Sticking points that could heat up Katowice climate change talks

Topics Climate Change

Climate negotiations among countries take place periodically throughout the year at the level of negotiating diplomats. At the end of the year, ministers and heads of states also join in to resolve the most contentious issues. 

Through this year, the negotiations repeatedly stalled because the developed countries often objected even to the options listed for discussion by developing nations. This has made the conference on December 2 at Katowice in Poland a challenge with some big fights expected. Here are some of the likely sticking points:

Ex-ante data on climate finance

Climate finance remains the biggest sticking point between the two camps. The divide over paragraph 5 of article 9 of the Paris Agreement has widened during the year. The article requires developed countries to provide quantitative and qualitative information every two years on how much finance they will provide developing nations in future. This helps the latter to plan what part of their climate change actions could find non-domestic funding.  

But the US, its allies in the umbrella group of nations, and the European Union are on the same page. They do not want the rules — which are being finalised at Katowice — to elaborate on how this information will be formally conveyed and acted upon. 

“The developed countries say we will give you this information in the manner we like. Then they do not want rules to decide what the countries can do with that data under the Paris Agreement. We need that information in a mode that renders it comparable and easy to analyse. Under an international agreement, unless there are explicit laid down rules of what is to be done with a piece of information, nothing gets done or enforced. They want that no action should be triggered on this information," said a climate finance negotiator from a developing country. 

India, along with China as part of the Like-Minded Developing Countries, the Africa Group of Negotiators (AGN, representing all African countries), and the Arab Group have asked for a clear decision on this. This promises to be one of the biggest fights at Katowice that began originally with AGN leading it. 

‘Too early’ for a global goal on finance

Countries had agreed at Paris in 2015 to set a new collective quantified goal on finance, taking into account the needs and priorities of developing nations to fight climate change. This was to be finished before 2025. All countries had agreed in 2010 that the developed world would mobilise $100 billion per year by 2020. The new quantified goal under the Paris Agreement is, therefore, meant to be upwards of $100 billion per year. But all the developed nations, including the US and the EU, have said it is too early to start talking on how this goal will be set. 

The Third World Network, an international think-tank that documents the climate negotiations, noted the US and Canada countering the demand, saying “Parties (countries) should not be distracted from their busy schedules of negotiating the Paris Agreement Work Programme (rule book).” It recorded countries such as Japan, Australia, the EU and Norway backing the US. But the BASIC countries, including Brazil, India, China and South Africa have demanded that the goal be set by 2023 when a global stock-taking exercise is to be carried out under the Paris Agreement.

Transparency: how much, by whom and of what?

Under the Paris Agreement, each country sets its climate action targets domestically. But once they have been set, they have to report their performance periodically and lay themselves open to scrutiny by others as part of what is called the ‘transparency regime’.     

Developed countries have been pushing for the same levels of transparency to be imposed on all nations, with the exception of small island countries and the least developed countries. Others, such as India, say that the Paris Agreement provides for flexibility, which allows countries to decide the level of transparency they can afford based on their capacities. This then gets enhanced with time as capacities improve. But several developed countries require that countries' capacities to report in more detail should also be evaluated under the Paris Agreement. 

Developed countries focus on transparency only in mitigation action — the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. But many developing countries want the transparency regime to be just as detailed when it comes to assessing how countries have delivered on climate finance, technology, and adaptation commitments. 

“Many developing country mitigation targets are conditional on these obligations being met. We need a transparency regime that reflects differentiation and is applicable to all climate actions, not just mitigation,” said an Indian negotiator. 

The principle of differentiation

The principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) and 'national respective capabilities' has been embedded in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and also finds a place, in a slightly diluted form, in the Paris Agreement. 

The rule book is now required to operationalise this principle. But the developed nations have worked across different streams of negotiations for the rule book to focus on current national capabilities to act on climate change — not at how each country holds a differentiated responsibility for causing climate change historically. 

