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Climate summit in deadlock over pre-2020 action

The US and EU are leading the opposition to any discussion over climate action before the Paris Agreement comes into force, leaving India, China and other developing countries incensed
The Prime Minister of Fiji, as President of COP23, is trying to break the deadlock [image courtesy: UNclimatechange]
The Prime Minister of Fiji, as President of COP23, is trying to break the deadlock [image courtesy: UNclimatechange]

A closed-door meeting over the inclusion of immediate climate action failed to break the deadlock between developing and developed countries, casting a shadow over the ongoing climate summit.

From the start of COP23, developing countries led by India, China and Iran have been asking for the inclusion of immediate climate action in the agenda. But developed countries have been opposing this as it would put their actions under the spotlight.

See: India, China raise strong protests over COP23 agenda
See: We are all in two minds on climate change

The Paris Agreement comes into force in 2020, and pre-2020 actions to combat climate change are largely the responsibility of industrialised countries, under the second phase of the ongoing Kyoto Protocol. But many industrialised countries have not ratified this second phase in their legislatures.

Before the start of this summit, countries in the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) negotiating bloc submitted a proposal to include pre-2020 actions in the COP23 agenda. The LMDC group includes Algeria, Bangladesh, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mali, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Vietnam.

Led by the US and the EU, this has been opposed by developed countries, despite strong pleas by developing country delegates that they need to know what rich nations are doing to “honour their existing commitments”, according to one developing country delegate.

Both the outgoing COP president, Salaheddine Mezouar of Morocco, and Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama have attempted to resolve the matter, with little success.

The US, EU, Canada, Japan, Australia, Norway and other developed countries oppose the inclusion of pre-2020 action on the summit agenda,

Developed country delegates, however, say this would be a waste of time, since “pre-2020 issues were already being discussed under several other agenda items and did not need any more dedicated space”, according to a developed country delegate.

The Africa Group, India and China showed examples that existing agenda items did not address the matters at hand, and that “there was need for developed countries to accelerate and raise their ambition in reducing the emissions gap in the pre-2020 timeframe, and to not shift the burden onto developing countries in the post-2020 timeframe under the Paris agreement”, said a delegate from an African country on the condition of anonymity.

Delegates from many developing countries point to the climate change impacts – storms, floods, sea level rise, droughts, ocean acidification – being faced right now, and sought immediate action. In response, one US delegate reportedly said, “There is no point in adding on more items; pre-2020 issues have been taken up for quite some time.”

At the closed-door meeting, 16 developing nations strongly refuted the contention of industrialised countries, according to many of the government delegates present.

Speaking on behalf of the G77 – the largest group of developing countries – Ecuador reminded everyone that discussion over pre-2020 action had been promised at the end COP22 in Morocco last year. The delegate from India pointed out that little work had been done to address loss and damage caused by climate change impacts, and there timelines should be fixed for promises made.

See COP23: NGOs may take nations to court over climate loss and damage

Pointing out how recent storms had affected islands, St. Lucia reportedly said that when governments “offer commitments to act, they must act on them and not erode what has been agreed to”.

China sought clear timelines on pre-2020 actions, and pointed to the “increasing gap in ambition” by industrialised countries to combat climate change. Some countries have even re-adjusted their commitments downwards, the delegate pointed out.

The delegate from Brazil said he found it “incomprehensible” why any government should resist having the pre-2020 item in the agenda of the COP. “Does it mean that all the talk of post-2020 ambition is also mere lip service?” he reportedly asked.

At the end of the meeting, Bainimarama asked delegates to meet one another informally and “seek ways to move forward on the matter”, adding that he would also continue with informal consultations.

Speaking to the media, delegates from the G77 and LMDC country blocs said they needed to examine the current climate actions of developed countries as there are lots of gaps. Arun Kumar Mehta, additional secretary in India’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, said: “If we believe that climate change requires urgent action, that urgency needs to be shown. Delayed action isn’t going to help anyone. We strongly urge industrialised countries to meet their current commitments.”

India’s lead negotiator, Ravishankar Prasad, pointed out that developing countries were not asking for anything new because all current commitments by industrialised countries had been made at previous climate summits. “We need to see what has actually happened. Some parties [countries] have said this is being discussed [in other forums,” he said.  “There is no space where we are discussing past commitments and how we have honoured them.”

Prasad offered a way out of the deadlock, suggesting that rich nations ratify the second commitment period of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol by May or June, and that all governments inform the UNFCCC on the actions they have taken, “then we have confidence that we’re on track to bridge the emissions gap and post-2020 action”, he said.

The senior negotiator for China, Chen Zhihua, said: “The whole group of developing countries is firm on this because there are big gaps in [mitigation] action by developed countries and their support to developing countries” to deal with the impacts of climate change.

Having pre-2020 action on the agenda would be an “important mechanism to revisit targets, but we don’t see much progress”, he added. “In Warsaw, it was decided that support [by developed countries to developing countries] would be increased year on year, but we don’t see much of that. We want this on the agenda to discuss how to close the gap. Developed countries are busy with the Paris Agreement, but this is more urgent.”

“By not including pre-2020 action, the message we’re sending out is that COP23 sees no urgency,” said Paul Oquist of Nicaragua. “That flies in the face of reality. Science is being thrown overboard. If we don’t get our act together before 2020, you can forget about [keeping average global temperature rise within] two degrees or 1.5 degrees (Celsius). The technology, capital and finance to do this all exist. What’s missing is political will on the part of developed countries.”

Most of the NGOs observing the climate negotiations support the stand taken by developing countries. Speaking on behalf of the Climate Action Network, Camilla Born, senior policy adviser at E3G, said: “There is a need to talk about pre-2020 action. We need to see the COP presidency find space for it here.”

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