Are we heading to a successful new climate agreement in Paris?

15th June 2015

Topic(s): Carbon capture, Carbon markets, Energy efficiency, law and regulation, Policy, use and storage (CCUS)

Bonn Insight series: four

Negotiators for Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) met in Bonn, Germany June 1-11 2015 to discuss business for the three Subsidiary Bodies ahead of the 21st Conference of the Parties meeting in Paris in December (COP21). The Global CCS Institute attended the Bonn meeting as an accredited observer to the UNFCCC process. In this Insight the Institute's Mark Bonner, Principal Manager - International Climate Change looks back on the Bonn conference and discusses the progress made and significance for Paris. Other Insights in this series cover the progress from the first week of Bonn, UNFCCC technology and finance mechanisms, the role of intended nationally-determined contributions (INDCs) and some possible outcomes for technology from Paris.

Negotiators have been meeting in Bonn in one of the major lead-in events ahead of the Paris Conference of the Parties. Picture: Global CCS Institute

The politically complex process of climate negotiations may appear frustratingly slow to casual observers, but this Bonn session has achieved quite a remarkable outcome. Parties have put their faith in a very atypical approach to progressing negotiations on a new legally binding climate Agreement that is to be adopted in Paris at the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21).

Success now rests with two key individuals; the co-chairs of the Ad-hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP). They alone seem to hold the key to establishing a firm foundation in which Parties can meaningfully negotiate in Paris.

As such, it appears that even the Parties are now willing to positively challenge the UNFCCC’s ‘business-as-usual’ approach to negotiations in order to secure an Agreement that the world will inevitably judge as having either succeeded or failed.

Different negotiating approach needed to break the deadlock

The interim approach Parties have endorsed is atypical in the sense that this is a 'Party-led process'. For over 20 years this has been fiercely protected and rarely if ever delegated to the hands of a 'few', with the authority led by consensus of the 195 participating countries. This party-led process will be restored should the co-chairs revised text be accepted by Parties at the next session of the ADP in August/September.

This seems to signal a period of renewed good faith and trust amongst Parties, and especially a vote of confidence in the ability of the ADP co-chairs and bodes well for success in Paris.

The co-chairs normally play a high-level mediatory and advisory role amongst Parties. But these discussions (they cannot really be called ‘negotiations’) in Bonn saw many Parties refuse to engage in anything more than an administrative effort to consolidate the Geneva Text (the 90 page legal text adopted in February underpinning the new Agreement). A task that could have easily been delegated to the UNFCCC Secretariat.

Is the new Agreement for the post-2020 period the only game in town?

Politically yes. There are however three other negotiating tracks including:

  • the pre-2020 period
  • under the ADP
  • permanent Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA)
  • permanent Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI).

In summary, the work of the SBSTA and SBI have been overshadowed by the post-2020 discussions. For important and enduring agendas like carbon markets negotiations have essentially stalled. These are currently caught between SBSTA (which was tasked by the COP to progress technical discussions), SBI (tasked by the COP to review implementation of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)), and the ADP (which has embedded in it a political discussion about the future role of markets).

Progress on carbon markets include efforts:

  • to establish a common ‘Framework for Various Approaches’ (FVA),
  • establish a New Market Mechanism (NMM),
  • review Non-Market Approaches (NMA),
  • recommend improvements to the way CDM currently operates.

Parties could not reach any consensus in Bonn on what sorts of decisions they would like COP21 to consider and adopt for all of these issues, despite many hours afforded to discussions. For most agendas, this means that Parties will need to reconsider them from scratch (previous discussions have no status) at COP21 given that no legal text was adopted in this session to guide them.

Real consequences of the new Agreement occupying the current negotiating effort

In practical terms, not much negotiating space will likely be afforded to the work of SBSTA and SBI at COP21, as all efforts will be invested in the new legally binding climate Agreement. This could see formal decisions on some very important pre-2020 policy instruments and implementation issues pushed back to 2017 at the earliest. For example, if issues do not get substantively considered at COP21, then the COP (and the Kyoto Protocol’s governing body, CMP) will delegate them to the next intersessional Subsidiary Body meeting scheduled for mid-2016. This could potentially leave Parties with insufficient time to draft submissions and make recommendations for COP22 consideration (scheduled for 7 to 18 November 2016 in Marrakesh). If this turns out to be the case, then formal decisions would have to necessarily default to COP23 in 2017.

The problem with this expected outcome is that the pre-2020 negotiating track is looking for ways to enhance mitigation outcomes. If FVA arrangements are not adopted until 2017, there can be no agreed compliance linkages between domestic emissions trading schemes and pre-2020 emissions reduction commitments under the UNFCCC; and so mitigation opportunities could be missed for no other reason than UNFCCC legal process.

