News from New Delhi

Emily Boyd reports on the many issues discussed at the Eighth Conference of the Parties to the climate treaty, from technical matters to governance dichotomies.

The author is a doctoral student at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, and is also a writer/editor for the Earth Negotiations Bulletin.

It is nothing new that the negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are difficult and that positions are entrenched. In fact, it would be surprising if it were any other way.

What did become apparent at the Eighth Conference of the Parties (COP-8), held in New Delhi, India, 23rd October to 1st November 2002, was that the levels and dimensions of complexity embedded in the global climate regime are only going to intensify in the future.

COP-8 was characterized as ‘transitionary,’ a reflection of its slow pace and absence of political buzz. Many delegates and observers suggested that the treaty process is in a stage of limbo, in anticipation of the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. Yet the focus on “second-order and technical issues,” as described in a Pew Centre report on COP-8, should be considered an important development for implementers of the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol at national levels.

Significant COP-8 outcomes concerned, for example, the rules and procedures for the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Executive Board, guidelines for reporting and review of emissions statistics, and additional guidance to the Least Developed Country Fund. The guidelines for reporting and review were noted by some developing country delegates as particularly important for domestic progress on implementation.

The Delhi Declaration

In the wake of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, COP-8 had the potential to bring to the negotiations a renewed spirit of common goals and compromise. Yet a clear feature of the negotiations was a strong, but arguably spurious, dichotomy between developed and developing counties. Due in part to the institutional model and agenda issues, positions became limited to simplistic divisions of developed, Annex I, and developing, non-Annex I, countries.

The dichotomy was particularly evident in the debate surrounding Annex I Party calls for a broadening of emissions control commitments to include the major developing nations, at least, following the current commitment period, that is, from the 2010s on. The United States compounded the divide when it strenuously opposed broadening developing country commitments. Whether or not there was collusion at work, this certainly played into the hands of the more powerful members of the G-77/China group and of the OPEC group. The European Union, expressing its outright disappointment at the Delhi Declaration, in turn played into the hands of the United States’ domestic rhetoric regarding the ineffectiveness of the negotiations.

The initial draft of the Delhi Declaration, circulated by Conference President Thalikottai Rajuthevar Baalu, focused almost exclusively on adaptation and did not contain a single reference to the Kyoto Protocol. Informally, the European Union, along with other Annex I countries, voiced the opinion that the Declaration was merely a watered-down compilation of other declarations, including that of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

The negotiations over the Delhi Declaration highlighted divisions within the G-77/China group with the more powerful countries, supported by the OPEC group, opposed to any mention of a dialogue on southern emissions control commitments. At the same time, according to one developing country delegate, “it is an inevitable discussion that needs to take place.” The small island states were reportedly in favour of a dialogue, but avoided mention of the word ‘commitments’ indicating that they are in favour of a dialogue on the future of the climate regime or on future participation in the Kyoto Protocol.

As to the issues of adaptation and mitigation, some observers highlighted these as complementary, while others considered there to be a trade-off between the two. A number of developing countries, particularly those not likely to benefit from market mechanisms such as the CDM, for example, the Least Developed Countries, suggested that adaptation should now be the focus of the climate regime. On this matter, divisions within the G-77/China group are likely to intensify given the diversity among developing countries.

The final text of the Delhi Declaration on Climate Change and Sustainable Development recalls the ultimate objective of the climate treaty and reaffirms development and poverty eradication as overriding priorities in developing countries.

The Declaration expresses concern at the vulnerability of developing countries, especially the Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States, and recognizes Africa as the region suffering most from the combined impacts of climate change and poverty. It notes with concern the findings of the Third Assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the need for both mitigation and adaptation measures.

The Delhi Declaration calls for policies and measures specific to each country’s conditions, integration of climate change objectives into national sustainable development strategies, and implementation of commitments according to development priorities and circumstances.

