Two years of work on the Global Stocktake (GST) ended, in a plenary not without tension. This represented the closing of the technical phase in the construction of this first global stocktake of countries’ climate actions and the opening of the subsequent political stocktaking phase, which will see its completion this November during COP28 in Dubai. We are experiencing one of the key moments in the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement, which foresees an inventory every five years. This 2023 is the first one.

The Global Stocktake

The main outcome of the phase just completed is a report, a ‘synthesis report’, to be published in September, which will guide the political phase. The latter, on the other hand, will have to produce an account of the progress achieved so far towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and, above all, propose solutions if gaps are found. Next year, the outcomes of the first GST will be a key input for the formulation of the next states’ targets (NDCs), to be communicated – possibly revised upwards – in 2025. As emphasised by the SB58 presidency, ‘the GST is crucial in driving collective ambition. It is a key opportunity to drive forward action and implementation at all levels. 

So the closing plenary proved to be highly political rather than technical, and animated by the same tensions that have characterised the entire negotiation so far, starting with the failure to adopt the agenda. The tensions culminated on Monday in a plenary that was as heated, as it was delayed and unsuccessful in its intent, to close the period. 

Just as the opening plenary of SB58 was punctuated by the now almost blatant clash between developed and southern countries in favour of a greater commitment to mitigation or climate finance respectively (economic support to developing countries, characterised by broken promises), the same North-South clash animated the closing plenary of the Global Stocktake.

Historical emissions and future commitments

Basically, the G77 countries and China emphasised the importance of taking historical (pre-2020) emissions into account, while developed countries emphasised incremental emissions, positions that reflect the greater historical responsibility on the part of the latter and the greater increase in emissions in recent decades on the part of the former – think of the striking case of China, today the largest global emitter.

It is precisely China that has emphasised the centrality, according to the IPCC (reference institution for climate science), of cumulative emissions – thus including historical emissions – as the cause of climate change. Similarly, the not indifferent portion of developing countries’ current emissions linked to products destined for developed countries in any case (according to the old subdivision of the Kyoto Protocol and, before that, of the UNFCCC itself between rich and poor on a global level) was emphasised. The Chinese delegate also bluntly declared a substantial failure of mitigation by rich countries, to be compared with the successes of southern countries: ‘Only three developed countries show emission reductions aligned with the Paris targets, […] many [instead] have failed to achieve reductions. Those that have achieved them have done so because of geopolitical or pandemic conditions.  

Australia responded by pointing out how: ‘Developing countries have been responsible for the majority of incremental emissions since 1992. Action should not be based on historical responsibility but on shared ambition.” This was echoed by the US: “There is a clear difference between emissions that occurred before the recognition of the seriousness of climate change and those that occurred after, […] alternatives to higher-emitting technologies are now available.”

“It feels like a step backwards from Paris”

There has also been no shortage, however, of more or less covert attempts to retract the need for mitigation actions by also appealing to a supposed inadequacy of what is depicted in the IPCC mitigation scenarios. Saudi Arabia, China and India have been united in claiming that the IPCC scenarios contain assumptions of global inequality and injustice, e.g. with respect to access to energy. For this, Saudi Arabia went so far as to state that it is necessary to discuss the impacts of mitigation actions, which are considered harmful for one part of the globe, leaving rather the necessary ‘carbon space’ for those countries that want to develop while the West aims at its Net Zero targets; finally, India emphasised that ‘continuous financial flows towards fossil fuels can be considered misaligned with Paris for developed countries, but not for developing ones’. A fossil-based vision of development is clearly linked, in this case, to domestic export needs rather than true international solidarity.

It is worrying to note how very similar arguments are now being used by the oil and gas multinationals to justify all too timid climate action. In a document to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Exxon states that staying below 1.5°C ‘requires a degradation in global living standards’, referring to the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero 2050 scenario. This scenario envisages universal access to and lower cost of energy than the lower ambition scenarios.

Although it is at least suspicious that there are less transparent drives by some countries, it is worth recalling the origin of the divergences shown so far during SB58. Quoting the Indian intervention: “The failure to develop climate finance is the most significant obstacle to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

Article by Elisa Terenghi, ICN Volunteer

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