Money, power and trust are cen­tral to the di­vide on cli­mate


Win­ter is com­ing to Poland, where tem­per­a­tures dip be­low zero, but the coal-hun­gry Euro­pean cen­tre has be­come the last hope to pull progress on the Paris Agree­ment from the deep freeze.

It’s not just in Aus­tralia that tem­pers have been flar­ing over the fu­ture of the Paris Agree­ment to tackle cli­mate change.

An emer­gency meet­ing in Bangkok ended on Septem­ber 9 in stale­mate as long­stand­ing di­vi­sions blocked progress on de­vel­op­ing a rule book for how the Paris Agree­ment will op­er­ate.

Money, power and trust sit at the heart of the dis­pute, which will only in­ten­sify as gov­ern­ments pre­pare for the De­cem­ber 3 Con­fer­ence of the Par­ties to the UN Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change in Ka­tow­ice, Poland.

En­vi­ron­ment groups have blamed the US and Aus­tralia for frus­trat­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions on how a $US100 bil­lion ($140bn) a year fund for de­vel­op­ing na­tions will be man­aged.

Be­hind the scenes, a group of coun­tries led by China has been work­ing to widen the gap on how rules should ap­ply dif­fer­ently to the de­vel­oped and de­vel­op­ing world.

This is fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory for any­one who has watched the two decades of UN cli­mate change diplo­macy.

De­vel­op­ing na­tions blame the de­vel­oped world for caus­ing the prob­lem of cli­mate change and in­sist on pro­tect­ing their right to de­velop.

Sim­ple math­e­mat­ics shows de­vel­oped na­tions can­not solve the prob­lem alone.

The $US100bn fund has been the glue that brought de­vel­oped and de­vel­op­ing na­tions into a sin­gle com­pact. But the devil, as al­ways, is in the de­tail.

It is usual in global cli­mate change ne­go­ti­a­tions for talks to go down to the wire.

But the 2009 meet­ing in Copen­hagen has shown that suc­cess can­not al­ways be guar­an­teed.

A new level of un­cer­tainty has been added to ne­go­ti­a­tions by US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion to sig­nal his with­drawal from the Paris Agree­ment.

A for­mal de­par­ture can­not be an­nounced un­til Novem­ber next year and would not take ef­fect un­til Novem­ber 2020. In the mean­time, the US re­mains ac­tive in ne­go­ti­a­tions.

With­out the US, am­bi­tions to raise $US100bn a year from 2020 will be ex­po­nen­tially more dif­fi­cult.

Un­cer­tainty has al­lowed the path­way for the Paris Agree­ment to be­gin to un­ravel on sev­eral fronts.

The Paris Agree­ment en­tered into force on Novem­ber 4, 2016, af­ter it was adopted to a fan­fare of con­sen­sus on De­cem­ber 12, 2015.

The deal is yet to be op­er­a­tional be­cause agree­ment must still be reached on the rule book on how it will op­er­ate. In its present form, de­spite all the emo­tion vested in it, the Paris deal is merely an agree­ment of in­tent.

Even if it be­comes op­er­a­tional, it will be largely vol­un­tary, re­ly­ing on in­ter­na­tional peer pres­sure to keep par­tic­i­pants in check. Coun- tries will be obliged to re­port am­bi­tions to keep fu­ture global tem­per­a­ture rises be­low 2C but there is no le­gal mech­a­nism to en­force their ac­tions.

Fi­nal de­tails are sup­posed to be agreed by the end of this year.

But af­ter Bangkok, de­spite some en­cour­ag­ing of­fi­cial pro­nounce­ments, that agree­ment seems as far away as ever.

Ob­servers have said pub­licly that the Paris deal is on the brink of col­lapse.

In­dia’s Eco­nomic Times laments “the world is now set­ting the new norms of not keep­ing the prom­ises made on global co­op­er­a­tion”.

These de­vel­op­ments pro­vide con­text to de­bate about the fu­ture of the Paris Agree­ment in Aus­tralia, where the fo­cus has been on what level tar­gets should be set to cut fu­ture car­bon diox­ide emis­sions.

In­ter­na­tion­ally, de­spite its rel­a­tively small con­tri­bu­tion to global car­bon diox­ide emis­sions, Aus­tralia is still play­ing a very ac­tive role in ne­go­ti­a­tions.

