No consensus on key messages from IPCC to UNFCCC

5 November 2014

Member governments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) could not reach consensus on ‘information relevant’ to achieving the objective of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

(The IPCC is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change and is an intergovernmental body with 195 countries who are its members.)

The Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the Synthesis Report of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) and the longer Synthesis Report (SR) was adopted one day after the scheduled closure of the session on 1 Nov. in Copenhagen, Denmark.

One reason for the delay in the adoption of the SR was wrangling over a box which was to contain “information relevant to Article 2 of the UNFCCC”. (Article 2 reads as follows: “The ultimate objective of this Convention and any related legal instruments that the Conference of the Parties may adopt is to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”)

This box had to be dropped from the SPM and the SR, owing to lack of consensus among member countries, when several developed country members including United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Australia, and Canada did not agree to the proposed text which was crafted by authors of the SR and included statements related to adaptation, sustainable development, provision of finance and technology transfer.

Given the ongoing negotiations under the Convention in the Ad hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, for a new agreement to be concluded in Paris in 2015 (to take effect in 2020), the findings of AR5 are supposed to play a role in informing the process. Hence, the controversial box, containing “information relevant for Article 2 of the Convention” became a major bone of contention among developed and developing countries on what the key messages should be.

A contact group was formed on Oct. 30 to resolve issues around the box, with Netherlands and Trinidad and Tobago selected to facilitate the discussions, which met several times but was not able to resolve differences.

An initial version of the messages in the box (contained in the draft SR of August 25) was viewed by several developing country member states to be mitigation-centric.

The initial draft included some of the following key messages: “Changes in climate that have already occurred have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans;  continued emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system;  mitigation scenarios limiting temperature increases to 2 degree C show GHG net emission reductions of 40% to 70% between 2010 and 2050, with emissions falling towards zero or below by 2100; prospects for climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development are related fundamentally to what the world accomplishes with climate change mitigation.”

In the contact group, developing countries led by Saudi Arabia, Bolivia and China repeatedly called for the inclusion of texts that brought more balance in the in the information provided, particularly in relation to adaptation, sustainable development, and international cooperation in finance and technology transfer. They suggested the inclusion of texts which were actually from agreed language from the IPCC’s SPMs from the Working Groups, the Technical Summary and from agreed language approved during the plenary in Copenhagen in the previous days. The Maldives too had wanted to introduce texts in this regard. Despite their repeated pleas, further iterations of the messages in the box did not reflect their concerns.

On the night of Friday, 31 Oct. in the contact group, when the co-facilitator from Netherlands said that there was agreement on the text, the Bolivian delegate raised his voice, banged the table and said there was no agreement and left the room. Saudi Arabia too had raised its hand to voice disagreement with the co-facilitator’s conclusion. This then threw the negotiations in disarray.

The following day, in the afternoon at around 3.30 pm, at the plenary on Saturday 1 Nov. the Co-chairs of the IPCC’s Working Groups, presented a text for the consideration of delegates. By this time, many delegations had left or were leaving Copenhagen, as the session was supposed to have ended the previous day. The revised draft version of the text was projected on the screen and included the following additions:

·        “The effectiveness of adaptation can be enhanced by complementary actions across levels including international cooperation.

·        Policies across all scales supporting technology development, diffusion and transfer, as well as finance for response to climate change, can complement and enhance the effectiveness of policies that directly promote adaptation and mitigation;

·        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.”

The authors, in presenting the revised text said that “the box presents the findings of the report in a policy neutral way”.

Saudi Arabia supported the texts provided by the authors.

Australia questioned the process, saying that it was confused about the text on the screen and that it could not agree with the proposal to accept the text. It said that the box is very important and if done wrongly, “could stray into areas that are outside the IPCC”. It said that there was no decision yet and there was a “stalemate”. The United Kingdom echoed similar concerns over the process over the text provided by the authors. The United States supported Australia and the UK and stressed the “need to keep in mind the scientific integrity of the IPCC”.

Bolivia said that during the course of the (Copenhagen) session, “we were reminded many times by countries …about the need to support the work done by IPCC authors. In the text submitted, there is a balance; there is a scientific basis for the multiple proposals that have been presented.” It supported the text proposed by the authors and called for its approval, stressing that many delegates had already left the meeting.

