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US deals a small blow to Paris climate change agreement before key meeting

Country gets reference to financial obligations of developed country scrubbed from a critical UN report.

Nitin Sethi  |  New Delhi 

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The US has struck a small blow at the Paris Agreement days before the high-level annual negotiations kick-off at Katowice, Poland. In a UN report on climate finance, it has forced the scrubbing of all explicit references to the responsibility of developed countries for providing funds and resources to the developing countries for tackling

The report called the ‘2018 Biennial Assessment and Overview of Climate Finance Flows’ is to be presented before countries gathering at the Katowice negotiations starting December 2.

The report, prepared every two years, helps with the measurement, reporting and verification of financial support provided to developing countries. The mandate for such a report comes from the existing obligations of developed countries under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Cancun Agreements and the Paris Agreement. Developed countries are obligated to provide funds, as historically they were primarily responsible for Under the Paris Agreement developed countries are necessarily required to provide enhanced and additional funding while developing countries can do add to the funds voluntarily.

But at a recent meeting in Bonn between October 28 and 30, the US blocked the approval of the report by claiming that the terms ‘developed countries’ and ‘developing countries’ were not defined clearly to identify how climate finance flows between the two sets of countries.

The US, at first, demanded that the report be approved only after inserting a caveat that there was no agreement on the meaning and definition of the phrases ‘developed and developing countries’. This meant, it said, one could not map which country belongs to which category when measuring fund flow. By implication, it would have meant that there was no credible way to measure how much funds developed countries are providing to developing countries.

US Strike

When developing countries’ representatives vehemently argued against this, the US instead asked for scrubbing out all references to ‘flows from developed countries’. It asked that the term ‘climate finance providers’ be used—which could imply both developed and developing countries. In other places in the report it insisted that the report cite only hyper-technical terms to classify countries. These terms, such as ‘Countries that are not members of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’, developing country representatives at the meeting warned, would render the report unreadable.

But as the report had to be approved by consensus, developing countries were wary of a US veto and settled for what they considered lesser of the two evils: not explicitly opening the classification of ‘developing and developed countries’ to review.

“That would have meant leaving the door open for countries such as the US to wreck parts of the Paris Agreement from the inside out at a later stage. Given the options, it was better to be hyper-technical, avoid opening the phrases to definitional challenge and pay the relatively much smaller price of the report being less reader-friendly,” said a developing country negotiator aware of the arguments.

The previous iteration of the Biennial Assessment and Overview of Climate Finance Flow in 2016 and 2014 had explicitly talked of and calculated the funds flowing from developed to developing countries. The US had not objected to the use of these phrases at that time.

Business Standard reviewed the 2018 draft report which had dozens of explicit reference to the developed and developing countries and the financial flows from the former to the latter. It reviewed the note that the US initially insisted upon as a caveat. A video recording of the meeting of what is called the Standing Committee on Finance were also reviewed to understand how different regional and country representatives argued over the US’ insertion and how a compromise was reached deleting the reference to developed and developing countries in the approved report.

Video recordings show, during the negotiations one developing country negotiator said, “We cannot sit here rewrite the convention, rewrite the Paris Agreement and rewrite every (decision) of Conference of Parties since Cancun (in 2010) including the one in Durban which created the Green Climate Fund at the whims of the members of the board here. Let us not waste our time on a definition as basic as developing and developed countries.”

Another developing country representative added, “We are running a risk here that we may not have a Biennial Assessment. Is it really worth jeopardising the whole thing for this? Please think about it.

But the US did not relent. The meeting concluded without a finalised report, which had to be negotiated later over emails between members of the Standing Committee on Finance with the US getting its way--the explicit reference to developed country finance obligations were scrubbed out.

The draft report had read in one place, “The 2018 Biennial Assessment provides an updated overview of current climate finance flows over the years 2015 and 2016 from developed to developing countries, available information on domestic climate finance and South-South cooperation, as well as other climate-related flows that constitute global total climate finance flows.’

In the finalised report that paragraph has been replaced by, “The 2018 Biennial Assessment provides an updated overview of current climate finance flows over the years 2015 and 2016 from provider to beneficiary countries, available information on domestic climate finance and cooperation among Parties not included in Annex I to the Convention (non-Annex I Parties).”

Such changes have been made across the report.

“We must remember the US has not walked out of the Paris Agreement. It has said it would do so unless it can get the Paris Agreement reworked to its wishes. This is the way the US is trying to achieve that rewriting - making sure only parts of the Agreement it wants to get implemented in letter and spirit and the rest are either diluted or left out in the implementation phase,” another developing country negotiator involved in these negotiations explained.

The finalised report has been been released and will be presented at Katowice along with a draft of decisions to be taken - these too dilute some references to developed countries’ obligations. While the main report would not be open to further negotiations at Katowice, the recommendations are likely to see the debate reignite between developing and developed countries.

First Published: Mon, November 26 2018. 17:33 IST
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