It stresses adaptation, the exchange of information and consideration of developing country concerns arising from the adverse effects of climate change and implementation of response measures. It also emphasizes the importance of innovative technologies and strengthening of technology transfer as well as improved energy access, diversification of energy supplies and an increase in the use of renewable energy.

Finally, the Delhi Declaration calls for Parties that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol to urge others to do the same and stresses the need for Annex I Parties to take the lead and further implement their commitments under the convention, including financial provision, technology transfer and capacity building.

Policies and measures

Unfortunately, negotiations on policies and measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance carbon sinks were blocked on a number of fronts.

The G-77/China group cited a lack of progress in negotiations on adverse effects, under Article 2.3 of the Kyoto Protocol, and emphasized the significance of adaptation. Most Annex I countries and some developing countries argued that adaptation will ultimately be useless unless climate change is allayed by global mitigation efforts. Mitigation was, however, largely discussed in the context of implementation of existing commitments, with the G-77/China group noting that Annex I countries’ emissions continue to rise. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, insisted that policies and measures must focus also on the adverse economic effects on developing countries.

As it was clear that COP-8 would be unable to adopt any draft conclusions, the consideration of policies and measures was deferred by the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice until COP-9.

At the Sixteenth Session of the UNFCCC Subsidiary Bodies meetings in Bonn, Germany in June, Canada proposed that it be allowed emissions credit for selling natural gas and hydroelectricity to the United States. The Canadian proposal contained two dimensions:

  • to establish the principle that Kyoto parties are entitled to credit for emission reductions resulting from their export of clean energy, such as natural gas and hydroelectricity, to non-Kyoto parties; and,
  • to grant Canada up to 70 million tons of credit per year between 2008-2012.

At COP-8, Canada delivered a new proposal that requested an analysis of the role of trade in cleaner energy.

A few countries, including New Zealand, Russia and Poland, supported the concept of credits for clean energy exports. The United States and the European Union opposed the new proposal. Some participants speculated that the United States was trying to discourage Canadian ratification. Other observers believed that the United States objected to curtail discussion on adverse effects which the G-77/China group had linked to the Canadian proposal during discussions at the Sixteenth Session of the Subsidiary Bodies. As the issue then became linked to that of policies and measures as well as to adverse effects, it remained unresolved.

All these issues will be considered further at the Eighteenth Session of the Subsidiary Bodies, to be held June 2003 in Bonn, Germany.

Non-Annex 1 communications

The UNFCCC requires developing countries, with funding support from developed countries, to submit national communications. Parties had difficulty agreeing on what should be reported in the improved guidelines for non-Annex I national communications.

Two key issues were at stake:

  • firstly, the issue of comparability of data, which requires consistency in provision of information – developing country Parties felt this might create difficulties in terms of securing funding if they are not able to provide requested information; and,
  • secondly, on the issue of time scale of reporting, developing countries favoured single-year data on emission trends.

The European Union proposed a voluntary review of national communications. The G-77/ China group strongly objected. This heightened the speculation that some developing countries are reluctant to disclose good-quality information on emissions and capacities as it could lead to discussion on the broadening of commitments. A compromise text favouring the developing country position was adopted. Many developing countries have yet to submit their initial reports.

LULUCF and the Clean Development Mechanism

The discussion on land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) in the CDM was aimed at developing definitions and modalities for afforestation and reforestation projects. Parties agreed to engage in a dialogue on views submitted previously to the UNFCCC Secretariat on sinks in the CDM. A total of seventeen submissions had been made on the issues of non-permanence, additionality, leakage, uncertainty and socio-economic and environmental impacts, including impacts on biodiversity and natural ecosystems.

Discussion brought to light important issues relating to the non-permanence of forestry. Canada suggested the option of insurance against loss of forest sinks. The European Union proposed temporary certified emissions reduction. The basic idea is that after the temporary certified emissions reduction generated by sink projects have expired at the end of each commitment period, a new verification can lead to the re-issuance of these for the same carbon stock.

