UN climate talks go into extra time, as nations seek consensus on key roadblocks

Participants take part in the plenary session, during the final day of the COP24 UN Climate Change Conference.
Participants take part in the plenary session, during the final day of the COP24 UN Climate Change Conference.PHOTO: REUTERS
Delegates waiting for the final plenary.
Delegates waiting for the final plenary.ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN

KATOWICE, Poland - Marathon United Nations climate talks went deep into overtime on Saturday (Dec 15), as negotiators tried to overcome differences on a deal meant to drive greater efforts to limit the threat from increasingly extreme weather.

Exhausted negotiators from nearly 200 nations were expected to agree to a deal by Saturday afternoon (early Saturday morning Singapore time) after the meeting in Katowice, Poland, went more than 24 hours beyond a Friday deadline.

As at 4.45pm on Saturday afternoon, no outcome had been reached.

The final plenary session at COP 24 - the UN climate talks hosted this year by Poland - was delayed nine times from noon on Friday to 6pm on Saturday evening, with the possibility that it might be delayed further.

Even though the 156-page draft text for the COP24 outcome was published earlier in the afternoon on Saturday , negotiators spent the day haggling over contentious areas in it.

Roadblocks

A major sticking point about how carbon emissions should be accounted for was blamed for holding up the talks and there were suggestions that part of the agreement would be held over for further talks next year.

The crux of the issue is whether developing countries should be allowed to "double count" their credits for tradeable emission reductions - those that can be traded with other nations to help them meet their emission reduction targets.

The Paris Agreement had provided for a new kind of tradable offset known as an Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcome. This means that once a country sells the credit to another country, it should be retired from the seller's inventory, and not used to offset the seller's emissions.

But Brazil wants developing countries to be granted a grace period which will allow them to do both - sell the credits, and also use the sold credits to count toward their emissions reduction, with the caveat that they will make adjustments at a later date. Many countries objected to this saying it would undermine global ambition to cut emissions.

Brazil's chief negotiator Mr Antonio Marcondes told Reuters: "There are still a range of possible outcomes and Brazil continues to work constructively with other parties to find a workable pathway forward."

Another key contentious area was that of finance. The language in the draft text had signalled a stronger commitment from rich countries to contribute funds to help poorer nations reduce their emissions and adapt to the impacts of the changing climate. But there were whispers among negotiators gathered at the conference venue that the United States had raised objections.

Transparency

Other areas of the 156-page draft text looked to be in better shape, including the key area of transparency, although it remains to be seen if it will be adopted in its entirety.

The Paris pact had outlined a broad architecture in which all nations pledge to do their part to combat global warming based on their own national plans, which could include reducing emissions, or preventing deforestation. These are meant to be periodically strengthened and regularly reported and assessed.

Under the current UN framework, developed and developing countries have different transparency mechanisms for the measurement, reporting and verification of these pledges. But the rule book includes a new framework, called the Enhanced Transparency Framework, which would subject all parties to the same reporting, measurement and verification standards. However, developing countries will get the necessary support to do so, in terms of finance and capacity-building support, for example.

Such a framework will also provide the basis for countries to ratchet up their pledges every five years. This increase in collective ambition to curb global emissions was a key feature of the Paris Agreement.

Delegates at the two-week talks - hosted for the third time by the Polish government - were tasked with completing a complex rule book that would allow the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement into action in 2020.

Mr David Levai, who is lead for international climate governance for think-tank Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, told The Straits Times that the delays in outcome was due to disagreements surrounding the double counting o credits, as well as a lack of leadership in these talks.

He told The Straits Times: "We knew for awhile that Article 6 (the part of the Paris Agreement dealing with carbon markets and credits) would be a problem, in part due to its technical level but also a major issue of environmental integrity. The presidency thus should have identified, expected and planned for a contingency strategy and exercise authority on this very question."