In re­sist­ing calls from within his party to aban­don the Paris deal be­cause of the cost to elec­tric­ity prices of a re­new­able en­ergy tran- sition, Scott Mor­ri­son has mained fixed on diplo­macy.

“I have to con­sider not just the is­sue here,” the new Prime Min­is­ter told Syd­ney 2GB ra­dio host Alan Jones.

“In the Pa­cific, this is an is­sue which is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant. This is­sue dom­i­nates their think­ing and agenda. Now the Pa­cific is one of the most strate­gic ar­eas of in­flu­ence in our world to­day.”

In short, back­slid­ing on the Paris Agree­ment could have big re­gional con­se­quences and frus­trate ne­go­ti­a­tions for free trade with the EU.

De­spite the crit­i­cism lev­elled at Aus­tralia dur­ing the Bangkok talks, a spokesman for the De­part­ment of For­eign Af­fairs and Trade says we are com­mit­ted to the Paris Agree­ment process.

“Aus­tralia wants to se­cure com­pre­hen­sive and ef­fec­tive im­ple­ment­ing guid­ance for the Paris Agree­ment, in­clud­ing ro­bust emis­sions ac­count­ing and trans­parency rules,” the DFAT spokesman says.

“Aus­tralia is aim­ing for the Paris Agree­ment im­ple­men­ta­tion guid­ance to be fi­nalised at COP24 in De­cem­ber (Poland) this year and sup­ports ef­fec­tive as­sis­tance, in­clud­ing fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to be pro­vided to de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.”

Aus­tralia has in­vested more than half of a com­mit­ment made in 2015 to spend $1bn across five years (2015-16 to 2019-20) to sup­port de­vel­op­ing coun­tries to build cli­mate re­silience and re­duce emis­sions.

This in­cludes $300 mil­lion across four years for cli­mate ac­tion in the Pa­cific.

Aus­tralia’s as­sis­tance is grant­based, based on part­ner coun­try re­quests, bal­anced across mit­i­ga­tion and adap­ta­tion, and fo­cused on small is­land de­vel­op­ing states and less de­vel­oped coun­tries in the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion.

The money is dis­persed through mul­ti­lat­eral, global, re­gional and coun­try-level mech­a­nisms through the Aus­tralian aid pro­gram man­aged by DFAT.

The truth, how­ever, is that global talks on fi­nance have stalled over whether loans and ex­ist­ing for­eign aid should be counted as part of the pro­posed $US100bn a year fund from 2020.

In ad­di­tion, de­liv­ery of fund­ing through the in­terim Global Cli­mate Fund has been sham­bolic.

Pledges to the GCF have to­talled $US10.4bn but only $US3.5bn has been com­mit­ted. The US with­drew $US2bn promised to the fund when Trump an­nounced his in­ten­tion to pull out of the Paris Agree­ment.

GCF ad­min­is­tra­tors can­not agree how the fund money should be spent, with the Aus­tralian chair­man re­sign­ing abruptly in July for “per­sonal rea­sons” af­ter an ac­ri­mo­nious meet­ing.

A del­e­gate at the Bangkok meet­ing was quoted as say­ing “GCF is melt­ing down faster than Antarc­tica”.

No one is dis­put­ing there is much work still to be done.

“Frankly, we are not ready,” last year’s cli­mate con­fer­ence pres­i­dent and Fi­jian Prime Min­is­ter Frank Bain­i­marama de­clared on the open­ing day of the Bangkok sum­mit.

Af­ter the talks the of­fi­cial view was that progress had been “un­even”, a de­scrip­tion that is loaded with peril in the lan­guage of these talks.

Cli­mate Victoria cli­mate and en­ergy ad­viser Erwin Jack­son says the com­pi­la­tion text that emerged from Bangkok lacks the stream­lined clar­ity re­quired for smooth ne­go­ti­a­tion in Poland.

A thor­ough anal­y­sis by the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment says while the op­tions are now more clearly iden­ti­fied, they re­veal fun­da­men­tal dis­agree­ment on many of the key is­sues.

“Fa­mil­iar po­lit­i­cal dis­agree­ments un­der­pin sev­eral key is­sues,” the IISD anal­y­sis says.

“It is these is­sues that could throw a wrench in the gears, po­ten­tially halt­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions and threat­en­ing a suc­cess­ful out­come in Poland.”

