Reflections on the June Climate Conference
By Avril Chanel, Noor Saghir, and María José Vásquez
The 58th session of Subsidiary Bodies (SB 58) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) took place between 5 to 15 June 2023 at the World Convention Center in Bonn, Germany. SB 58 will be remembered for its conflicting views between Parties who failed to adopt the agenda until the penultimate day due to disagreements on various items.
More than 10 days into negotiations, the agenda was yet to be formally adopted with uncertainties over several negotiation items, including the Global Stocktake (GST), Just Transition, the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), items related to transparency of reporting under the Convention, and primarily dropping of the National Adaptation Plan (NAPs) and resistance on the Sharm El-Sheikh Mitigation Ambition and Implementation Work Program (MWP).
Parties expressed sharp differences over specific agenda items, notably the MWP. In response to the EU proposal on mitigation, Bolivia made a counter proposal on climate finance on “Urgently scaling up financial support from developed country Parties in line with Article 4.5 to enable implementation for developing countries in this critical decade” on behalf of the LMDCs. This proposal was supported by the G77 and China Group. Parties debated over these two items, but neither made it into the final agenda.
The following article takes a closer look at some of the key issues and outcomes and aims to contribute to the broader discourse surrounding climate action and the engagement of vulnerable nations in the UNFCCC process.
The Sharm El-Sheikh Mitigation Ambition and Implementation Work Program (MWP) was established at COP 27 to urgently scale up mitigation efforts during this critical decade. One of the program’s activities is to hold at least two global dialogues and investment-focused events each year, the first of which took place at the SB 58 and focused on “accelerating just energy transition”.
A singular agenda item on mitigation will be recognised at the SB 58 for obstructing the adoption of the agenda until the penultimate day of the conference. Firstly, the EIG and EU, supported notably by the AOSIS, AILAC and LDCs, proposed that the MWP be included in the agenda. This proposition was resisted by some developing negotiating groups, the Arab Group, BASIC Group, and LMDCs. Nonetheless, informal consultations on the MWP took place in which Parties provided feedback on the first global dialogue and investment-focused event. Delegations mainly presented recommendations on the logistics of future MWP events, such as avoiding agenda conflicts, circulating documents in advance to facilitate preparation and engagement of relevant stakeholders, incorporating case studies and world café-style discussions, focusing on the “how” questions, and organising regional dialogues as well as hybrid informal consultations. Themes for future events were also suggested. Some Parties expressed concern that these informal consultations were counterproductive, as the MWP might not be accepted as an agenda item.
The inputs provided during the three informal consultations on the MWP were reflected by the SB Chairs in an informal note issued under their authority, however they were not part of any decision taken at the SB 58.
Known as the most important event of 2023 for the UNFCCC, the GST is the process that aims to assess the world’s collective progress in implementing the goals of the Paris Agreement. The GST takes place every five years, with the first-ever stocktake scheduled to conclude at the COP 28 at the end of this year.
The first Technical Dialogue (TD) under the GST took place at the SB 56 in Bonn last June, and the second at the COP 27 in Sharm El-Sheikh last November. The third and final TD meeting was held at SB 58. During the TD, AOSIS stressed that the existential threat to vulnerable countries is not currently reflected in the GST and that a greater sense of urgency should be included. Developing countries, led by the G77 and China, and a number of its sub-groups, underlined that the GST should review the historical responsibilities of developed countries and called for the fair sharing of carbon space to limit the rise in temperature, a statement which countries, such as the United States, Australia, and Japan, found unacceptable.
Meetings through a Joint Contact Group were also organised for Parties to deliberate the outcomes of the first GST. The majority of the discussions focused on the outline of the GST decision to be adopted by CMA 5, with an unresolved debate on the title for the section on finance. In their conclusions, the SB Chairs took note of the views exchanged on the draft structure of the CMA 5 decision and requested that the co-facilitators prepare a summary report of the third TD and a synthesis report of all three TD meetings. The final component of the GST will take place at COP 28, during which the findings and their implications will be presented and discussed by Parties at high-level events.
Given the slow progress observed during the SB 58, Parties must enhance their efforts in order to achieve a substantial outcome for the GST at the COP 28. This is particularly crucial as the GST will conclude two years prior to the next round of submissions by Parties of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) therefore playing a pivotal role in determining the direction of future ambitious actions and support. This creates an opportunity to concentrate global climate engagement on implementation and international cooperation.
A significant outcome from COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh was the launch of a “work programme on just transition pathways”. In Bonn, negotiators were tasked with expanding the programme, its scope, modalities, inputs, and objectives. However, this resulted in an immediate disagreement between parties on the Just Transition Work Programme (JTWP) (1). Many developing countries view the JTWP as a broad and international perspective which includes financial support and technology transfer. This negotiating stream is an important channel for developing countries and can be used to unlock climate finance. Developed countries, however, had a more limited interpretation of the work program’s role, refusing to consider this international cooperation and aspect of just transition and broader economic transition, arguing it should only be in accordance with national development priorities. This insinuates that they would only support just transition on their own soil. Talks on Just Transition ended with an informal note capturing the various opinions and discussion will continue to be debated in future UN climate talks. Lessons from the GST will also provide parties with insights to support the design of the new Work Programme on Just Transition to be agreed at COP 28.
Climate Finance remains a cross-cutting issue across negotiations in Bonn, with discussions this year focused on the provision of adequate and predictable financial support to developing countries, including setting a new collective quantified goal on climate finance in 2024.
