Friday, December 27, 2019

Explainer: How bickering over a carbon trading system led to the failure of international climate talks

By Navene Elangovan

18 December, 2019

On Sunday (Dec 15), an international meeting to push through bolder measures to tackle climate change fell through, after countries were unable to come to an agreement on the details.

The 2019 United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference, also known as COP25, was held in the Spanish capital of Madrid, and had brought together close to 200 countries over a span of two weeks to sort through the details of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change signed in 2016.

Despite running for two days longer than initially expected, making it the longest-running climate change conference in the UN’s history, little was achieved beyond broad statements calling for countries to do more to fight climate change by next year.

TODAY looks at what the COP25 was supposed to achieve, why it was so pressing to achieve these targets and what were the sticking points at the conference.


While the conference is being held for the 25th time, this year’s meeting was urgent since reports showed that governments around the world were still some way off from achieving the targets set by the Paris Agreement.

The agreement limits the rise in global temperatures to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and 1.5°C at best. Anything beyond could result in some of the worst effects of climate change, including the disappearance of most coral reefs and massive refugee flows as a result of rising sea levels.

However, scientists have warned that global temperatures are on course to rise by 3°C or higher by the end of this century.

This year’s meeting also comes on the back of a year of greater public pressure worldwide for governments and corporations to tackle climate change.

Strikes led by youth activist Greta Thunberg have been held to push policymakers to take action quickly. Protestors at the conference this year placed nooses around their own necks and stood on blocks of ice in a symbolic demonstration of the slow response to climate change.


A large part of the disagreement among nations at this year’s conference was over how to establish an international carbon market which would allow countries to trade on emission reductions.

The rules governing the set-up of this international carbon market is also known as “Article Six”, as it falls under the sixth section of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The market is supposed to have a system that would allow countries to pay each other for projects that reduce emissions.

For example, countries with low emissions may sell their “leftover” allowance to larger emitters, with an overall cap of greenhouse gases, ensuring their net reduction. Such a system would set a foundation for a global price on carbon.

However, some countries, such as Brazil, China and India, want to carry over carbon credits from an old trading system established under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Under the old trading system called the Clean Development Mechanism, developing nations could receive credits for supporting sustainable development initiatives.

By bringing over these old credits to the new system, countries would be able to use these credits to meet their emission reduction goals. However, as credits from the old system represent cuts made before 2020, they will not be representative of emission cuts made after the agreement comes into force.

The other sticking point at the conference revolved around a tentative agreement made in 2013 for richer countries to help developing countries, which are more vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, by footing the bill to minimise losses and damages from disasters related to climate change. 

This would also include having developed countries provide finance and technology to help developing countries cope with changes to climate change.

However, the members were unable to come to a decision on what kind of disasters — be they hurricanes or floods — can be attributed to climate change.

The United States, for instance, was called out for trying to water down provisions to compensate poorer countries for damages incurred from disasters related to climate change.


Negotiations will now continue at the next conference which will be held in November next year at Glasgow in the United Kingdom.

The next conference will mark the full adoption of the Paris Agreement. By then, countries are expected to put forward their plans for emission cuts, called Nationally Determined Contributions, to meet the goals of the agreement.

However, with the US set to officially pull out from the Paris Agreement after this year and with other countries unable to come to an agreement on how to reach the targets set in the agreement, it is unclear how the meeting will pan out.

UN climate talks end with few commitments and a ‘lost’ opportunity

16 December, 2019

MADRID — In what was widely denounced as one of the worst outcomes in a quarter century of climate negotiations, United Nations talks ended early Sunday (Dec 15) morning with the United States and other big polluters blocking even a nonbinding measure encouraging countries to enhance their climate targets next year.

Because the US is withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, it was the last chance, at least for some time, for American delegates to sit at the negotiating table at the annual talks.

They also used that chance to push back against a compensation mechanism for the economic losses poor countries suffer from droughts, storms and slow-moving climate effects like sea level rise.

The annual negotiations, held in Madrid this year, demonstrated the vast gaps between what scientists say the world needs and what the world’s most powerful leaders are prepared to even discuss, let alone do.

