What was achieved in Accra?

Did recent international talks in Ghana bring the world any closer to a new global agreement on climate change? Gao Feng was following the negotiations, and reports that some progress was made.

The recent UN-led climate-change meeting in Ghana (see Jennifer Morgan: “In Accra, the fog slowly lifts”) was one of the key steps on the path toward fulfilling the mandate of the “Bali road map” for greater international cooperation on global warming. At the end of the preceding set of talks, three months earlier in Bonn, Germany, there was disappointment expressed openly by nearly all of the negotiating groups. No visible progress had been made with almost half of the year behind us. Few expected the talks in Accra would see a great breakthrough, but there was a stronger sense of urgency, and the parties were more eager to engage in meaningful talks. The chairs of the two ad hoc working groups (AWGs), with the assistance of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat, also showed capable leadership.  

During the negotiations under the Bali Action Plan, known as the ad hoc working group on long-term cooperative action (AWG-LCA), parties focused on sectoral approaches and issues relating to forestry. They also set up contact groups on mitigation and adaptation (the “what” groups) and one on how to deliver on technology and finance (the “how” group). The discussions in these groups were more specific than in previous sessions, and there were some converging views with regard to adaptation and – to some extent – finance. In the contact group on adaptation, all parties supported the need for creating or strengthening regional centres to support adaptation activities in countries. Some countries wasted no time in expressing their wish to host regional centres for adaptation. 

It came as a surprise to many that the working group in question invited its chair, Luiz Machado of Brazil, to assemble the ideas and proposals presented by the parties in 2008. His text will be presented at the next meeting in Poznan, Poland, where it will be updated and hopefully become the first draft of a negotiating text to advance the debate next year. Conscious of the quickly approaching deadline for the completion of its work in Copenhagen, the working group said it would “shift into full negotiating mode in 2009 and organise its work accordingly”.  

On the side that is negotiating under the current Kyoto treaty, known as the ad hoc working group on the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP), parties concentrated on the means available to achieve emission reductions in industrialised countries. Three contact groups were set up to work on land use, land-use change and forestry; emissions trading and flexible mechanisms; and other issues (which include new gases and sectors, sectoral approaches, relevant methodological issues and “spillover effects”). There was good progress in all three groups. Useful lists of specific issues that need in-depth consideration can be found in annexes attached to the conclusions of the first two contact groups.  

The discussion on "spillover effects" – the environmental, social and economic consequences of polices and measures to address climate change – reached a shared understanding that this matter should primarily concern poorer countries. Strategies on biofuels and the food crisis, as well as the life-cycle of certain technologies and social impacts of structural change, were discussed. The working group chair, Harald Dovland of Norway, urged parties to flesh out their ideas and proposals; a text that he compiles could hopefully become a draft negotiating text for 2009.  

The hot issues in Ghana 

Sectoral approaches 

The debate on sectoral approaches in the AWG-LCA workshop centred on the interpretation of Article 4.1(c) of the Convention. (“Promote and cooperate in the development, application and diffusion, including transfer, of technologies, practices and policies that control, reduce or prevent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol in all relevant sectors, including the energy, transport, industry, agriculture, forestry and waste management sectors.”) Some developed countries highlighted the usefulness of sectoral approaches in assessing the mitigation potential, as well as the technological needs of developing countries.

One developed country requested an in-session workshop to discuss mitigation potential in key emitting sectors of all parties and the methodology used in assessing the potential. Other developed countries stressed the importance of sectoral approaches such as crediting and sectoral no-loss targets. For developing countries, sectoral approaches were to be strictly confined to enhancing technology cooperation under article 4.1(c), and not used for target-setting. There was a divergence in views, but the chair managed to identify several areas of shared understanding and interest in the discussion (these are listed in conference room paper four)

The AWG-KP group listed sectoral approaches to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) emissions-trading system and sectoral crediting of emission reductions below a no-loss target as options to improve flexible mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol.

Differentiating developing countries 

In the contact group on mitigation, developed-country parties suggested there should be a new approach to differentiate between developing country parties, and suggested that developing countries with a high per capita GDP join the Annex I industrialised countries in the Convention, with the least-developed countries taking on no mandatory actions.  

However, the G77+China said that the AWG-LCA’s mandate was only to enhance the implementation of the Convention, not to amend it to divide developing-country parties. They argued that the difference between the commitments of parties in developed countries and the actions of developing-country parties, which should be supported by technology transfer and finance from developed countries, should be upheld. They also highlighted the need to recognise the efforts of developing countries in reducing emissions. The question of how to define the words “developed” and “developing” was raised. Indicators such as per capita GDP, per capita energy use and the Human Development Index were suggested.  

