TWN Info Service on Climate Change (Apr14/04)
17 April 2014
Third World Network

Contentious issues at IPCC mitigation meeting

Geneva, 16 April (Meena Raman)- Several contentious issues arose prior to the adoption of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Summary Report for Policy Makers (SPM) on ‘mitigation’.

These included a long wrangling over the issue of income-based categories and emissions trends, the way ‘international cooperation’ was depicted including the role of the private sector, issues relating to sustainable development and equity in the context of approaches to mitigation, the treatment of fossil fuel subsidies and technologies involving geo-engineering.

The IPCC, comprising 195 governments, adopted the SPM after a gruelling week of meetings with the government delegates and some of the scientists who authored the draft going through the 33-page text line by line, with many dozens of amendments.

The meeting in Berlin on 7-12 April was of Working Group III (WG 3), dealing with mitigation of climate change, of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).   Linked to the SPM was an ‘Underlying Report’, comprising over a thousand pages organised in 16 chapters, which over a thousand scientists had worked on for the past three years, as well as a 100-page Technical Summary.  

These two reports, more lengthy and technical than the SPM, were not the subject of negotiations by the governments, nor were they “adopted.”  They were however ‘accepted’ by the governments, but many delegations (all from developing countries) registered conditions and reservations in a final plenary session before the acceptance of these reports.

Although the IPCC reports are supposed to be ‘scientific’ in nature and to be removed from the political negotiations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in fact the meeting in Berlin in important ways resembled the political-style talks of the UNFCCC.

This was because the participants, especially the government delegations, were well aware that the IPCC reports are likely to be made use of during the UNFCCC negotiations, particularly that relating to the Ad hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), which is scheduled to end in a new ‘protocol, legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention’ by the Conference of Parties in December 2015 in Paris.

This may explain why the IPCC Working Group 3 meeting took on the form of a basically North-South negotiation when many issues came up for discussion, especially issues that are also the subject of negotiations at the UNFCCC, especially the Durban Platform process.

When particular paragraphs and related graphs or tables came up for discussion and there were several differences, a ‘contact group’ would be established in which interested Parties would try to negotiate and come up with an agreed text.  In other cases the negotiations would take place in the plenary.  In both the contact groups and plenary sessions, scientists who authored the SPM draft sections were invited to explain the text or graphs and to also respond to the questions or criticisms and alternative texts put forward by the government delegates.  The final text would be agreed on by both the delegates and the authors.

The most contentious issue that took up practically the whole week was on the draft’s presentation of the growth of emissions in the decades from 1970 to 2010.  The draft had chosen to present the data on GHG emissions growth by splitting up the countries using the World Bank categories of low income, lower-middle income, upper-middle income and high income countries.  This was objected to by many developing countries (including China, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Bolivia, Venezuela, Egypt, Bahamas, Maldives, Botswana, Qatar, Jordan and Syria) on grounds that the methodology used was scientifically flawed; that this categorisation had replaced the usual developed-developing country category or the other usual categorisation according to geographical regions, and that the splitting up of developing countries into various income-based categories would have adverse implications for the developing countries in the UNFCCC negotiations.

After prolonged discussions over five days (and sometimes nights), the developing countries’ views prevailed, but not before a fierce and sometimes aggressive series of battles.  The texts and graphs containing the income-based categories of countries were removed from the draft SPM.

However the Technical Summary and the Underlying Reports still contain many references to the income-based World Bank country categories, since the government delegates have authority only over the SPM but not the other two documents.  However, in the final plenary session, twelve developing countries registered their reservation that they did not accept the texts and graphs containing references to these income-based categories of countries when depicting how GHG emissions have been increasing through the decades.

Besides this most contentious of issues, there were also lengthy discussions and changes to the text on many issues.  The discussions on this and other issues are summarised below.

Income-based categories

The draft SPM presented at the Berlin meeting had chosen to present the data on GHG emissions growth by splitting up the countries using the World Bank categories of low income, lower-middle income, upper-middle income and high income countries. 

When the matter was first raised in plenary on the second day of the meeting (8 April), several developing countries including China, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia,  Venezuela, and Bahamas had raised concerns over the draft texts in this regard, necessitating the need for a contact group to be established to address the concerns raised.   The contact group met the following morning and continued to meet several times in the course of the week until the final day on 12 April, with no resolution on the matter.