“Most of the large emitters were missing in action or obstructive,” said Ms Helen Mountford, a vice-president at World Resources Institute. “This reflects how disconnected many national leaders are from the urgency of the science and the demands of their citizens.”

The outcome leaves many important decisions to be made at next year’s negotiations, which will begin in Glasgow, Scotland, immediately after the US elections next November.

UN. Secretary-General António Guterres offered an unusually blunt assessment of the 25th annual negotiations, formally known as the Conference of Parties. “I am disappointed with the results of #COP25,” he said on Twitter. “The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation & finance to tackle the climate crisis.”

Although there was a general endorsement of finding a way to help poor countries cope with climate disasters, an agreement for funding failed on the question of whether major polluters could be held liable for climate damages in the future.

There was a push from both rich and poor countries to commit, at least on paper, to ramp up climate-action targets next year.

That is important because even if all countries meet the voluntary targets they have set so far, according to the scientific consensus, emissions are rising at a pace that makes storms and heat waves very likely to become more severe, and coastal cities to be at risk of drowning.

But there was no diplomatic consensus on even that.


Fate of global climate action 'in the balance' as U.N. talks go down to wire

14 December, 2019

MADRID - Big polluting countries faced last-ditch pressure from smaller nations to show serious commitment to fighting climate change as negotiators battled into the early hours of Saturday to salvage a result from a fraught U.N. summit in Madrid.

With the two-week gathering mired in interlocking disputes over how to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement on global warming, Chile, presiding over the talks, had earlier attempted to inject a note of optimism.

"Today is the day when we must show the world that we are capable of delivering the agreements that are needed to tackle the unprecedented challenge before us," Andrés Landerretche, a Chilean official, told a news conference late on Friday.

Chile later announced the talks, which had been due to end on Friday, would resume at 0700 a.m. (0600 GMT) on Saturday.

Observers said delegates were struggling to resolve the question of whether big emitters will signal their intent to raise their emissions-cutting targets next year, when the Paris deal enters a make-or-break implementation phase.

"The fate of the Paris Agreement is in the balance," said Andrew Norton, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development, a London-based think tank.

Fast-growing emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil are reluctant to commit themselves to unveiling new goals so soon, observers say, fearing they will end up paying the price of emissions cuts that should be borne by the rich.

The European Union, whose members, barring Poland, agreed to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at a summit in Brussels on Thursday, is pushing for a more ambitious statement of intent, along with many of the most vulnerable developing countries.

After two weeks of talks in Madrid, held after months of preparation, ministers were holed up in small groups attempting to break deadlocks over financial aid for states at most risk from climate change, and rules governing carbon markets.

Progress on those issues would help deliver the bigger prize: a clear statement from the gathering that governments are committed to honoring the Paris deal by imminently announcing more ambitious action to wean themselves off fossil fuels.

"There is a very big question on the commitment of the parties to the Paris Agreement," said Mohamed Nasr, chair of the Africa bloc of negotiators.


With scientists warning that the window to prevent the Earth's climate hitting irreversible tipping points is fast closing, an increasingly strident activism movement says a strong signal from the summit is the only acceptable outcome.

"We've had 25 years of talks and the only thing that really matters is global emissions are still rising," said Tim Crosland, a prominent member of Extinction Rebellion, a civil disobedience campaign, after meeting officials at the talks.

Campaigners are concerned that as negotiations dragged on into the early hours of Saturday, delegates may be tempted to hastily adopt weak resolutions to conclude the marathon.

The talks have been overshadowed since the outset by a formal move by U.S. President Donald Trump to begin withdrawing from the Paris accord last month.

Observers said the U.S. delegation repeated a pattern seen at past talks of blocking progress toward ensuring poor countries can secure compensation for climate-related losses.

But the weight of negotiating effort focused on trying to persuade Australia, Brazil and others to drop their insistence on carrying over credits from old carbon trading schemes.

The EU and small island states say that continuing to count such credits would dramatically weaken the fight to curb emissions.

Brazil has also come under fire for opposing attempts to impose gold standard accounting rules on the carbon trade.

"We don't want any accounting tricks being created here," said Sam Van den plas, policy director at Carbon Market Watch, an advocacy group. "It would be a massive disaster ... if we end up with flawed and weak rules."


No comments: