into more pieces”. Diverting money from the GCF also means eating into adaptation finance and ultimately exposing more people to climate disasters.

Developed countries persisted in opposing the need to have a discussion on long-term finance. As far as they are concerned it ends in 2020 even though the Paris Agreement extends it to 2025. Developing countries made a big stink towards the end of COP and made frequent mention of finance in the plenaries.

Total Breakdown

All of the above issues were unresolved by the scheduled end time. The talks rolled on to Saturday amid a subdued atmosphere. No glimpse of an agreement was on the horizon. Scheduled closing plenaries disappeared from screens. The Presidency announced a final stock taking session for Saturday morning. Then Saturday evening, then midnight, then 3.30am Sunday. None of them were followed by a closing plenary.

The mood turned sour and those civil society who were left issued ever more alarming soundbites to the even fewer remaining journalists.

The blame is clear.

We held a space to represent the views of the people of the world. Not the governments.

At the time of writing (4am Sunday morning) the negotiations are still ongoing. Countries are hell bent on avoiding a no-deal. None of them want to deal with the fallout. Copenhagen has traumatised them as it traumatised us.

But the agreements are hard to come by. Finance, loss and damage, article 6, and the COP decision itself are all stuck. The Presidency keeps drafting new texts based on inputs but when the inputs are contradictory, trust is at an all-time low and the diplomacy skills are weak, what chance is there of success?

We will present the final decisions, if indeed Parties arrive at any, and explain what they mean as soon as we can.

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