Political processes are being well served by UNFCCC processes

One positive of the above outcome could be that discussions on the development and use of carbon markets will eventually re-convene with a full understanding of what their formal role will be in the post-2020 period under the new Agreement. This is a key consideration for both the future of the Kyoto offset mechanisms (such as CDM and Joint Implementation) and the establishment of any new market-based scheme under the Convention.

Resolving FVA on the other hand is seen by many as being useful to the mitigation efforts of Parties (especially smaller countries that have few domestic abatement opportunities) in the pre-2020 period. Many governments, including the Umbrella Group of Parties (including United States (US), Canada, Australia and New Zealand) are not seeking permission under the UNFCCC to use carbon markets if they so choose, but rather, are looking for institutional arrangements (international rules, objectives and principles) that will ensure environmental integrity and avoidance of double counting of abatement outcomes.

What hurdles are presenting themselves in regards to the new Agreement?

There are many.

The negotiating effort in Bonn on the pre-2020 period for example has seen many developing countries (and negotiating groups such as the G-77 & China) criticise the lack of progress and time afforded to related discussions relative to the post-2020 discussions. Many fear that COP21 decisions (noting that these matters will not be reflected in any new climate Agreement) will fail to see any additional mitigation and finance commitments by developed countries, despite the assurances of developed countries to the contrary.

What seems clear is that this negotiating track is seen by many developed countries as a lesser priority at this time, due to the fact that mitigation decisions have already been made in regards to the Kyoto Protocol's second commitment period from 2013 to 2020. Noting that only 32 Parties have ratified it to date and it is still to enter into legal force, it could be the 'straw that breaks the camel’s back' in Paris.

Developing countries continue to strongly re-iterate that if no satisfactory outcome on this track can be reached by Parties at COP21 (including mitigation, technology transfer and finance), then there will be no Paris Agreement. This obviously provides some Parties with strong negotiating levers.

What was achieved in Bonn?

These two weeks of negotiations at Bonn saw:

  • about 3,500 negotiators attend 75 facilitated meetings on a broad range of issues under the ADP
  • out of the 224 paragraphs contained in the original Geneva Text, 59 paragraphs were consolidated
  • the ADP co chairs held over 54 bi-laterals with Parties.

Informal meetings were where the real 'negotiations' took place, largely in private and out of the public domain.

There are currently three relevant papers on the negotiating table:

  1. The 90 page Geneva Text, which remains the only legally binding document to be carried forward by Parties through to COP21.
  2. A working draft of a revised Geneva Text (observations of/and consolidation achieved during the Bonn session).
  3. A streamlined version of the Geneva Text (agreed consolidations embedded into the Geneva Text dated 11 June).

Laurence Tubiana, the French Ambassador in charge of negotiations and Special Representative of the incoming COP21 Presidency, observed that a lot of much needed trust and goodwill had been restored amongst Parties in Bonn, and this will help drive an “ambitious, durable and fair Paris Agreement” delivered in a “timely and orderly” manner. We will have to wait and see.

What is the way forward to Paris?

The ADP co-chairs will now endeavour to 'institutionalise' a suite of new documents that they intend to draft over coming weeks, and which will ultimately be presented to Parties out of session on 24 July. This will provide ample time prior to the ADP2.10 meeting (scheduled for 31 August to 4 September) for Parties to review proposed documents; and any progress made in ADP2.10 will flow into ADP2.11 (scheduled for 19 to 23 October, noting that additional days will be added).

To progress draft text for the post-2020 Agreement, the co-chairs will draw on the streamlined version of the Geneva Text (dated 11 June) supplemented by facilitator notes from the Bonn sessions.

At least three new documents will need to collectively form the so-called ‘Paris Agreement’ covering:

  • The new post-2020 Agreement
  • Pre-2020 enhanced mitigation actions (as a COP decision or perhaps as an Annex to decisions)
  • ADP decisions (including implementation arrangements and various cross-cutting issues including legal form of the agreement) for COP21 consideration and adoption.

The co-chairs warned Parties that any document they develop will continue to have no-legal basis in these negotiations until such time that Parties alone agree to assign legal status to it at COP21. They quipped that in essence “we as co-chairs can propose, and you as Parties can dispose". They reflected on the risky nature of the assignment by indicating that if they get it wrong they “could set the process back” but if they get it right, they will “strongly propel the process forward". A more comprehensive report of the Bonn session will be drafted in coming weeks analysing what this might mean for technology development and transfer generally, and carbon capture and storage (CCS) more specifically.

The Institute's Mark Bonner, Principal Manager – International Climate Change ( and John Scowcroft, EMEA Executive Adviser ( are attending the Bonn meeting and would be more than happy to meet and/or discuss any related issues.

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