The European Union wondered what happened that led to the authors changing the text since the last meeting of the contact group.

Venezuela stressed the need to approve the text proposed by the authors.

A developed country delegate wanted the text worked out in the contact group to be reflected on the screen, (instead of what was being proposed by the authors). The delegate suggested that there was “a rumour” that a “few countries worked with the authors” and he did not know whether this was true but if it was, then “there is a serious problem with the procedure”, he added.

Chile said that the authors produced a good outcome. Canada, echoing the concerns of other developed countries, said that it was “concerned about the process and the broad representation” and was “not comfortable with this text as the basis of discussions”.

At this juncture, on behalf of the authors, one of the scientists explained the process and said that what they had done “was simply an additional effort after the contact group ended yesterday (Oct 31), to understand better the concerns of members of IPCC who had been present in the contact group and those two who could not agree on the text (referring to Bolivia and Saudi Arabia). As we have the mandate to have consensus, it was felt important to understand better their concerns and to have a meeting between those two members… After that happened, …with the authors and the co-facilitators only, without any delegates in the room, additional work took place the entire night, …and produced a new text with which the authors are fully comfortable…to meet the concerns expressed …” The author stressed that “it is the authors who are in charge of the text, which was on the screen” and “no IPCC member had a finger on the text on the screen or the key-board”. It was up to the plenary to have a further review and agree to arrive at the consensus needed, he added.

(According to sources, after the revised text was drafted, the authors in the morning of 1 Nov, convened an informal group meeting with a small group of countries including Bolivia, Saudi Arabia, Germany, the US and other developed countries. One developed country member wanted the sentence relating to the provision of finance, and technology transfer to be deleted, including additions related to adaptation and most of the statement relating to sustainable development. Another developed country raised procedural issues, insisting on the version of the text presented in the contact group as having “legal standing” and wanted the contact group to be reconvened. Other developed countries argued that the Co-chairs and facilitators contravened the rules of the IPCC in redrafting a text with the presence of some Parties. In response, the facilitator explained that the authors collected additional inputs from some Parties but it was the authors who were responsible of redrafting the text without the presence of Parties).

At the plenary, the Chair of the IPCC, who was presiding over the meeting, R.K.Pachauri said that delegates have to come to a decision. He explained that “given the complexity of the issues in the box, we needed to set up a contact group. The contact group met for long, but they could not arrive at a consensus and this time, one cannot point fingers and say it is because of one delegation or the other…and there was no consensus in the contact group.” That is why there was an alternative draft prepared by the authors, he said further. He went on to say that “I am sorry to say that this is not how it should be done”.

Given that there was no consensus, Pachauri then proposed that there was “no choice but to drop this box and any particular reference. This is painful but I am in your hands and I would not stand on grounds where someone can accuse me of not complying with IPCC procedures.”

Peru then said that it too deeply regretted that “we are forced to be facing such a situation in which many colleagues have already left and as painful as it can be, we share the view that if there is not another way forward, this is the way forward,” (referring to the dropping of the box from the SR and the SPM).

The US echoed what Peru reiterated that it supported “a good process and the integrity of the IPCC.”  Norway wanted to give the “text another try”. Australia supported the dropping of the box, as did also the UK.

China said that the authors should be respected that their text should be adopted.  Venezuela appealed to look for another solution (rather than dropping the text). 

Germany regretted the situation and said it was important to uphold the scientific integrity of the IPCC. It also wanted to work with the text to have a box on Article 2 in the AR 5.

Saudi Arabia supported the Chair’s proposal of dropping the box.

The IPCC Chair then suggested that a short sentence be introduced in the SPM and in the longer SR which reads: “This report includes information relevant to Article 2 of the UNFCCC”.

Pachauri said that there was a huge amount of information in the SR which would help “deal with Article 2 of the Convention from the point of view of scientific dimensions”.  He then asked delegates for their approval to this sentence.

The proposal was approved, which then led to the approval and adoption of the SPM and the SR.

* With inputs from Indrajit Bose

5 November 2014