COP21 : Confrontation in discussion


Brian P. Flannery, a center Fellow at Resources for the Future summarizes the confrontation in the discussions at the last meeting of UNFCCC before the COP21.

Just before the meeting the co-chairs distributed a new, significantly pared down Non-paper to serve as the basis for discussions in Bonn. It met with dramatic pushback, especially from developing nations. All agreed that it needed to be augmented with proposals that were essential to Parties : so, they proceeded to re-insert multiple conflicting proposals. At least they agreed that the new text was a Party-owned document that could serve for negotiations in Paris.

Brian P. Flannery is grateful to Resources for the Future and to United States Council for International Business for providing support for him to attend the meetings.

The report by Brian P. Flannery

UNFCCC Meeting of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform, (ADP 2-11), Bonn, Germany, October 19-23, 2015

Approximately 2,000 delegates from national governments (1290) intergovernmental (90) and non-governmental (550) organizations and media (100) attended the final negotiations before Paris. Parties met to continue developing the Paris Agreement. It will comprise 1) a new, durable, universal Agreement to take effect in 2020, 2) ways to enhance ambition in mitigation and finance before 2020, and 3) COP decisions that will enable preparatory work and implementation of the Agreement in coming years.

Scene set

Since compilation of the official Geneva Text in February, ADP’s goal has been to consolidate and streamline the lengthy (90 pages, 11 sections, 224 paragraphs), disorganized compilation text resulting from unfiltered inputs by Parties. Leaders from current (Peru) and incoming (France) presidencies have requested ADP to produce a concise text as input to COP 21 in December with clear options for political decisions by ministers. Meetings in June and September failed materially to reduce or clarify the text. Moreover, ADP had not yet produced a version that Parties accept as the basis for negotiation. Work has proceeded in groups managed by co-facilitators that address specific areas of text and others led by the co-chairs. So far they have made only slight edits, and have not actually negotiated. Following the August meeting, co-chairs and facilitators produced a new Non-paper (October 5) that dramatically reduced the negotiating text and accompanying decisions (to 9 and 10 pages respectively). However, the Non-paper discarded key proposals of many groups and introduced new ideas that had not been part of the previous text or discussion in open meetings.


At the opening, officials from Peru and France called (pleaded) for more cooperation and progress with a definitive text to emerge from this session. They insisted: there was no plan B; no opportunity for additional negotiations before Paris; crunch time had arrived. Laurence Tubiana (France) referred to the Non-paper as a bold step, more concise and better organized, but requiring balance and ambition to correct weakness and fix gaps. The co-chairs proposed that the session would proceed again in facilitated discussions. However, before starting that process, they asked Parties to identify essential, must have “surgical insertions” of essential proposals required to augment the Non-paper. It seemed that this approach had been agreed during consultations before the official start.

And then the meeting blew up. Developing nations declared the Non-paper unacceptable, because it rewrote and re-interpreted the Convention. Speaking for the G77 and China and making a very bitter analogy to apartheid, South Africa declared that they should not now have to justify re-inserting self-evident, text declaring fundamental interests of the developing nations that (they asserted) were previously agreed. While several nations appreciated the brevity and organization in the Non-paper, all objected to the elimination of essential proposals. Also, over the objection of G77 & China, the co-chairs declared that “spinoff groups” would be closed to observers. Parties then proceeded to reload the text with insertions, essentially reverting to the customary compilation text, which, at the end of the week, amounted to ~60 pages of often ill-posed text and options.

Because spinoff groups were closed, it was challenging for observers to monitor progress. However, a stocktaking session occurred on Thursday evening, where again emotions were high. After long delays, because heads of delegation of G77 & China were holding a lengthy, separate meeting to “coordinate” their position, the co-chairs began the meeting without them. Venezuela and South Africa objected bitterly. South Africa stated that developing nations’ views did not seem to matter. Venezuela railed that the views of 130 nations were being disregarded and, recalling Copenhagen, that Paris could have a very, very nasty outcome if that did not change. It was a difficult several days, especially for the co-chairs. Little could be done to smooth over the acrimony and ADP forged on to its close on Friday.

The final text contains proposals that cross red lines for many nations: the developed world appears unable to satisfy demands of the developing nations for financial aid and procedures to disburse aid; proposals on loss and damage by developing nations appear to be unacceptable, especially to the US; the EU seeks legally binding compliance to achieve mitigation pledges; the US will not accept compliance to achieve mitigation and financial pledges; a small number of vocal Parties object to the use of carbon markets; treatment of CBDR in pledges, reporting and review remains contentious; above all Parties remain far from the hortatory goal to limit warming to (2 or 1.5) °C; and proposals for cycles of renewal will not be framed to guarantee outcomes.

Differences exist also within G77 & China: AOSIS and LDCs are not aligned with the major, rapidly growing nations and others in the Like Minded Developing Countries. Yet, to a remarkable degree, they remain aligned, and are pushing back strongly on the direction the negotiations appear to be heading: towards a largely voluntary outcome, with limited financial aid, and no clear approach to achieving ambitious long-term goals. Despite legitimate concerns by developing nations over unmet expectations, developed nations are not in a position to assent to their positions.

Summary and Next Steps

COP 21 convenes November 30-December 11. In a sign of some progress, ADP agreed that the latest text (see below) is the Party-owned basis for negotiations in Paris. ADP will meet Tuesday through Saturday December 1-5, after which outcomes will depend on decisions by ministers in week two as adopted by the COP. Watch to see if an acceptable new text will emerge, if all Parties agree, in week 2. On October 30 the Secretariat posted their Synthesis Report on Aggregate effect of INDCs (see below). The information considers 119 INDCs from 147 Parties, covering approximately 75 percent of Parties and 86% of global emissions in 2010. Results are well above pathways to 2 °C. Ultimate outcomes will depend on future developments. Those looking ahead to 2016, note that meetings will occur in May and November: The Subsidiary Bodies meet in Bonn May 16-26. COP 22 convenes in Marrakech, Morocco, November 7-18.