Where next for the climate treaty?

Lisa Schipper details the main issues debated at the latest sessions of the Subsidiary Bodies to the climate treaty.

The author is a doctoral candidate researching adaptation to climate change in developing countries at the School of Development Studies and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, United Kingdom. She has been a writer for the International Institute for Sustainable Development's Earth Negotiations Bulletin since March 2000.

In June 2003, the Maritim Hotel in Bonn, Germany, once again geared up to hold sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The regular cast of characters was present, but the corridors were eerily quiet as the sleepy eighteenth sessions of the Subsidiary Bodies (SB-18) opened.

The agenda was packed with a number of different issues that need consideration before the Ninth Conference of the Parties (COP-9), to be held in Milan, Italy, in December 2003, and, whenever it might take place, the First Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP/MOP-1). But a sense of urgency did not prevail.

Attention on international politics was admittedly turned to matters in other parts of the world for a valid reason, but the slow pace of SB-18 could represent a serious loss of momentum in the climate change process. The outcome of this is that COP-9 in December could be all the more frenzied and unfocused for it.

One of the most pertinent questions on participants minds during SB-18 was whether COP-9 would also be COP/MOP-1. With the withdrawal of the United States from the Kyoto Protocol, Russia remains the key player in order for the requirements to be met to allow the Protocol come into force. Along with substantial preparations, administrative and budget issues were also affected by this uncertainty.

Although some issues were able to move forward, including methodological ones, the general lack of enthusiasm at SB-18 and the weariness present in the meeting rooms gave an indication of possible doubt in delegates minds as to how the process will advance, should entry into force of the Protocol be further delayed. Unclear signals from Moscow did not reinforce confidence in Russia's ratification among participants at the ten-day sessions of the SB-18.

Furthermore, negotiations on adverse effects and policies and measures did not result in any agreement on substantial conclusions. Traditional stumbling blocks, such as land use, land-use change and forestry only resulted in a text forwarded to COP-9 riddled with brackets.

It must be asked what impact another meeting as drowsy and unproductive as SB-18 could have on this process, not only from the point of view of those who have ratified and are waiting for entry into force of the Protocol, but also on those whose ratification is urgently awaited.

Clearly, the momentum that was so strong leading up to COP-6 in The Netherlands in 2000 and that was maintained due to the prolonging of negotiations until agreement on the Marrakech Accords at COP-7 in November 2002 has mostly dissipated.

Nevertheless, in the corridors of the Maritim Hotel, alternative proposals on adaptation issues were circulating informally and rumours of the “Adaptation Protocol”, thought to have been “killed off” at COP-8 in India in 2002, reappeared. This could be an indication that, despite the slow pace, alternative solutions are rustling in the wind. COP-9 may display further evidence of this.

Ratification concerns

The purpose of SB-18 was to continue preparing for COP-9 to be held in December in Italy. According to Kyoto Protocol Article 25.3, if COP-9 would have been COP/MOP-1, Russia would have had to ratify the Kyoto Protocol 90 days before the opening of COP-9, in other words September 1st 2003.

Throughout SB-18, participants speculated informally about Russia's ratification. On June 13th, however, news from Moscow indicated that Russia was having “second thoughts” about ratification. Entry into force of the Protocol would not only allow the process to move forward, but Russia's ratification would demonstrate confidence in the regime itself.

The principle behind ratification and confidence, namely a global political commitment to address climate change, could potentially be undermined by a prolonged, or even failed, process.

However, delayed entry into force is allowing complications in administrative and financial matters, resulting from uncertainty in the ratification process and the withdrawal from the Protocol by the United States and Australia, to be addressed more extensively. Because the entire UNFCCC and Protocol process has been set up under the assumption that parties to the UNFCCC will also be parties to the Protocol, the withdrawal of the United States and Australia has created logistical difficulties that now must be tackled.

For this reason, at SB-18, the UNFCCC Secretariat presented two scenarios for the future work programme. One scenario was in the case that the Protocol did not enter into force by COP-9, and the other scenario was in the case that COP-9 was to become COP/MOP-1.

