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Switzerland, EU oppose equity principles, fault lines emerge at Bonn

The challenge to foundational principles of global climate action at the ongoing climate conference is an ominous sign for COP27

At the ongoing climate conference in Bonn, Germany, deep fissures have emerged regarding what actions countries ought to take on climate mitigation. During informal consultations held on June 10, the Africa Group, Arab Group and Like-Minded Developing countries made strong calls for upholding principles of equity in the development of programmes related to mitigation. The developed world pushed back, however, and opposed the inclusion of text upholding equity. 

The conference is the 56th meeting of subsidiary bodies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), i.e. the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). One of the main agenda items for the conference is scaling up both the ambition and implementation of mitigation action.

At COP26 in Glasgow, parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) decided to “establish a work programme to urgently scale up mitigation ambition and implementation in this critical decade.” Further, they requested subsidiary bodies to recommend a draft decision on mitigation for consideration at COP27 scheduled to be held in Egypt later this year. Mitigation was also one of the UK Presidency’s core focus areas, in addition to adaptation and finance. Discussions ongoing at Bonn aim to further commitments made at COP26, mitigation being one such commitment. 

“Equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities [CBDR-RC]” is the first guiding principle of the work programme, as per a document prepared by the co-facilitators of discussions on the agenda regarding scaling up mitigation ambition. Suffice to say, equity is also core to both UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement. In practice, however, there are questions if the principle is being upheld. 

Switzerland, speaking on behalf of the Environment Integrity Group (EIG), and the European Union opposed the inclusion of these principles and sought an enforcement of mitigation action instead. EIG comprises Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Monaco, the Republic of Korea, Georgia and Mexico. 

“If the argument is that principles of equity are already enshrined in the Paris Agreement and the Convention, then we could also ask why we need a work programme for mitigation [at all], which is also a duplication [of action required to be undertaken under the Convention],” said Avantika Goswami, climate policy researcher and programme manager at Center for Science and Environment, a New Delhi-based environmental research and advocacy organisation. She added that in the context of the creation of a work programme on mitigation, developing countries would naturally want a reiteration of principles “to make sure you are not creating new mechanisms that could go against equity.” 

The Arab group, Africa group and LMDCs said they cannot accept a text without equity and CBDR-RC—there must be equitable access to the remaining carbon budget, mitigation action cannot be led by developing countries and the developed world ought to be held responsible for historical emissions. Broadly, the ‘carbon budget’ is used to refer to the remaining amount of ‘allowable’ emissions to keep warming below 1.5°C. Countries in the developing world see this budget as a leeway to meet developmental requirements. Researchers have previously analysed how the US and the EU have significantly overshot their fair share of the “safe global carbon budget” by 40% and 29% respectively. 

On the other hand, the US said the principles for the work programme should include an aim to align with the 1.5°C goal as per the Glasgow Climate Pact. In an earlier report, CarbonCopy has highlighted the fears developing countries hold with respect to the Pact given how it was developed with questionable consensus and could now be used to seek higher ambition from the developing world. The US also noted a need for “all parties to act, especially major emitters.” Pays to note, the US, having contributed a quarter of all emissions since the industrial revolution, is the biggest historical emitter while the EU comes in second with 22% of global emissions. China has contributed 13%, India is at 3% and Brazil at 1%. 

“The [Glasgow Climate] Pact cannot be used as a vehicle to move away from the Paris Agreement and it must be in the context of CBDR-RC,” said Meena Raman, a Malaysia-based legal adviser and senior researcher at the Third World Network (TWN), a non-profit international research and advocacy organisation involved in development issues and North-South affairs.

Even among some civil society members at the conference, observers noted how there is no clear articulation regarding CBDR and differentiation in the mitigation work programme. Their talking points, they said, are broad brush in terms of non-CO2 GHGs and include a push for methane pledges even from Asian countries, which do not have any significant industrial methane emissions from the oil and gas sector relative to those in the developed world. “It’s an issue of equity because countries that are emitting methane as survival emissions [like those in Asia with respect to cattle and rice farming] are being pitted against super emitters like the US oil and gas producers and industrial farming,” Goswami explained. And this when even organisations like the International Energy Agency (IEA) have noted that methane emissions from the oil and gas sector are low-hanging fruit because they can be “prevented easily at little or no cost.” 

Duplication of work under the mitigation work programme

There are also questions regarding the purpose of the work programme. Raman explained that at COP21 in Paris, parties at the UNFCCC agreed that the Global Stocktake (GST) is the ratcheting of ambition because you stocktake mitigation ambition, including in terms of evaluation of requirements related to finance and technology. 

Broadly, GST refers to the process of assessment of implementation of the Paris Agreement. It is a two-year process meant to be undertaken every five years. So when we already have GST, Raman said, “what is the purpose of the mitigation work programme?” The Glasgow Climate Pact, too, recognises that the mitigation work programme must “complement” GST, not duplicate it. 

The Arab group, Africa group and LMDCs, while agreeing with the need to increase mitigation ambition, spoke of how GST must be the ratcheting mechanism and not the mitigation work programme. Important to bear in mind that GST is also more holistic given that it includes assessment of not only mitigation action, but also financial and technological support for it for developing countries.

In the past few days, developing countries like India, Indonesia and the Argentina-Brazil-Uruguay group have noted a serious “pre-2020 mitigation gap” i.e. inaction on cutting emissions and drew attention to the role developed countries ought to take in not only closing the gap, but also taking the lead in such action. And India in particular has opposed calls for sectoral targets in the mitigation work programme, for specific fuels and also for specific gasses like CO2 and methane. Zimbabwe, speaking for the Africa Group, sought implementation of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) by the developed world as well as their long-term strategies as part of the work programme on mitigation. It also sought support for developing countries to meet NDCs and for a just transition. 

These issues are critical and as is agreement over them during the second week at Bonn. Texts that emerge from this conference will formally be up for consideration at COP27 in Egypt. As of now, however, there is much more division than common ground. 

This article is a part of a series of on-ground reports from the 56th meeting of the UNFCCC subsidiary bodies in Bonn, Germany

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