Climate: no step forward after three weeks of online negotiation

by Jacopo Bencini, Policy Advisor, ICN UNFCCC contact point

On the morning of Thursday 17 June, the first online intersessionals (the annual intermediate climate negotiations under the UNFCCC) came to an end. Delegates from nearly two hundred countries adhering to the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) had the arduous task of pushing the agenda forward after a year and a half of forced stop towards COP26 in Glasgow, in November, which had been already postponed for a year. The format of these negotiations, three weeks instead of the classic two and over different time zones, was designed to ensure maximum participation from all areas of the world, despite the general awareness that this negotiation session would not lead to definitive decisions on any point on the agenda. The decision to take no decision had been taken in the previous months, at the request of those countries that feared negotiating blitzes that could not be mediated through informal talks “over a coffee” or, more realistically, difficulties in participating due to bad internet connections.

The absence of informal moments between delegates and the connection issues of some have contributed to slowing down the work even more, which already foreshadowed a substantial stalemate on the positions of Madrid 2019 from the first week.

On almost none of the main issues, in fact, the negotiations have led to more defined drafts of what should be the COP26 decisions.

No agreement could be seen between countries on the duration of the nationally determined contributions (NDCs), with all the options still on the table: duration of five years and consequent immediate monitoring, as requested by developing countries, or, duration of ten years, as proposed by the less ambitious ones, or five years plus five, or even formulas with intermediate monitoring by stages. On the horizon remains the spectre of a flat road that many industrialized countries may wish to walk, proposing emission reductions so distant in time (in terms of objectives) that they can continue to produce according to current standards for several years. No substantial progress has been made in defining market and non-market mechanisms under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. There is also a stalemate on issues related to transparency and reporting, with the recurrence of consolidated dynamics between those who, having the financial and technical possibilities, propose complex reporting systems and those who, on the other hand, invoke those transfers of finance and technology that could also provide to those who are further behind, skills and capacity otherwise impossible to find at national level.

All this in a context, that of the UN climate convention, in which the world continues to be divided between developed and developing countries according to 1990 criteria, where to China, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa, India, Singapore, Kuwait are still applied criteria and facilitated rules for “poor” countries, by definition less responsible for the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. A clash (known but never explicitly mentioned in the sessions) that leads to a perennial slow progress of the negotiation sessions in a world that in the meantime changes and heats up at ever greater speed.

In conclusion: Madrid drafts will return to the COP26 table substantially unaltered after two years.

Politics, meanwhile, moves out of the negotiations, with the return of the United States in the multilateral process and the positive push Joe Biden impressed in April during the summit of leaders on climate, with new commitments that are all in all improving the situation and the recent G7, with a certainly less incisive outcome. The UNFCCC Secretariat (whose core budget for the next two years, albeit minimal compared to the challenge, will probably be increased by 4.4% compared to 2020-2021)  strengthened the general feeling that COP26 will not be a walk in the park as it has already announced that the next Conference on Climate will begin a day earlier than expected, on 30 October, to facilitate the negotiation process (read: to make up for the additional time lost towards compromises that at this point could hardly be reached in the two Scottish weeks).

The months preceding the intermediate negotiations seemed to point towards that necessary qualitative leap, which we expect as citizens and as a civil society,” said Serena Giacomin, President of Italian Climate Network. “The goal set in Paris in 2015 is still too far away and we cannot waste any more time. We hope, after the stalemate of these three weeks of negotiations, that the delegates of the countries want to continue with the right determination and can quickly recover during the next pre-COP and COP26. We need to start 2022 in line with what science requires and keep global warming within 1.5 degrees”.

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