This ensures the onus of action is distributed based on current emission flows rather than the stock that each country has caused to accumulate in the atmosphere — putting a much higher degree of responsibility on countries such as India and China. 

The debate is going to run through many closed rooms of the negotiations where each separate stream of the talks is dealt with. For example, in the case of the Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs (targets under the Paris Agreement), will there be differentiation in the amount of information that developing and developed countries have to provide? And should there be flexibility for developing countries while the developed countries adhere to a set standard? 

Targets for what?


Should the NDCs that countries undertake under the Paris Agreement cover only greenhouse gas reduction targets or should they necessarily require countries to disclose what they are doing for climate finance, technology, and adaptation? Developed countries want the NDCs to focus solely on mitigation while countries such as India are asking that the rules explicitly require developed countries to list the entire gamut of climate action.

Taking stock in 2023 

Article 14 of the Paris Agreement asks countries to undertake a global stocktake every five years, starting 2023, of how countries have done so far and how their targets stack up, to keep the global average temperature rise under control. Based on this, they are expected to ratchet up their targets periodically. 

India, China and several other developing nations want the rule book to lay down clearly that equity and the principle of CBDR will apply on how the stocktake happens. They also want the rules to explicitly note that the stocktaking will comprise not just mitigation targets but also the other commitments made by the developed countries to provide the means of implementation. 

So far, the developed countries, including the US, have pushed for the issue of 'equity' in the stocktaking to be 'parked' while other modalities are worked out. If the equity principle does not become the central basis of the rule book for taking stock and ratcheting up commitments in future, India's insistence on keeping this principle alive for two decades would have gone down the drain for all practical purposes. 

Adaptation fund

An Adaptation Fund existed under the Kyoto Protocol. It was decided that it would also serve the Paris Agreement as a route to fund adaptation work in developing countries. Earlier, its proceeds used to come from the global trade in carbon certificates and donations from developed countries. But the fund did not take off well as the trade crashed and countries did not fund it adequately. 

The developed countries want it to be funded through the new market trading regime that will come up under the Paris Agreement (its contours are rather sketchy at the moment). India and other developing countries want the modalities for how it would be funded to be more broad-based and not dependent on only the new global trade in carbon owing to its uncertainties. 

Broad rules on when and how the Adaptation Fund could begin to operate under the new pact are to be fleshed out at Katowice but, like other finance issues, these have remained locked down in arguments.

Ratcheting up existing targets 

In 2017, a quasi-official dialogue called the Talanoa Dialogue was kick-started between countries to understand how the first round of NDCs could be enhanced under the Paris Agreement. It did not have the weight of a decision under the formal UN conference that could force countries to raise their targets — which the Paris Agreement requires to be nationally determined. 

But in the wake of the new UN climate change science report on keeping the temperature rise below 1.5 degree celsius, concerns have emerged that Katowice might turn the 'dialogue' into a 'decision', forcing countries' hands only on the mitigation targets while leaving other issues of the pre-2020 commitments and finance aside. India, which is on track to meet its existing NDCs by 2030, is not keen to see the dialogue become a one-sided tool to ratchet up mitigation targets. There are fears that a decision on the Talanoa Dialogue at the Katowice meeting, followed by special meetings planned by the UN Secretary General next year, could become the trigger for forcing all countries to ratchet up their mitigation targets.

Debates expected on

  • Ex-ante information on finances from developed countries: What information and how will it be used?
  • A new global goal on climate finance upwards of $100 bn annually: When to start technical work on it
  • The transparency regime to have differentiation for countries and scrutiny not just of mitigation but also of obligations
  • Nationally Determined Contributions or targets under the Paris Agreement: Their nature and what information is to be provided under them 
  • Global Stocktake in 2023 to be based on equity and cover all kinds of obligations — not just emission reduction
  • Adaptation Fund: How is it to be funded and how will it serve the Paris Agreement?
  • Talanoa Dialogue: Will it force countries to ratchet up their existing emission reduction targets?

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