• There was a very long debate on the new Work Programme on Just Transition, which however led to an advanced draft decision
  • Developing countries try to curb any alleged Western pressure towards transition plans that are too burdensome for them in the absence of other guarantees
  • The Programme could close as early as 2026 despite having to inform the second Stocktake of 2028 and to date none of its activities are financed

The longest negotiation of this COP28 so far was undoubtedly that of Saturday, December 9th, on the new Work Programme on Just Transition, which lasted from 2.00 pm local time until well after dinner time. Finally, past midnight, the co-facilitators uploaded a draft decision on the UNFCCC website as requested by the President of the COP, eager to see the texts arrive at the table, which however “does not (yet) represent a consensus between the Parties” . A draft, therefore, which is still to be discussed in many of its parts, but which we wanted to analyze.

Let’s start from the basics: what are we talking about? At COP27 last year it was decided, with paragraphs 51 to 53 of the final decision (chapter “Implementation and trajectories towards the just transition”), that a new internal COP Working Group on Just Transition would be launched, to be made operational from COP28 onwards in synergy with a new annual ministerial appointment on the same topic. The delegates therefore met in Dubai under point 5 of the agenda to discuss how to start this new working group, how to manage it, which topics to deal with and which not, according to which criteria, and until when.

The text that arrived after midnight is a “clean” text, without too many negotiating options, almost ready for the decision in the final plenary – although, in fact, it explicitly says that it does not yet reflect the consensus of all the countries. Brief, organized into 14 articles, it follows a fairly linear structure and outlines the future of the Working Group.

A decision on a working group on just transition cannot fail to take into account some fundamental considerations of social justice and it is no coincidence that the entire fourth paragraph of the preamble calls on countries to “promote and consider their obligations on human rights, the right to health, rights of indigenous populations, migrants, children, people with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations (?)” , then veering sharply on the “right to development” (perhaps a little messy here) and landing on “gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity”. A bit of a shopping list in the formulation perhaps, but which satisfies the requests of organizations of civil society attentive to the topics covered. As always these “lists” have little chance of surviving the final negotiation, but given the topic we do not exclude that this part of this specific decision will reach the plenary on Tuesday December 12th.

Then comes the thrust of developing countries on the issue of the right to development (.. “versus” the ecological transition as understood by Western countries) linked to yet another criticism (here too) of the new European Border Adjustment Mechanism under the Green Deal (CBAM), which we also saw strongly attacked in the first draft decision on the Global Stocktake two days ago. The two themes are initially treated with two short paragraphs “in brackets”, i.e. not yet definitively placed in the text. Interesting to read, the attack on the CBAM (Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism) comes via a semi-harmless reminder of Article 3.5 of the 1992 Convention, which advises countries against engaging in “green” practices and policies that are detrimental to the freedom of international trade. A way of citing the topic that is perhaps more elegant but no less direct than the formulations seen in the text on GST.

The discussion on the right to development according to priorities identified at the national level continues in paragraphs c), d) and f) of article 2, with three consecutive citations of the phrase “[the just transition] must be based on defined development priorities at the national level”. An attempt to underline and forcefully underline the issue by developing countries against any European or Western outbursts of ambition (and therefore spending), considered financially unbearable by the South of the world in the absence of adequate financial guarantees.

The following article 3 outlines timing and key points of the future work of the Programme. It shall start immediately after the end of COP28, with a view to “informing the second Global Stocktake” (of 2028). Furthermore, in 2026, the delegates will have to take stock of the work of the Programme up to then and decide, on the basis of the “effectiveness and efficiency” of what emerges, whether or not the program should continue beyond 2026. A consideration perhaps a little messy in terms of the time horizon, given that a few lines earlier it was said that the same program will have to support the 2028 Stocktake: why close it two years earlier, in this case? Maybe for budget considerations? We’ll be back soon.

Article 4 establishes that the Programme shall operate under the dual leadership of the two technical bodies of the UNFCCC, SBSTA and SBI, with a joint dedicated contact group in each COP, with a commitment to arrive at a thematic decision every year starting from 2024.

Article 5 establishes that, in support of the formal work during the COP, “at least” two annual “dialogues” must be held (for those who have followed the topic of Loss and Damage over the years, this reminds us of something) starting from June 2024 (before the Bonn midterms) and, therefore, November 2024 (before COP29), in hybrid format to ensure the best participation of all – and spend less.

Articles 8 and 9 open up the participation of observers in the process: they are, in fact, invited to bring thematic contributions from experts, sector professionals and organizations, who will be able to upload their ideas and proposals by March 1st of each year on a specific UNFCCC platform.

But how can we collect all the inputs that will come from this Programme? Articles 10 and 11 provide for the drafting of an annual summary report of the annual Dialogues by the chairs of SBSTA and SBI, as well as a certainly more important report summarizing all the work of the Programme towards the second Global Stocktake, net of the inconsistency of the time horizon noted above.

Only at the end do we reach the sore point of this decision, which, as we have already seen, was evident from some of the previous articles: the financing of these activities. Articles 13 and 14, in fact, say that the COP “takes note” (..) “of the estimated budget implications for the activities that the Secretariat will have to undertake” to bring the Programme to life, and “requires” that these actions are financed by the Secretariat “given the availability of financial resources”. In short, for everything analyzed and discussed so far there is not a single euro, except for several decisions that however cannot arrive, we imagine, before the next session on the UNFCCC budget, which will only be held in Bonn in June 2024.

An unfunded Work Programme, in short, in which some countries have tried to insert political elements of pressure against what many perceive as potential Western economic interference in their development plans, under the green umbrella of the Just Transition which – if not accompanied by adequate international financial solidarity – could be difficult for too many to follow. A program which, in the vision of other delegations, would instead push towards actions of professional reconversion of workers and industrial areas, of the protection of human rights in the areas of greatest impact of climate policies. The right path, as always, lies in the middle and passes through financial promises on other tables. We will see how this draft evolves in the next few hours.

Article by Jacopo Bencini, Policy Advisor, European and Multilateral Climate Policies Italian Climate Network

Cover image: screenshot from the draft of December 10th, 00.10 am

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