US negotiators at COP27 are only willing to admit that member states of the UNFCCC and signatories of the Paris Agreement have different circumstances. Photo: Reuters

COP27: US claims to disagree with principles of UN climate convention

Denial of these principles, including equity and CBDR, is tantamount to a renegotiation of the UN convention on climate change, and all agreements drafted under it, such as the Paris Agreement

COP27 is now well into its second week. With just two days to go until the end, and very little achieved in terms of negotiated outcomes, the focus has shifted to the cover decision of COP27. It was during consultations of parties around this decision that the US produced a shocker—claiming that the country does not agree with the guiding principles of the UNFCCC convention. These principles, which include those of equity, common but differentiated responsibilities (commonly referred to as CBDR) and respective capabilities of parties, form the bedrock on which all collaborative climate action has been built.

In effect, denial of these principles would constitute a renegotiation of the UN convention on climate change and all the agreements that have been drafted under its ambit, including the Paris Agreement. And yet, this is exactly what the US’ statement during negotiations on the cover decision text amounts seems to convey. 

While discussing the elements and language of what COP27 cover decision text, negotiators representing the US made the claim that they are not in agreement with the principles of equity and CBDR, and are only willing to admit that member states of the UNFCCC and signatories of the Paris Agreement have different circumstances. The cover decision is essentially a document developed by consensus between all parties that sets out the core political goals and targets from the meeting. The document is typically a reflection of commonly agreed priorities for action, and serves as an umbrella document that sets the context for and introduces decisions taken under the main frameworks and agreements adopted under the UNFCCC. At COP26 a year ago, countries agreed to the Glasgow Pact, which set out common targets such as limiting warming to 1.5C, phasing down coal and increasing climate finance. 

In the absence of significant progress in the finalisation of decision texts for agenda items under the Paris Agreement or the UN Convention, the cover decision offers the presidency (Egypt, in this instance) a chance at a fig leaf. Strong political signals indicating progressive action could still demarcate the COP a success. Disagreements over fundamental elements of the convention, in particular its guiding principles, could, on the other hand, torpedo any chance of landing a strong decision and render COP27 a resounding failure. The first iteration, which is typically a draft text to be worked on further, is still awaited. What we do have right now however is a broad and exhaustive outline of elements that could feature in the final decision. The outline accessed by CarbonCopy is 20 pages long and brings some relief to developing countries with references to equity and to article 2 of the PA which is the portion that explicitly states equity as an overarching principle for the agreement. This text however will go through at least another round of talks between parties and fireworks are expected around the issue.

“The issue of references to differentiation in the climate process is a long standing one, it is not new. There is no denying that Article 2 of the Paris Agreement says in black and white that the entirety of the Paris Agreement should be based on equity and CBDR. Many parts and components of the Paris Agreement work programme enshrine that. It is one of the principles that all of climate work is based on, so we are working with all parties to ensure that everyone finds the language to accommodate their perspectives in a way that is appropriate and faithful to the legal agreement that we have all ratified in our internal processes,” said ambassador Wael Aboulmagd, special representative during a press conference when asked about the calls to omit or dilute the guiding principles in the cover decision.   

The attempt to renegotiate and dilute these principles has been a recurrent theme at the ongoing session of the COP. Developed countries, including the US, Switzerland, the UK and Norway, have sought an elimination or reinterpretation of these principles in multiple tracks of negotiations. Draft texts to decide on a funding mechanism to address loss and damage (L&D), for example, have seen a major push by developed countries, led by the Environmental Integrity Group (EIG), to expand the base of contributors to all parties with the capacity to pay. This stance is also reflected in the EIG proposal for an L&D funding facility submitted to the UNFCCC on Tuesday. 

A similar stance has been pursued by Switzerland (on behalf of the EIG) and the US during talks on scaling up mitigation ambition and implementation where the conventional interpretation of equity has been questioned with a view to expand the onus of scaling ambition to “major emitters” rather than historic emitters, as has been the case thus far. Observers say the ongoing second periodic review of the long-term global goal on climate change (PR2), which is a two-year science-based process to review the sufficiency of long-term temperature goals, has also been subject to repeated interventions by developed countries seeking to dilute principles of equity, CBDR and respective capacities.

It is unlikely that the US will get its way at the “Africa COP” this year. But there’s little doubt that the growing trend of denying negotiated and agreed upon principles is an ominous sign for future climate talks, and will only serve to deepen the chasms of mistrust that separate developed and developing nations.

Note: The draft cover decision text is awaited at the time of writing. The story will be updated when it is made public.