When some of the authors made presentations on the data at the contact group on emissions trends (from 1970 to 2010) and income groupings, several developing countries, with Malaysia and Philippines taking the lead, raised concerns over the methodology used in arriving at the conclusions. They took issue with the authors’ explanation that once a country is in a particular income category, it will remain in that category over time for the period 1970-2010.

The developing countries said that if countries are grouped by per capita income, then GHG emissions cannot be compared across groups, particularly when some countries shift with time between income groups while others do not. If, as part of a study, countries are permanently assigned to a given group regardless of their actual per capita emissions, then the study risks introducing significant distortions into the results and, in so doing, compromises the scientific integrity and robustness of the study, they said.

In additional to the methodological flaws, a number of them including India, China, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Bahamas, Brazil and Botswana also added that the use of income-based country groupings is not consistent with long-standing IPCC practice with respect to country groupings as well as with respect to other parts of the WG3 report. Some of them also said that such practice is generally on the basis of the ‘RC5’ (Regional Categorisation 5) country grouping (i.e. OECD90, Economies In Transition, Asia, Latin America and Caribbean, Africa and Middle East) or on a binary categorisation between developed and developing countries or UNFCCC Annex I and non-Annex I countries.

The developing countries also questioned the policy relevance and the implications of such data for governments, especially for the UNFCCC negotiations, as the matter was not about science but was ‘politically sensitive’. They were concerned that the presentation of such data was an attempt to differentiate developing countries in the UNFCCC negotiations in the light of the new agreement being discussed under the Durban Platform, which would be contrary to the Convention.

A number of developing countries also referred to the recently concluded meeting in March of the AR5’s Working Group II on ‘Impacts adaptation and vulnerability’ in Yokohama, where similar income-based categorisation of developing countries was also opposed to by several developing countries in the consideration of that Working Group’s SPM. This then led to the deletion of such categorisation and was replaced with developed and developing countries in Yokohama.  The developing countries in Berlin called for a similar approach in the treatment of the SPM of WG3 for the sake of consistency.

Despite the strong arguments advanced by the developing countries, several developed countries, including the European Union, United States, Sweden, Netherlands, Germany, Norway, New Zealand, Canada, United Kingdom, France and Japan as well as the concerned IPCC authors, continued to justify the need for the income based categorisation with a number of them stressing that this was ‘sound science’; that the methodology adopted was correct; the information was vital to be presented and this ‘was not politics’.

The ardent support of the developed countries for the data gave the portrayal that they wanted to use this for the differentiation of countries in the UNFCCC negotiations from the current Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 or developed vs developing countries categorisation into income categories. Some of the developed countries even referred to this information as the ‘weapon’ they needed for the negotiations.

Following the intense exchanges between developing and developed countries as well as the authors, Sweden made an initial proposal in the contact group for a footnote to be placed on the relevant text to allay the concerns of developing countries. This was not accepted by the developing countries as it did not address the substance of their concerns on the methodology adopted. Netherlands then came up with another proposal to modify the text in issue which still maintained the income-based categories, and was therefore also rejected by these developing countries.

Given that no compromise was possible, after it was agreed that the text and the figures relating to the income categories would be deleted, some developed countries, led by the Netherlands and the relevant scientists, wanted to put references in the SPM relating to the information on the income-based categories that were in the Underlying Report which was not subject to government approval. If the developing countries had agreed to this approach, this would mean that they had accepted the methodology as well as the information contained in that Report.

Hence, the battle was in the plenary to remove the references in the SPM to the Underlying Report in this regard, which the developing countries succeeded in doing. They stressed that since there was no agreement to have income-based categories in the SPM, they could not accept references relating to the same which are contained in the Underlying Report. In this regard, they also expressed reservations or conditions of acceptance in relation to the Underlying Report and the Technical Summary. (More details on this will be in a further report).

Debate over UNFCCC as primary forum

An unusual debate took place under the section of the draft SPM on ‘international cooperation’. The initial text for consideration by governments was that ‘the UNFCCC remains a primary international forum for climate negotiations, and is seen by many as the most legitimate international climate policy venue due in part to its virtually universal membership’. When the matter came up for discussion in plenary, the authors had changed this sentence to ‘the UNFCCC is the central multilateral forum with universal participation to address climate change.’

