Newer and deeper divides appeared in the positions of countries in the final hours of the Madrid climate talks, which were left facing an extremely uncertain outcome on Saturday evening.
Country after country rejected the draft agreement text that was put together on Saturday morning after a whole night of effort to find a compromise language on contentious issues. With very little time at hand now — the conference, which was scheduled to end on Friday evening, is already in extra time — the Madrid talks were facing the prospect of a breakdown or an extremely weak agreement that would avoid any decision on the controversial issues.
Non-government organisations and civil society groups, which are important stakeholders in climate negotiations, also rejected the draft texts.
How carbon market works
Carbon markets — the major agenda point of the Madrid discussions — allow the trading of emissions between countries and projects, with the overall objective of incentivizing additional reductions in emissions.
Negotiators were asked to go back to the meeting rooms to revise the drafts again, to be considered later Saturday night and possibly Sunday morning.
There was only one major agenda for Madrid talks to negotiate and decide — the rules for a new carbon market to be set up under the Paris Agreement. That would have completed the Paris Agreement rulebook that was finalized in Katowice in 2018 without the provisions related to carbon markets on which countries had major disagreements.
Two other issues came to dominate the discussions at Madrid — one relating to the demand to enhance climate actions being currently taken, and the other about the need to make developed countries accountable to their climate obligations in the pre-2020 period.
A number of countries — mainly the ones most threatened by climate change, such as small island states, but also some developed countries and civil society organisations — had been demanding that countries commit themselves to taking more climate actions in view of recent scientific assessments that the world was not doing enough to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. These countries and organisations had been pushing for provisions in the Madrid agreement that would call upon all the countries to update their climate action plans, called Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs, with greater commitments by next year.
Countries such as India, China, and many others have been strongly resisting this. They have been arguing that it was more important to start delivering on the commitments already made in the past than make fresh commitments. It was in this context that these countries repeatedly raised the issue of unfulfilled promises of developed countries in the pre-2020 period. Under the Kyoto Protocol, the predecessor to the Paris Agreement, developed countries were mandated to make targeted cuts in their emissions, and also provide money and technology to the developing countries to help them fight climate change. But the developed countries have been way short of meeting these obligations.
As a result, developing countries led by India, China and Brazil had been pushing for provisions that would hold the developed countries accountable to their past promises.
When the first draft of the agreement came on Friday morning, all these options had been included. But that draft was heavily bracketed, each bracket representing a difference of opinion and different option on the table. The final agreement cannot have brackets. So when the revised draft was put before the negotiators on Saturday morning, many of the earlier options had been removed, triggering angry reactions from whoever was backing those.
The European Union, Spain, Bangladesh, Belize, Colombia, Grenada and many others pointed out that the draft text did not strongly ask the countries to raise the “ambition” of their climate actions by next year, and this would unacceptable to them.
“This was supposed to be a COP (Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the formal name of the climate meetings) of ambition. We do not see this ambition reflected anywhere,” said the negotiator from Belize, while speaking on behalf of the group of small island countries.
The EU representative said it would be “impossible for EU to leave this COP without a satisfactory language on ambition”. Mexico said it was disappointed to see that there was no mention of NDCs being by next year. “We would have failed the COP if we do not have provisions to enhance ambition,” the Mexican negotiator said.
Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Tuvalu also made similar remarks on absence of stronger provisions on raising of ambition of climate actions.
Countries such as India and China, on the other hand, lamented the fact that a provision on creating a work programme to assess the performance of developed countries on their pre-2020 promises had been dropped. “The problems we are facing today are not because of lack of intent but because of lack of implementation which is very glaringly visible in the unmet pre-2020 targets. The work programme was meant to address these gaps,” India said.
China said it had already made it clear that strong provisions on assessment of pre-2020 actions was “very important for all developing countries”, and needed to be strongly reflected in the final agreement.
The United States strongly objected to even a mention of assessment of pre-2020 actions and demanded that it be removed.
Many countries had other problems as well. Saudi Arabia and Russia, for example, said they would not accept an agreement that acknowledged the Oceans report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change but ignored the Land Report by the same organisation. The IPCC’s Oceans report was about the impact of climate change on oceans, while the other report was about how land systems and land-use affects and in turn is affected by climate change. The land report touches upon the sensitive subject of emissions from agricultural practices.
While all this was being discussed, the draft text on carbon markets had not even been finalised. The provisions related to carbon markets have been deeply contested with India, Brazil, China and some other developing countries aligned on one side, and the developed countries, many small island countries, and civil society groups on the other side. When the draft text on carbon markets did make its appearance a little later on Saturday morning, it was promptly rejected by Belize and some other countries.