Taxpayers Need Reform of Climate Talks

The annual summit of the UNFCCC (the international body charged with coming to agreements on action against climate change) has ended with some progress.  Rejoice!

The commitment from developed nations to compensate the developing world for ‘loss and damage’ caused by climate change is a positive step.  It hard-wires the repayment of the ‘climate debt’ owed by the industrialised global ‘north’ to the developing global ‘south’ into the negotiating text.   What it will mean in practice is hard to judge – there is no new institution or figures attached – but it is a principle that many states have wanted included for many years, and now it is there, without an official challenge from the US (which was threatened until the last minute).

The Kyoto Protocol has been extended to 2020 with some token targets already offered by the EU and Australia. The full text of the arrangements to 2020 will be agreed in a treaty to be signing in 2015.

These are all positive steps for the planet and the last-gasp attempts by the human race to work at an international level to prevent our atmosphere going the way of Venus.  We have also seen more semantic gymnastics to find a description of something that is not an agreement – from Accord, to Platform, we now have a ‘Gateway’.

This is progress, and if these were outcomes of a couple of days’ hard negotiation, they would be more laudable.  That they are the best you can say about a negotiation process that has been meeting for fortnightly negotiations at least once a year since 1997,  means we should not get too excited.

If Doha represents anything, hopefully it will be the time that the world accepts that the COP process needs reform.  Protected by a self-interested shield of protocol and mountains of opaque text, delegates and members of the secretariat are not being held accountable for their failure to reach a binding agreement (the aim of the process).

Thanks to the Doha Gateway, this process is guaranteed until at least 2020, without guarantee of any further progress on the text, with taxpayers picking up the bill.

In all there were 17,000 delegates in Doha.  The picture Greg Barker posted on Twitter showed a UK delegation of around 30.  30 civil servants in Doha for a fortnight (and Duban last year, Cancun the year before) without coming away with an agreement.  No wonder George Osborne is looking to DECC for more cuts, and what do you think the taxpayer makes of it?

Now we have the Green Climate Fund (a useful outcome of COP15) running in parallel and national governments are pushing on with action, the COP meetings must be scaled down.  I would hope they can become less focused on text and more committed to light touch management and pledges of funding for the GCF, knowledge sharing on national measures and facilitating bilateral agreements.  The CDM should be given more autonomy to progress into an MRV mechanism that does not need to come back to these annual shindigs to sign off every reform.

Abandoning attempts to negotiate a new binding treaty, would make process simpler, delegations smaller and the timetable shorter.  There may still be very positive outcomes – non-binding statements, pledges of funding, and support for bilateral or regional action – but they would be reached more quickly if parties were free of the horrendous protocol that currently exists over the wording of the draft treaty text.

I support having an international level of discussion on climate change and the ways in which the world should come together to respond.  But the UNFCCC can not go on as it is, as these annual failures do great damage to the public’s perception of the fight against climate change.

On the final day in Doha the Chairman of the plenary meeting gavelled through the final text despite protests from Russia.  Finally someone was brave enough to cut through the process to get to an outcome.   The Qataris have been much criticised for their handling of the meeting, but I hope that this moment of decisiveness will be a turning point for the UNFCCC.

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