Recognising that these discussions were ultimately divisive and unhelpful, the AWG-LCA chair said that it was not productive to lose time discussing such questions, and urged parties to work in a cooperative spirit.  

Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation

The debate in the workshop on deforestation and forest degradation was open and constructive, and a consensus seemed to have emerged. There was an increasing recognition that developed countries should support forestry activities in developing countries, including actions to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, forest conservation, the sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. Developing countries appeared ready to make these actions measurable, reportable and verifiable.

Several concrete proposals on policy approaches and positive incentives, both market and non-market mechanisms, were presented. But developing countries, in particular, remained deeply divided on whether these measures should be linked to the carbon market, with actions offsetting the targets of developed countries.

Financing mitigation and adaptation

The contact group on delivery of technology and finance agreed that to address the urgent risks of climate change, financial and technological support to developing countries must be streamlined and scaled up, with innovative approaches to mobilise and channel public and private resources. Specific proposals were suggested, such as auctioning 50% allowances in the European emissions trading system, developed countries pledging a certain percentage of GDP or the application of a global carbon tax.

There was an important debate about whether or not to recognise funding and support outside of the Convention framework. The G-77+China tabled a proposal that would create a new funding mechanism under the Convention, with no other financial contribution recognised or counted towards donor countries' commitments under the Convention. This was questioned by many donor countries, who highlighted the important bilateral activities they were undertaking and existing links with other institutions and mechanisms that deliver finance. It became clear that governments are very dissatisfied with the existing financial architecture; not only with the Global Environment Facility, but also with its implementing agencies. The G-77+China also said that since the Official Development Assistance (ODA) target of 0.7% of GNP since 1970 for developing countries has yet to be met, any increase in ODA up to 0.7% could not be for mitigation or adaptation, but has to be over and above this.

Improving emissions trading and flexible mechanisms

Emissions trading was identified as one of the issues that may be available to Annex I parties in order to reach their emissions reduction targets and achieve the ultimate objective of the Convention. There has long been general support for continuing these mechanisms after 2012, as well as calls to improve them. Many people called for a broader scope for CDM activities and simpler rules; others underscored the need for strict rules to ensure the mechanism's environmental integrity.

The AWG-KP compiled and synthesised all the proposals and issues to be clarified. Projects using certain technologies, such as nuclear power and carbon capture and storage, were listed in Annex I as potentially eligible CDM projects, to be determined by parties. Annex II lists issues, such as changing the composition of the Executive Board (EB) membership, moving the secretariat’s function of supporting the EB to another organisation and allocating proportions of demand of project types that contribute more to the sustainable development of host parties. It seems it will be a huge challenge to clarify all these issues in the remaining months before Copenhagen.

The mandate of the AWG-KP

There was a divergence of views in the contact group on emissions trading and flexible mechanisms about whether the AWG-KP has a mandate to go beyond the amendments on targets for industrialised countries as listed in Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol and make changes to other articles of the treaty. Some parties expressed the view that the AWG-KP does not have the mandate to do so. Some other parties believed that legal analysis was needed to clarify this issue. The conclusions of the AWG-KP chairs have recorded this difference, together with the specific inputs from the parties. Parties have been invited to submit their views on the legal implications arising from the work of the group by 15 February 2009.

What was achieved? 

The general feeling when the talks closed was that important and valuable progress had been made. There are two aspects to this conclusion: 

First, valuable discussions took place on a number of key issues on the agenda, which clarified different parties' different positions and allowed specific options to be better framed. In some aspects, the convergence of positions seemed to be heading toward an agreement in 2009. In other words, parties are finally getting to the heart of their discussions.  

Second, the process was revised, with the two AWGs requesting their chairs put together the ideas raised and elements submitted or proposed by parties in 2008 to form the first draft negotiating texts for talks in Poznan, Poland, in 2008.

It is difficult to say if Accra should be characterised as a political breakthrough, but it is safe to say that it represented an important step in advancing the negotiating process and preparing the ground for Poznan and 2009.

The three contact groups under AWG-LCA in Accra will continue at Poznan, with an additional contact group tackling the topic of the “shared vision”. It is expected that Poznan will be the final step to clear the ground for substantive negotiations in 2009 toward an agreement in Copenhagen.

Time is scarce, but the pace has accelerated. The international community will have to get ready and push for stronger and wider political impetus in order to move deeper into the negotiations.


Gao Feng is director of the legal department of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat.


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