Discussions to draft text for Paris climate agreement from June

Parties to hold negotiations in a formal contact group

By Uthra Radhakrishnan
Published: Thursday 13 March 2014

Clearing the air on the format of discussions to prepare the draft text of the Paris climate change agreement, Kishan Kumarasingh, co-chair of the Ad hoc Working Group on Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), announced on Wednesday evening that formal discussions in a contact group will be opened in June.

“The text will be developed by parties through their views expressed in submissions and interventions through a contact group,” he said. The decision was taken in a mid-week stocktaking session that threatened to go overtime.

Earlier last year in Warsaw, the parties had decided that to keep the deadline for a deal to emerge in 2015, a draft negotiating text needed to be readied by 2014-end at the meeting in Lima, Peru. However, parties were divided over what the negotiation format should be. G-77 and China lent credibility to many developing country groupings’ earlier call for a contact group by demanding “a more structured and formal mode of negotiations” to start by the end of the week. This was in contrast to what the European Union and other developed countries under the Umbrella Group suggested. They preferred the discussions to continue in an open-ended format where all parties discussed the elements of a framework for a new agreement.

The open-ended mode of discussions initiated under ADP is considered transparent owing to the presence of observer group organisations. It is also more informal and prevents parties from being candid with each other in closed-door sessions. Usually, contact groups are set up on specific issues where smaller groups of parties deliberate and draft text. However, it seems to have run its due course of time. Following a demand from the Environmental Integrity Group that there cannot be a “proliferation of contact groups” and the support for a single contact group by several developing country groupings under the G77 and China, the co-chair affirmed that this request would be formally finalised when the meeting closed on Friday, March 14.

Consistent repetition or overstating usually lends one to question the credibility of what is being said. It was difficult to overlook the levels of mistrust that had seeped in despite the co-chairs and parties alike repeatedly confirming that it was a “party-driven” process. Several parties, including India, complained of the level of progress made. Some even criticised the format of the discussion. The Indian delegate said he was “deeply concerned” about the mode and substance of work. “We have failed to make progress in our current format on the elements as mandated by Warsaw. We are disappointed in the logistic arrangements,” he said.

Some sought clarity on how exactly the party-driven process would manifest in a text. It was agreed that the final text would be a compilation of party submissions and interventions. Those in the hall and on twitter forums, who feverishly debated the subject, were looking to the past for their explanations and answers. Leading up to the Copenhagen summit, the last time a major deal on climate change was attempted, text compilations ran into hundreds of pages. Avoiding such lengthy, bracketed texts was one of the reasons some parties endeavoured to keep discussions open-ended.

Yeb Sano, lead negotiator for the Philippines, however, presented a different proposition for all to consider. He said, “Why should we have a problem with a 200-page text? I would rather have 200-page text that all parties could own rather than a three-page text that only a few owned.”

The co-chair closed the session by reminding everyone that while co-chairs had no authority to intervene over party submissions and interventions, a mere compilation of the text would not be final. “Nothing would be final until the last gavel in Paris.”

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