News coverage of the UN climate summit in Katowice always says that the thousands of national green delegates are there to try to finalize the “rulebook” for the Paris Agreement. There may also be a few words on what the most contentious issues are, but that is about it.
The fact is that things are a huge mess at this point. The rules in question are detailed procedures for governments to follow in carrying out the various tasks specified by the Agreement. So in a way it is mostly about paperwork, which you might think is pretty non-controversial, but you would be wrong.
There are deep divisions between various parties and groups of parties. Note that the U.S. is still at the UN table and it too has some strong opinions. This is because paperwork has implications.
By far the most contentious general provisions are those involving finance. This is not surprising since money is what Katowice is all about, specifically the developed countries paying for all of the so-called “climate actions” taken by the developing countries. A whopping 134 countries say their climate action plans depend on getting our money.
The rulebook for finance is still a mess. There are two separate decision texts, which together total just 11 pages. However there are still 185 so-called “brackets” in the text. These are disputed items, which are in fact within punctuation square brackets. Bracketed items range from single words to entire sections.
Mind you, proponents say that this is big progress, because coming into Katowice there were 19 pages with 408 brackets. Not that the 200+ missing brackets were compromised on. No, the co-chairs of the drafting group for this text simply removed a lot of bracketed material on the grounds that it was impossible, or redundant, or for some other reason.
Just to give you a tiny and eye glazing taste of the impenetrable UN jargon, here is the title of one of the draft texts. Note that it is just fleshing out a single paragraph of the Agreement:
“DRAFT TEXT on SBSTA 49 agenda item 12 Modalities for the accounting of financial resources provided and mobilized through public interventions in accordance with Article 9, paragraph 7, of the Paris Agreement”
The debated issues here are truly deep, in fact they are Constitutional as far as the U.S. and some other developed countries are concerned. At its simplest, the developing countries want the developed countries to commit to future funding of at least $100 billion a year. The developed countries say they cannot do that, because present governments cannot bind future governments.
This is certainly the case in America. Each 2-year Congress passes its own budgets and the government generally can not make contracts to be paid by a future Congress. For example, multi-year research grant contracts explicitly say that future year funding is contingent on the availability of funds.
Negotiators looking for a compromise suggest that the developed countries might just provide forecasts of funding, or projections, or some such. The developed countries counter that some of these numbers might be part of their 5-year National Climate Plans, the first of which is due in 2020. (This is another bracketed issue.) As such they will read as plans, which might easily be construed a promises. This is especially true if developed countries rely on them to start major projects.
There are also a bunch of brackets regarding how much is reported about where the money comes from, where it goes and how it gets there. This is for both past and future funding, all of which is contested.
Another item, which has pitted the U.S. against China, is how much the developing countries should report. This includes both in providing funding, which the wealthier countries are supposed to do, as well as how the recipient countries handle the funds they receive. There is a lot of room for disagreement here and the secretive Chinese want as little of substance as possible.
Another item which is hugely controversial is having any reference at all to what is called “loss and damage.” This is the wild idea that the developed countries will compensate the developing world for damages attributed to climate change, which at this point includes most bad weather, plus all sea level rises. The claim is that our past emissions caused the present problem so we are liable for the damages. That the developing countries are now the biggest emitters is deemed irrelevant.
The Paris Agreement acknowledges loss and damage as something to study, but ducks the issue of compensation, which is still on the table. The developed countries are adamantly against it. The present text alludes to loss and damage several times, in ways that begin to look like compensation. These are of course bracketed. Whether any of these references to loss and damage survive, in any form, remains to be seen.
The Katowice summit is entering its second phase, where heavyweight government ministers fly in and take over the negotiations from the professional climate negotiators. This is called the political phase.
They are almost certain to come up with something, because they always do. This is after all the 24th year of playing the game. It remains to be seen how much of the potentially harmful stuff makes it through. Stay tuned.