Tuvalu, on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, highlighted the unique nature of land-use change and forestry as CDM projects and stressed how important it was that social impact assessment be included in the project design document. The Climate Action Network supported this proposal in their statement to the Parties offering an approach that considers the social dimension to sinks.

Constructive dialogue resulted in the adoption of conclusions which requested the Secretariat to prepare options papers on modalities for sinks under the CDM. In addition, a CDM workshop focusing on sinks will take place in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil, in early February 2003.

Financial mechanism

Discussion regarding financial mechanisms continued at COP-8 following the recent establishment of three new climate funds to assist developing countries. See Tiempo, Issue 44/45, September 2002 for a detailed explanation of these funds. The G-77/China group pressed for significant adaptation project funding, detailed guidance to the Global Environment Facility on managing the new funds and regular contributions to the funds.

The Conference of the Parties reached a decision regarding guidance to the Global Environment Facility concerning administration of the Least Developed Countries Fund and the Special Climate Change Fund.

Other issues

The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice agreed that work on a long-standing Brazilian proposal that emission targets for developed countries be based on their historical responsibility for climate change should continue.

An ongoing debate from the Subsidiary Bodies’ Sixteenth session in June continued on the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report. The European Union argued that the report reflects a strong scientific consensus that human activity is a principal cause of climate change and provides the drive for dialogue on future commitments. Other Parties resisted strongly.

Finally, the United States brought to COP-8 a new agenda item on effective participation in the Convention process. This pushed for new procedures for participation in workshops and expert bodies.

Future prospects

A shift from policy making to implementation is taking place in climate governance. Emphasis has shifted from high political drama to the more laborious task of implementation. There are also new threads emerging from the World Summit on Sustainable Development outcomes which revisit the concept of sustainable development. And there is recognition that there are many ways to tackle the climate crisis, the most important of these being through domestic action.

Another emerging shift, which results from recognition of the need for more effective governance, relates to cooperation between the Climate, Biodiversity and Desertification Conventions. An important challenge is to reach consensus on ecosystem priorities. This may not be straightforward given the different goals of the conventions. Overlapping or conflicting priorities need to be addressed both between the various conventions and between each convention and domestic policies.

While formal agreement was reached on the Delhi Declaration, underlying disparities remain intact. Institutional dichotomies, such as the artificial developed and developing country divide, remain embedded within the Delhi Declaration and will re-emerge at the next negotiating round. The debate over future commitments will continue to perpetuate the underlying construct of equity and historical responsibilities for current environmental problems.

In terms of momentum, ratification of the Kyoto Protocol needs to take place for a new energy and regained determination to be inserted into the process. For those of us who believe that the Kyoto Protocol is an important tool for collectively tackling global climate change, now is an important time to reflect on achievements and to articulate how the climate regime is likely to proceed.

It was clear at COP-8 that it is too early to initiate a formal dialogue on broadening and, for the Annex I Parties, deepening future commitments, but the informal process is underway. Despite limited outcomes, the COP-8 negotiations did exhibit a sense of realism, possibly due, in part, to the geographical location. Realism was reflected in statements that fell outside the usual rhetoric by both Parties and non-governmental organizations.

It is possible that the process is slowly evolving toward a shared sense of common urgency regarding the impacts of climate change.

If it is, then this is very likely due to the renewed concept of sustainable development, under which climate change and poverty eradication are now both being considered simultaneously.

If it is true that we are beginning to share a very real sense of common urgency, then it is important, now, for Parties to convey clearly their existing and emerging national strategies and priorities, to be sharp and honest about the urgency of climate change and for all of us to engage in observation, reflection and action.

Further information
Emily Boyd, School of Development Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK. Email: The Earth Negotiations Bulletin report on COP8 can be found on the Linkages web site.

On the Web
Comment on the climate negotiations and news of ongoing developments can be accessed via the Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary Newswatch service. On the Web: The climate negotiations lists further links.

The author would like to thank Michael Lisowski for his valuable insights.