Fi­nance re­mains a peren­nial road­block.

De­vel­op­ing coun­tries, led by Africa, want much greater de­tail on how much money will be pro­vided and greater free­dom over how it will be spent. The African Group, sup­ported by other de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, has at­tempted to link fi­nance to the “trans­parency frame­work” in which coun­tries must de­clare what ac­tions they are tak­ing.

By ty­ing these is­sues to­gether, a fail­ure to agree on fi­nance “could re­sult in par­ties stalling, or block­ing, the re­al­i­sa­tion of the trans­parency frame­work, po­ten­tially lead­ing to the col­lapse in Ka­tow­ice that some fear”, IISD says.

An­other prin­ci­pal road­block is dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion that cen­tres on bur­den shar­ing in the col­lec­tive ef­fort to re­duce emis­sions, given coun­tries’ dif­fer­ent his­tor­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for the prob­lem and ca­pac­i­ties to ad­dress it.

The Like-Minded De­vel­op­ing Coun­tries in­clud­ing China, In­dia and Saudi Ara­bia re­call the con­ven­tion’s bi­fur­cated ap­proach that treated de­vel­oped and de­vel­op­ing coun­tries dif­fer­ently.

Mov­ing on from bi­fur­ca­tion, the premise of the orig­i­nal Ky­oto agree­ment, which ex­cluded de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, was a non-ne­go­tiable tenet of US par­tic­i­pa­tion in Paris.

“At stake in these ne­go­ti­a­tions is the de­gree to which all ma­jor emit­ters, in­duc­ing key emerg­ing economies, will con­trib­ute to mit­i­ga­tion,” IISD says.

In short, it says, dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion and fi­nance have long been the wrenches in the gears of global cli­mate ac­tion.

“De­vel­op­ing coun­tries con­tinue to call for new, ad­di­tional and pre­dictable fi­nance that will en­able them to un­der­take sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment,” the IISD anal­y­sis says.

“De­vel­oped coun­tries con­tinue to de­mand broader par­tic­i­pa­tion in the mit­i­ga­tion ef­fort and trans­parency of all coun­tries’ ac­tions.

“In Ka­tow­ice, par­ties will have to find a way to in­ter­pret deeply held po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences pa­pered over by the Paris Agree­ment’s am­bigu­ous lan­guage.

“Given these dis­agree­ments have fu­elled ten­sions for at least two decades, the task for Ka­tow­ice is in­deed daunt­ing.”

To keep the pres­sure on, a se­ries of grand events have been planned be­tween now and the Pol­ish meet­ing, which has been ex­tended by one day.

UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res de­liv­ered a ma­jor speech last Mon­day in which he said the “di­rect ex­is­ten­tial threat” of cli­mate change was near­ing a point of no re­turn.

The IPCC will de­liver a spe­cial re­port next month on the im­pli­ca­tions of 1.5C warm­ing.

A leaked draft of the re­port says global warm­ing is on track to breach the tough­est limit set by the Paris cli­mate agree­ment by the mid­dle of this cen­tury un­less gov­ern­ments make un­prece­dented eco­nomic shifts from fos­sil fu­els.

Gov­ern­ments also will have to start suck­ing CO2 from the air to achieve the am­bi­tion of meet­ing the lower tar­get, the draft says.

Guter­res calls for a shift away from the de­pen­dency on fos­sil fu­els to­wards cleaner en­ergy and away from de­for­esta­tion to more ef­fi­cient use of re­sources.

In his call to ac­tion, Guter­res de­scribes ar­gu­ments that tack­ling cli­mate change is ex­pen­sive and can harm eco­nomic growth as “hog­wash”. “In fact, the op­po­site is true,” he says.

Hard-pressed Aus­tralian elec­tric­ity con­sumers may beg to dif­fer.

But, by na­ture, the pol­i­tics of cli­mate change tran­scends na­tional bor­ders.

And as with Copen­hagen, the Paris Agree­ment re­mains far from be­ing a done deal.

‘In the Pa­cific, this is an is­sue which is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant. This is­sue dom­i­nates their think­ing and agenda. Now the Pa­cific is one of the most strate­gic ar­eas of in­flu­ence in our world to­day’ SCOTT MOR­RI­SON

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