PARIS, France, December 10, 2015 (ENS) – Finance remains the most contentious issue as climate negotiators from around the world approach agreement on an historic pact to control climate change that will apply to all nations.
Underlying the tension is “differentiation” between developed and developing countries. Who will be responsible for paying? Will the pool of contributors expand? Who will be the recipients of finance?
All these matters remain unresolved in the current text, issued today by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who is presiding over the talks, known formally as the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC.
Fabius explained that the latest version of the outcome document, a 29-page text, contains three-fourths fewer brackets than the previous draft. It aims to provide an overview of progress made and identify clear options on three cross-cutting issues still to be settled at the political level.
As in all previous climate negotiations, the difference between rich countries and poor ones is the divide that makes agreement difficult.
The deal being hammered out in Paris would take effect in 2020. It will be legally-binding on all nations, but the form of the agreement is one issue still undecided.
If it takes the form of a treaty, the United States would not be able to implement it due to the opposition of the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate. Since the United States is the world’s second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, this could be an important sticking point.
Small island states and coastal developing countries have demanded that the agreement must restrict global warming to just 1.5°Celsius above the planet’s pre-industrial temperature.
The previous temperature target, agreed at the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen, was a 2°Celsius limit.
The global mean temperature today is 0.74°C (1.33 °Fahrenheit) higher than it was 150 years ago.
In Paris, the United States and the European Union have joined with over 100 other countries, both rich and poor, in a “high ambition coalition” to work for an “ambitious, durable and legally binding” agreement that would be reviewed every five years.
They envision an agreement that would recognize the below 1.5-degree temperature goal, map out a clear pathway for a low-carbon future, and include a strong package of support for developing countries, including delivery of US$100 billion annually as previously agreed.
The lead U.S. negotiator Todd Stern, agrees that the 1.5-degree target should be recognized in the final pact.
“We need beyond the below 2-degree target; we need to have a recognition of 1.5 degrees in the agreement, and we need a very strong and balanced transparency article so everybody knows what we are all doing,” Stern said.
“This is our moment and we need to make it count,” said Stern.
On progress made to date, Fabius said compromise or significant progress has been made on capacity building, adaptation, transparency, and technology development and transfer.
He said that “initial progress” has been made on forests, cooperative approaches and mechanisms, and the preamble, and that progress on adaptation would enable parties to focus on loss and damage.
As for the remaining political issues, Fabius identified differentiation between developed and developing countries, financing and the level of ambition of the agreement.
He identified loss and damage, response measures, cooperative approaches and mechanisms, and the preamble as areas still requiring work.
On the crucial issue of financial support to help developing countries cope with both mitigation and adaptation, the G-77/China delegates, who represent the largest group of developing countries, lamented a lack of adequate reassurances on the means of implementation.
Angola, speaking for the Least Developed Countries group, stressed the need to ensure access to finance.
The EU emphasized that after 2020, countries “in a position to do so” should join in increasing financial flows to countries in need.
Saudi Arabia, speaking for the Arab Group, expressed concern about the phrase, “those in a position to do so.”
The developed countries appear to want to dilute their financial obligations by pushing for inclusion of the phrase “countries in a position to do so.”
This phrase invites even those developing countries that are currently financially stable to contribute to countries with fewer financial resources to help them meet their climate commitments under the new agreement.
The Arab Group warned that any goal that threatens their sustainable development, or their ability to eradicate poverty and ensure food security will not be acceptable.
China welcomed the latest version of the text as open and balanced, and indicated willingness to work towards an outcome that reflects fairness and ambition.
But the poorer countries are still not reassured. Delegates with the African Group noted their concern on the reflection of individual commitments without references to financial support.
Bangladesh asked for special consideration of Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States to be reintroduced in Article 6, the section on finance.
Many of the climate commitments, known in UN-speak as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, submitted by developing countries are conditioned on financial support from the developed countries.
The poorer countries are not willing to discuss other issues until there is a clear pathway to and assurance of the financial provisions post-2020.
The developing countries have expected that whatever financing is available to them would be in the form of no-strings attached grants from public finance. But developed countries want to include a basket of grants, credit, investments from both public and private sources.
The multi-lateral development banks have announced a US$100 billion annual pool of money for developing countries to work with in dealing with the impact of climate change.
In addition, the developed countries have pledged US$100 billion a year for the same purpose. They will channel much of that funding through the new Green Climate Fund.
That grant-making has already begun. In Paris, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the South American country of Guyana each signed a readiness grant agreement with the Green Climate Fund. These grants provide US$300,000 for capacity building to help the recipients prepare to access investment funding from the Green Climate Fund for mitigation and adaptation projects.
Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.