From the Global Stocktake to We Are Still In: The role of equity in climate change action

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Photos from the U.S. Climate Action Center (left and right) and a meeting for Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (center, Nov. 10th). Left: Former Mayor of New York City and force behind America’s Pledge, Michael Bloomberg talks with Fijian Prime Minister and COP 23 President, Frank Bainimarama.

 

Writing the Rules

We are halfway through this year’s international climate negotiations, called the Conference of Parties 23 (COP 23), where it has been said the “rulebook” on the Paris Agreement will be written. One mechanism to measure the success of the agreement is the Global Stocktake (GST), a tool that will be used to assess progress toward limiting global average temperature increase as well as advancing climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development.

Under the Paris Agreement, the first stocktake will take place in 2023. The stocktake will track progress of country contributions in the areas of mitigation (greenhouse gas emissions reduction), adaptation to climate change, financial flows and means of implementation. Because of this far-reaching assessment, it’s important that a fair and transparent process be put in place, which is why conversations around the GST this year have formed around the concept of equity.

In the past week’s meetings following the GST (held under the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement item 6), the idea of a “name and shame” system for countries not meeting their commitments was rejected by several delegations. Instead, after a statement from Ghana’s delegation at the opening meeting on Tuesday, the negotiations shifted almost immediately to equity; what it means to each country and how it can be operationalized in the GST itself.

Canada highlighted the need for a discussion on equity with a series of questions including “How do we as parties understand the concept of equity? What does the application of equity mean in practical terms?” Equity is mentioned 6 times throughout the Paris Agreement to address common but differentiated responsibilities, sustainable development and eradication of poverty, gender equality and empowerment of women, capabilities based on national circumstances and in guidance on consideration of mitigation, adaptation and implementation of the GST.

U.S. Absence on Equity?

Climate change action for the U.S. has shown signs of life and vigor in the sub-national movement. However as the largest historical emitter of carbon dioxide, the U.S. also faces the challenge of incorporating guidance on equity into this movement, especially if the rules are written without us. As the world moves forward, losing U.S. participation at the federal level also means challenges on how to incorporate non-state, non-party actor ambition into guidance and assessments of common but differentiated responsibilities, technology transfer and loss and damage.

By Wednesday (Nov. 8th), the day before the U.S. Climate Action Center opened, prolonged discussion and implied lack of facilitator guidance on a template to shape the GST had left many delegations frustrated and the negotiations behind schedule. This was also the only week 1 session of the GST where the U.S. delegation made a statement, and it did not focus on equity. A Saturday session was added to the program, the day the America’s Pledge report was to be announced.

Along with reduced U.S. federal representation and reiteration of President Trump’s intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement by the U.S. delegation on Monday (Nov. 6th), the United States was a glaring absence at this year’s lineup of country pavilions, usually placed together in a large exhibit hall. Instead, the U.S. Climate Action Center opened on Thursday (Nov. 9th) outside of the negotiation zones.The center is funded by four sub-national U.S. initiatives: We Are Still In, America’s Pledge, Climate Mayors, and the U.S. Climate Alliance. Going from the negotiation room discussion on equity to the exhibition hall, the shear size of different country pavilions is a stark visualization of the global distribution of resources. This year, these scenes are set under the Fijian Presidency of COP, highlighting the undue burden that small island developing states will have from climate change impacts despite contributing negligible amounts of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere.

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Top: A snapshot of just a few of the many country pavilions from the Bonn zone. Bottom: The view of the U.S. Climate Action center from negotiation zone, Bula 3. The Bonn zone and Bula zones are separated by 1.4 km, or just under a mile.

On Saturday (Nov. 11th), as the ongoing international discussion on equity in the GST continued, leadership from local, state governments officials and non-governmental actors spoke about making good on America’s word to the Paris Agreement. Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City and the force behind America’s Pledge spoke about ramping up U.S. climate change action saying “We need to aim higher and act faster”.

Later during Governor Jerry Brown’s speech protesters argued against California’s continued use of fossil fuels. Governor Brown responded that California will be aggressive in its climate change initiatives and policy while acknowledging the protesters as the people that keep pushing the state go further in its actions. The America’s Pledge was submitted to Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC is the body under which the international negotiations are convened on an annual basis.

The final GST meeting of week 1 was held on Saturday afternoon and the discussion on equity centered around three guiding questions for the negotiating parties:

  1. What is your understanding of conducting the GST in the light of equity?
  2. Where and how will equity be captured in the GST?
  3. How do you see this working in practice?

Through about 20 formal delegation statements based on these questions, countries exchanged points on existing definitions for equity and ways to move forward. Norway’s statement included advocating for developing countries and making the needs of least developed countries a priority. The Russian delegation defined equity as objectivity calling for a transparent review of both inputs and outcomes to the GST process. The United Kingdom suggested addressing equity in finance based on countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement. The Solomon Islands joined the Maldives in calling for operationalizing equity, proposing that GST indicators to look directly at emissions and capability on emissions to track NDCs. They also expanded the discussion of capacity, bringing in topics of loss and damage and technology transfer to those on the front lines of climate change impacts. The Philippines pointed out that equity in 2023 means discussing renewable energy technology, which is largely held by companies in developed nations.

End of Week 1

Countries are moving forward in trying to codify the Global Stocktake in “the light of equity and the best available science” as written in Article 14 of the Paris Agreement. The opening of the U.S. Climate Action center largely gave hope that U.S. commitments will continue, but U.S. input on the incorporation of equity within the GST has been lacking. Additionally the U.S. is now isolated in more ways than one. On Tuesday (Nov. 7th), at the opening plenary for the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement, Syria announced on their intent to ratify the agreement, leaving the U.S. as the only nation out of 195 countries with intent to not participate fully by signing or ratifying (Currently there are 195 signatories, and 169 countries have ratified the agreement. Until 2020, the U.S. is still party to the Paris Agreement, but has submitted intent to withdraw).

What’s Next

There is a dire need for countries to build out the implementation guidelines for all of the Paris Agreement items, including the Global Stocktake. The challenge remains to form a consensus on indicators for equity in the GST action plan. We will see how the focus on equity concludes this week, as the final GST (APA item 6) meeting takes place this afternoon.

Scrutiny will remain on the U.S. beyond COP 23. In America’s Pledge, a constituency making up 54% of the U.S. economy and 35% of emissions (Table A-1) have put forth their renewed promise. Now they must also turn quickly to action. If we truly “Are Still In” it’s clear we also need to be in on equitable measurements of our actions going forward.

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