Bangkok climate talk leaves 'heavy lifting' to Poland COP24

A sign welcomes delegates at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bangkok. Photo by: UNFCCC / CC BY-NC-SA

BANGKOK — The Bangkok climate talk culminated in a 300-page draft, a tome that highlights how much is left to do before the rulebook for the Paris Agreement on climate change can be adopted in the Polish city of Katowice later this year.

Negotiators from 178 countries gathered in the Thai capital for a last chance ahead of 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to untangle the suite of guidelines that will steer the Paris Agreement toward effective implementation. With weeklong negotiations often progressing well into the night, several aspects of the rulebook did see an improvement in clarity, tired negotiators and stakeholders told Devex on Sunday. But other aspects, such as the vital issue of climate finance and details of nationally determined contributions, or NDCs, remain murky.

Developed countries — led by the United States — took an aggressive stance on finance, avoiding conversations about how they would communicate future payouts to countries hit hard by rising temperatures. Rich nations skirted talks of the replenishment of the Green Climate Fund and a process to establish a new long-term finance goal in a move that ActionAid's Global Lead on Climate Change Harjeet Singh said threatens the accord entirely.

“The Paris Agreement is on the brink,” Singh said on Sunday. “Developed countries are going back on their word and refusing to agree clear rules governing climate finance. If they remain stuck in their positions and fail to loosen their purses, this treaty may collapse.”

Frustrated developing country and civil society actors noted that the European Union didn’t step out of the U.S. shadow to speak up the way many of them expected.

“The EU seemed to hide behind that strategy for tactical reasons, but we do hope that on these issues they will emerge as ‘bridge-builders’ in the run up to Katowice,” said Yamide Dagnet, who tracks the U.N. climate process for the World Resources Institute.

Stakeholders from developed and developing nations may have held different expectations, but finance will “obviously” be a key part of the Paris Agreement work program, Anna Broadhurst, lead adviser on climate change for the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, told Devex: “I think the finance negotiators have done what was expected of them this week, shifting gear [and] making solid progress on finance agenda items,” she said.

Negotiators moved ahead on the Adaptation Fund working document, Broadhurst added, and detailed technical exchange on the governance and institutional arrangements for the fund to serve the Paris Agreement.

Negotiations on the treaty’s technology framework also inched forward. The framework will provide guidance for enhanced action on technology development and transfer to support implementing the agreement. The parties agreed that the new draft text will be the basis of negotiation in Katowice — but unsurprisingly, financing for the framework remains a contentious issue, according to Singh.

Iran, on behalf of the “Like-Minded Developing Countries” negotiation group during a mid-week press conference, cited persistent attempts by developed countries to erase differentiation or renegotiate the Paris Agreement during the talks.

Perhaps the most frustrating outcome for all parties is the impasse on the text to determine national climate plans. Countries have been grappling with how to reflect the contributions and responsibilities of developed and developing countries given varied national contexts. As of Sunday, there was no agreement to progress text on guidance for NDCs in the context of mitigation. China’s delegates advocated for different rules for developed and developing countries, while the U.S. remained firm in its strong opposition to a two-tier system.

Despite slow progress, the length of the 304-page document borne of Bangkok’s negotiations isn’t an issue, according to Dagnet. The 20-page Paris Agreement began as 100, she said, and the “user manual” of the Paris accord, which will guide its implementation,  is expected to be much longer. 

The compiled document hasn’t yet been translated into a legally written negotiating text. Instead, parties in Bangkok have agreed to give a mandate to negotiation co-chairs, which will allow them to continue to work on new text proposals to tighten the document ahead of COP24. Civil society organizations are also calling on the Polish presidency to lead diplomatic efforts ahead of Katowice and work toward a comprehensive COP24 package.

The past week of tense negotiations could end up “leaving the heavy lifting for COP24,” said Greenpeace East Asia Global Climate Political Advisor Taehyun Park. “A leadership deficit is the root cause of this slow pace and needs to be immediately addressed.”

He’s looking to the upcoming California Global Climate Action Summit, New York U.N. Climate Week, and the series of closed meetings leading to COP24 to help cut through the contentious issues that stalled talks in Bangkok.

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    Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Bangkok, she covers disaster and crisis response, innovation, women’s rights, and development trends throughout Asia. Prior to her current post, she covered leadership, careers, and the USAID implementer community from Washington, D.C. Previously, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.