Climate negotiators grapple over balanced Paris 'rulebook' in Bangkok

A view of the plenary during the Bangkok climate change conference. Photo by: UNFCCC / CC BY-NC-SA

BANGKOK — Climate talks kick off today in Bangkok, where government delegations are tasked with drafting clear guidelines to send with ministers to the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Poland in December. But progress toward the Katowice COP24 remains mired in questions of responsibility and fairness among developed and developing nations, and experts expect these debates to slow talks in the Thai capital this week.

Some contentious agenda items — such as the fine print to define the treaty’s climate finance and adaptation measures — might get wiped off the negotiating table altogether, concerned activists tell Devex.

Behind the scenes, the United States delegation has been holding bilateral meetings to discourage any talk of finance in Bangkok, several climate activists told Devex Monday. They fear other developed nations will follow the U.S. lead to quash the continuation of climate finance negotiations ahead of COP24 — an aspect of the guidelines of the Paris Agreement on climate change perceived to be at the top of the to-do list by many developing nation representatives.

Some civil society groups question whether the U.S. delegation should still be at the table at all, but the nation’s intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement cannot be acted upon until 2020.

Negotiators have been grappling with how to move the Paris accord forward since its adoption in Dec. 2015. It’s the Paris “rulebook” — the framework of operating procedures for how countries should fulfil their obligations under the treaty — that delegations in Bangkok seek to move forward this week.  

International NGO ActionAid has put forward what it considers to be some of the most important topics the rulebook should guarantee — the first of which is sufficient and predictable climate finance for developing countries. In particular, ActionAid’s International Climate Policy Manager Harjeet Singh will be watching for negotiators to address compensation for climate-related loss and damage. Balance is the goal, but it’s rich countries that continue to throw the talks off kilter, he said.

“Financing remains at the core of our demands,” Singh said. “Unless and until money is delivered, global justice cannot be delivered. And we don’t want that money in the form of aid. We want it as compensation, as obligation, because rich countries have caused the crisis and now they better pay up.”

There’s no doubt it will be a complex negotiation process, said Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, while speaking at a press conference in Bangkok on Monday.

“The complexity lies more than anything in trying to build a regime that can apply to all the countries, but at the same time introduces flexibility and takes into account these different realities,” she told Devex, referring to different degrees of responsibility industrialized nations should undertake based on their own emissions.

Negotiating groups will spend the week deliberating on guidelines for how countries will communicate their climate plans, how they will review progress made to curb emissions, and what cooperation will look like in terms of providing support to countries in need of climate finance.

Perhaps the most difficult issue, Espinosa said, is striking the right balance — between the obligations of developed versus developing nations to ensure technical and financial support, and between adaptation and mitigation to address the effects of climate change everywhere, including on the most vulnerable.

Espinosa stressed the importance of not getting stuck solely on mitigation during the Bangkok talks, which will continue through Sept. 9, and instead focusing on creating strong and inclusive draft guidelines to be sent to Poland for further negotiation.

But developed countries are still working hard to limit the entire agreement to mitigation, Singh told Devex, and ensuring that adaptation gets its “due credit” is the other “big fight” that civil society movements and developing countries will take on this week.

“Now is the time to develop rules to make sure that the Paris Agreement is not an empty shell,” Singh said.

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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.