Some agenda items have thus far been discussed together such as UNFCCC Articles 4.8 and 4.9 and Protocol Article 3.14 because they address the same issue (adverse effects) under the different instruments. It appears impractical to consider the articles in separate discussions. However, some delegations at SB-18 supported the separation of the Conference of the Parties and the Conference of the Parties/Meeting of the Parties. Parties agreed to organize future COPs and COP/MOPs in such a way that similar or related issues are dealt with jointly if the parties decide to do so. A draft decision was forwarded to COP-9, which may hear further discussion on this matter.

Problems in discussions on the 2004-2005 budget also reflected the increasingly political nature of these otherwise mainly administrative matters. The concern is how to separate the budget so that funding for UNFCCC activities and Protocol activities are distinct and separate. This was supported by non-parties to the Protocol, that is, Australia and the United States, so that these parties could be assured that their contributions are not financing Protocol activities. The United States first raised this issue at COP-7 in Morocco in 2001.

During SB-18, participants discussed a draft COP-9 decision containing three options for the budget. Clearly, dividing the budget as well as the COP and COP/MOP meetings could hamper work, and reduce effectiveness and success of the process. With an inadequate budget, the Secretariat will be affected, and the preparation of negotiation texts and other documents requested by parties will be delayed. With concerns about the momentum and commitment to the process being raised elsewhere as well, it appears that administrative and financial woes are an additional burden on the thinning threads holding together the UNFCCC process.

Adaptation and “independent” issues

Despite pessimistic signs in the structure of the process, several issues are gaining momentum, due mainly to increasing discourses undertaken beyond the UNFCCC context. Adaptation is one of these issues. In its July 2003 newsletter, Climate Action Network-Europe noted a “behind the scenes live debate” on adaptation issues at SB-18.

Adaptation is an issue that has developed since COP-7, not only within the UNFCCC context, but also beyond this, as is evidenced by the numerous side- and all-day events on adaptation that have recently been scheduled during the conferences. COP-8 in India was dubbed the “adaptation COP”, yet it appears that the most fruitful discussions on adaptation are actually occurring outside the official UNFCCC context.

Although the adaptation community had long attempted to push adaptation as a complementary response strategy to mitigation, adaptation was not given much attention within the main areas of negotiation under the 1998 Buenos Aires Plan of Action. In addition, perhaps due to the scattering of adaptation references within the UNFCCC text and political pressure from OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Producing Countries) countries, negotiations on matters related to adaptation have not stood as a separate agenda item.

However, adaptation was far from missing at SB-18. Working Paper Number 10 containing a review of adaptation activities under the UNFCCC was circulated. Limited discussion on adaptation appeared under matters relating to Least Developed Countries (LDCs), adverse effects, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Third Assessment Report, and the Special Climate Change Fund.

Adaptation “victories” came in the negotiations on the IPCC's Third Assessment Report, where scientific, technical and socio-economic aspects of adaptation will be considered separately from a similar item on mitigation.

In the Special Climate Change Fund, it was also noted that “parties identified adaptation activities to address the adverse impacts of climate change as a top priority for funding.”

Adaptation also has moved forward in the case of the Least Developed Countries, with their National Adaptation Plans of Action (NAPAs), although a lack of flow in funding is causing delay in the work.

As a result of this diffusion of adaptation issues, some participants suggested that it might be considered as a “cross-cutting” issue for the purpose of future discussions.

Other issues as well, have been developing outside the official negotiations process, such as the Clean Development Mechanism Executive Board. With its own website, separate meetings and structure, the Clean Development Mechanism Executive Board counts as one of the “constituted bodies” of the UNFCCC. Others that fit into this “constituted bodies” category are the Least Developed Countries Expert Group, the Expert Group on Technology Transfer, and the Consultative Group of Experts on non-Annex I national communications. These bodies are, in general, meeting immediately prior to, or during, the UNFCCC meetings. The Clean Development Mechanism Executive Board meeting held during SB-18 sent positive signals about the rigour of the Clean Development Mechanism process, in that several projects up for evaluation were rejected.

Other major SB-18 issues

Although the negotiations on adverse effects resulted in conclusions, the context of these conclusions was that there were no conclusions. Delegates were unable to agree on the way forward in the deliberations on decision 5/CP.7 (adverse effects), with Saudi Arabia successfully blocking the discussion.

Traditionally, OPEC countries have stressed the aspect of adverse effects referring to the effects of policies and measures taken by Annex I parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on economies highly dependent on fossil fuel production and export, rather than the direct adverse effects of climate change.