A forty-five minute debate took place on the final day of the meeting over this sentence, with developing countries led by Maldives, China, Brazil, Philippines and Venezuela all insisting that the UNFCCC remains the ‘primary forum’ to address climate change. The challenge came from the United States which said that this matter was ‘out of the realm of pure science’ and it could not accept that the UNFCCC was the primary forum. It said that the UNFCCC was a ‘multilateral forum’ to address climate change but there were other bodies that also played a supporting role.

This debate led to the formation of a contract group to address the entire section on ‘international cooperation’ which initially had eight long paragraphs over two pages that got slashed down to half a page with 10 sentences in 6 short paragraphs. The US had agreed to the final language in the SPM in relation to the UNFCCC as ‘the main multilateral forum focused on addressing climate change, with nearly universal participation.’

Sustainable development and equity

Another matter which saw long discussions and exchanges related to issues on ‘sustainable development’ and ‘equity’. Under the section on ‘approaches to climate change mitigation’, many developing countries led by Philippines, Saudi Arabia, China, India, Bolivia, Venezuela and India were disappointed with the inadequate and poor treatment of  these issues in the SPM, despite the existence of an entire chapter (Chapter 4) on ‘sustainable development and equity’ in the Underlying Report.

A contact group was formed on the first day of the meeting (on 7 April) to address this section which continued over five days to come up with agreed text. The final version of this section saw much improvement reads as follows:

‘Sustainable development and equity provide a basis for assessing climate policies and highlight the need for addressing the risks of climate change. Limiting the effects of climate change is necessary to achieve sustainable development and equity, including poverty eradication. At the same time, some mitigation efforts could undermine action on the right to promote sustainable development, and on the achievement of poverty eradication and equity. Consequently, a comprehensive assessment of climate policies involves going beyond a focus on mitigation and adaptation policies alone to examine development pathways more broadly, along with their determinants.’

‘Issues of equity, justice, and fairness arise with respect to mitigation and adaptation. Countries’ past and future contributions to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are different, and countries also face varying challenges and circumstances, and have different capacities to address mitigation and adaptation. The evidence suggests that outcomes seen as equitable can lead to more effective cooperation.’

‘International cooperation can play a constructive role in the development, diffusion and transfer of knowledge and environmentally sound technologies.’

Another related issue under international cooperation was the role of the private sector. In this regard, the relevant text for the consideration of governments was as follows: ‘Within an appropriate enabling environment, the private sector can play an important role in mitigation’.

Malaysia called for a more balanced and comprehensive view of the private sector, given that they are also responsible for much of the greenhouse gas emissions. This led to the sentence being revised to read: ‘In many countries, the private sector plays central roles in the processes that lead to emissions as well as to mitigation. Within appropriate enabling environments, the private sector along with the public sector, can play an important role in financing mitigation.’

Fossil fuel subsidies
Another issue that saw some concern being addressed by developing countries led by Saudi Arabia and saw support from others including Venezuela and Qatar was over the treatment of fossil fuel subsidies in the draft SPM. They called for a more comprehensive treatment of the issue subsidies in other sectors as well, referring to agriculture subsidies which also contributed to the emission of greenhouse gases.

In the SPM for consideration of governments, the initial sentence in this regard read as follows: ‘The reduction of subsidies to fossil fuels can achieve emission reductions at negative social cost depending on the social and economic context’.

Following the intervention of developing country governments, this was amended to read: ‘The reduction of subsidies for GHG‐related activities in various sectors can achieve emission reductions, depending on the social and economic context. While subsidies can affect emissions in many sectors, most of the recent literature has focused on subsidies in fossil fuels.’

Carbon dioxide removal technologies

One issue that saw grave concerns expressed by Bolivia was the issue of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies. As regards the scenarios on the mitigation pathways, Bolivia said that many of the technological options found in the mitigation scenarios presented in the draft SPM involve geo-engineering (like CDRs) which represent much scientific uncertainties. It said that policy makers must be given the right kind of information as regards these kinds of technologies, their risks and limitations and this was the moral and ethical thing for the IPCC to do.

A contact group to consider the CDR issue was created to address the concerns. In the final SPM which was approved, the uncertainties of this kind of technologies was emphasised with the following text: ‘The availability and scale of these (referring to bio-energy with carbon capture and storage or BECCs) and other CDR technologies and methods are uncertain and CDR technologies and methods are, to varying degrees, associated with challenges and risks.’