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Climate summit deadlocked over immediate action

The US and EU are leading opposition to discussions, leaving India, China and other members incensed, reports Joydeep Gupta

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His Excellency Mr Frank Bainimarama, the Fijian President of COP23 (Image: UNclimatechange)

A closed-door meeting over the inclusion of immediate climate action in the agenda at this year’s climate summit in Bonn, Germany, has failed to break the deadlock between developing and developed countries.

From the start of the UN summit on Monday, developing countries led by India, China and Iran have been asking for the inclusion of immediate climate action in the agenda.

Developed countries have been opposing this because it puts their actions under the spotlight. The Paris Agreement comes into force in 2020 so prior efforts to limit climate change are largely the responsibility of industrialised countries under the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol. But many industrialised countries have not even ratified the second phase in their legislatures.

Before the start of this year’s summit, the presidency of which is held by Fiji, countries in the negotiating bloc called Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) submitted a proposal to include pre-2020 actions onto the COP23 agenda. The LMDC group of 24 countries includes Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Iran, and Vietnam, among others.

But the proposal has been opposed by developed countries, led by the US and the EU. Outgoing COP president Salaheddine Mezouar of Morocco held informal consultations to break the deadlock. When he failed, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama called a closed-door meeting. But that did not resolve the matter either.

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The LMDC wants to know what the developed nations are doing to “honour their existing commitments”, according to a developing country delegate who was present.

Developed country delegates said this would be a waste of time because “pre-2020 issues were already being discussed under several other agenda items and did not need any more dedicated space,” according to a developed country delegate.

The Africa Group, India and China have argued that existing agenda items do not address the matters at hand.

“There was need for developed countries to accelerate and raise their ambition in reducing the emissions gap in the pre-2020 timeframe and to not shift the burden onto developing countries in the post-2020 timeframe under the Paris Agreement,” a delegate from an African country told chinadialogue, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Developing countries have pointed to climate change impacts such as storms, floods, sea level rise, droughts and ocean acidification being faced right now, and are seeking immediate action.

In response, one US delegate reportedly said, “There is no point in adding on more items; pre-2020 issues have been taken up for quite some time.”

One delegate from an EU country reportedly said, “I do not think having this item on the agenda will reduce one single tonne of emissions or add any additional finance.” That angered the developing countries further.

A number of countries in the LMDC, including China and India, got up at the closed-door meeting to strongly refute the contention of industrialised countries, according to many of the government delegates present.

Speaking on behalf of the G77 – the largest group of developing countries – the delegate from Ecuador reminded everyone that discussion over pre-2020 action had been promised at the end of the last year’s climate summit in Morocco.

The delegate from India pointed out that there had been little progress in addressing loss and damage caused by climate change impacts, and fixed timelines should be put in place for promises made.

Countries had “taken several decisions which were not fully implemented and given the short time left to close the pre-2020 gap, there is an urgent need to act,” the Indian delegate reportedly said.

The delegate from China sought clear timelines on pre-2020 actions, and pointed to the “increasing gap in ambition” by industrialised countries to combat climate change. Some countries have even re-adjusted their commitments downwards, he pointed out.

The delegate from Brazil said he found it “incomprehensible” why any government should resist having the pre-2020 item in the agenda of the COP. “Does it also mean that all the talk of post-2020 ambition is also mere lip service?” he reportedly asked.

The meeting ended with Bainimarama asking delegates to meet one another informally and “seek ways to move forward on the matter,” according to one delegate who was present. He added that he would continue with the informal consultations as well.

Most of the non-governmental organisations observing the climate negotiations supported the stand taken by developing countries.

Speaking on behalf of their umbrella group Climate Action Network, Camilla Born, senior policy adviser at E3G, said, "There is a need to talk about pre-2020 action. We need to see the COP presidency find space for it here."

The senior negotiator in the Chinese delegation Chen Zhihua said that having pre-2020 action on the agenda would be an “important mechanism to revisit targets, but we don’t see much progress.” 

“The whole group of developing countries is very firm on this because there are very big gaps in [mitigation] action by developed countries and their support to developing countries” to deal with the impacts of climate change.

He noted that in Warsaw during the 2013 climate summit it was decided that support by developed countries to developing countries would be increased year by year.

"But we don’t see much of that. We want this on the agenda to discuss how to close the gap. Developed countries are very busy with the Paris agreement. But this is more urgent,” he said.

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