At SB-18, delegates could not agree how to move forward on the outcomes of the workshops on risk assessment and insurance in the context of climate change (May 2003). Neither could they agree on modelling activities to assess adverse effects of climate change and impacts of response measures (May 2002) and so discussion stalled until time had expired.

There are some who feel that outcomes from the Special Climate Change Fund discussion indicate that sufficient constraints have been set for the “expedited access” agreed in the Marrakech Accords not to be provided. What is clear, though, is that the World Summit on Sustainable Development process and parallel discussions on “mainstreaming” have had their impact on the UNFCCC negotiations.

Parties agreed that Special Climate Change Fund activities should be “integrated into national sustainable development and poverty reduction strategies” (paragraph 2, FCCC/SBI/ 2003/L.13). Adaptation was considered a “priority” issue for attention under this Fund, but many other issues have also been directed to the Fund. Observers noted that, in fact, the Adaptation Fund under the Protocol has not yet come onto the table, and the Special Climate Change Fund may, therefore, be more appropriate for other issues that will not be addressed by the other specific funds such as the Least Developed Countries Fund, the Adaptation Fund and other existing mechanisms. Guidance to the Global Environment Facility for the operation of the Special Climate Change Fund will be considered at SBI-19 and a draft decision is to be recommended to COP-9 for adoption.

The land use, land-use change and forestry “sinks” under the Clean Development Mechanism deliberations were based on three main issues in the discussion on developing definitions and modalities for including afforestation and reforestation project activities in the first commitment period. The three main issues were definitions, non-permanence, and environmental and socio-economic impacts of afforestation and reforestation.

Delegates considered a consolidated text and worked on a negotiating text that is annexed to the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice conclusions (FCCC/ SBSTA/2003/L.13). This annex and its appendices contain a high amount of brackets and options, meaning that tough deliberations at SBSTA-19 which will be held in conjunction with COP-9 in December in Italy can be expected.

Work on methodological issues under Kyoto Protocol Articles 5, 7 and 8 (methodological issues, communication and review of information) was finally completed with agreement on technical guidance and methodologies for adjustments (Article 5.2) and issues relating to implementation of Article 8. Among other things, Parties agreed on a training programme for expert review teams participating in the review. They also agreed on the details of criteria for selecting review team members and a code of practice for the treatment of confidential information in the review of inventories.

Discussions on policies and measures once again fell apart over how far information sharing should be extended.

Saudi Arabia and some G-77/China parties said discussions should be limited to Annex I Parties and should focus on the adverse effects of policies and measures. Others said information sharing could be useful for all parties. Essentially, the policies and measures discussion fell hostage to a discussion on Protocol Article 2.3 (adverse effects of policies and measures) that was taking place elsewhere, but which had been classified as “informal” by the Chair of the SBSTA. In the informal group no consensus was reached, and conclusions adopted note that the issue will be considered further at SBSTA-19.

The policies and measures discussion, therefore, bore the burden of the debate, and was unable to advance on any of its other work. The conclusions were not substantial.

The way to COP-9

In general, one could assess SB-18 as an uneventful and unremarkable meeting. As a result of this, delegates at COP-9 in December in Italy will have full plates to handle.

Disagreements on several negotiating issues such as those related to the sinks in the Clean Development Mechanism debate have persisted for a length of time now. Furthermore, the old rift between developed and developing countries appears to have resurfaced with greater strength than ever as a result of increasing pressure for certain developing countries to take on emissions reduction commitments in the next commitment period.

While the developing-developed country conflict is nothing new, certain aspects of this came out stronger than ever. Clear disagreements within the G-77/China emerged from inconsistencies in their position, for example, on adverse effects and policies and measures, resulting in overt opposition between G-77/China Parties in various contact groups.

With the debate about the budget overshadowing many other issues at SB-18, it is clear that the Protocol versus Climate Convention fight may very well continue, at least until the Kyoto Protocol enters into force.

Further information
E Lisa Schipper, School of Development Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK. Email: e.schipper@uea.ac.uk.

On the Web
Further information can be obtained from the following websites: Reports from the UNFCCC of the Subsidiary Bodies sessions at www.unfccc.int; Earth Negotiations Bulletin at www.iisd.ca/climate/; Hotspot at www.climnet.org/hotspot/hotspot.htm and the Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary Newswatch facility at www.cru.uea.ac.uk/tiempo/newswatch/.