The 6th Technical Expert Dialogue under the Ad hoc Work Programme on the New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance (NCQG) (2) took place on 12 and 13 June at the margins of the SB 58. This was an important opportunity for Parties to advance views on the quantitative elements of the new goal and on ways of framing the mobilisation and provision of financial sources in the NCQG in relation to Article 9 (3) of the Paris Agreement and Article 2, particularly its paragraph 1(c) (4).
In setting the quantum for any post-2025 goal, several Parties agreed that it should be needs and science based and guided by the principles of the UNFCCC, particularly the Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC). Participants cautioned against a quantum being politically determined, referring to the US$100 billion goal as an arbitrary decision by developed country leaders and does not reflect the changing financing needs that developing countries face which are estimated in the trillions. Many Parties highlighted that the NCQG should be met by public finance, particularly grants, while developed parties expressed that the new goal should expand its contributor base and be more transformational by considering concessional, non-concessional finance, innovative sources, private sector, and philanthropy.
The increasing focus on Article 2.1c of the Paris Agreement was also transparent in various deliberations and a point of concern for many developing Parties. This was reflected in the new goal being re-evaluated from being about delivery of climate finance which developed countries have committed to, to an unclear goal around general global finance flows, which fail to reach or to support the most vulnerable. Developed Parties are also seeking to re-interpret Article 9, especially on the mobilisation of finance by focusing on the private sector. Such framing is considered as an attempt by certain Parties to escape their finance obligations and moral duty, thus shifting the burden on provision and mobilisation on climate finance.
In informal consultations between June 8 and June 14, co-facilitators invited parties to share views on the agenda item SBI 17 on the Second review of the functions of the Standing Committee on Finance (SCF) (5) which centered on guidance to the Secretariat for the preparation of the technical paper on the review. Parties debated the proposed text as it did not reflect major concerns shared, primarily regarding the SCF’s general working modality and it fulfilling its core functions and mandated activities. While noting the increasing workload of the SCF, developing countries also recalled an important function of the SCF which is the mobilisation of climate finance and resources, highlighting that it was established to help developing countries and give guidance to financial mechanisms. Following several rounds of amendments Parties agreed on the draft conclusions of the Second review of the functions of the SCF.
Discussions on the NCQG must progress with ambition this year at COP 28 and put forward a climate finance roadmap on delivery to ensure accountability and transparency.
Loss & Damage
COP 27 succeeded in bringing the issue of Loss and Damage at the centre of the negotiating table. The second Glasgow Dialogue on Loss and Damage (6) was held from 8 to 10 June, and provided an opportunity for Parties to discuss the operationalization of a loss and damage fund and funding arrangements.
Developing countries shared common views that the fund must be new and a standalone centrepiece of the funding arrangement, independent of all existing climate finance mechanisms, and set up as an operating entity of the UNFCCC. It must be equipped to quickly deliver new and additional finance as grants in terms of response, recovery, and disbursement to vulnerable communities and should not increase the debt loads of developing countries.
Developed Parties, however, want to focus on maximising support from existing funding mechanisms outside the fund itself by coordinating and collaborating with non-state actors, including the private sector. They called for the establishment of interrelated funding windows from multilateral development banks, insurance schemes and humanitarian organisations which can trigger effective support across all phases of loss and damage, from preparedness and urgent responses to longer-term recovery and rehabilitation efforts. Various Parties also deliberated the unique funding challenges presented by non-economic losses which are by their nature difficult to assign a cost to.
SB 58 laid the building blocks for defining loss and damage finance. Glasgow Dialogue provided useful information to advance the work of the Transitional Committee (TC) building on the progress and constructive conversations to deliver firm recommendations on how to set-up a fund, enhance existing funding arrangements to reach climate vulnerable communities in developing countries. There will be two more TCs before COP 28, as well as a ministerial meeting. Ahead of COP 28, it is critical that there is real progress on recommendations that TC is tasked to provide in Dubai on the operationalisation of the Loss and Damage Fund including how it will be filled.
Adaptation is a crucial aspect of the Paris Agreement and is especially important for most vulnerable countries. At the SB 58, discussions took place on various adaptation agenda items, including the NAPs and the GGA. The G77 and China group fought hard to have the NAPs included as an agenda item for this session, concluding with agreement to continue discussion at the next SB session.
The GGA is anchored in the Article 7 of the PA on “enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, with a view to contributing to sustainable development and ensuring an adequate response in the context of the temperature goal”. It intends to provide a common framework and shared commitments to collectively address the urgent need to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
The sixth workshop of the Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work programme on the GGA, was held on 4 and 5 June, and highlighted the significance of target setting, methodologies, and indicators in developing a comprehensive framework for adaptation. For developing countries, the need for a robust framework encompassing these dimensions have been a major concern for the development of GGA.
The GGA negotiation was knotty during SB 58. Developing countries continued to press for a substantive outcome, urging the development of dimensions, themes, targets, indicators, and metrics to be prioritised. Developed countries, however, were hesitant to include these factors in the framework, while others proposed referencing reporting instruments from other conventions, such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. Divergent opinions resulted in two weeks of intense negotiations and consultations, with multiple iterations of the GGA draft text being discussed and revised. While there has been some progress in GGA negotiations, there is still a long way to go in establishing the framework.
The GGA will inform the 1st GST. Given the amount of work and progress that needs to be made to agree on a GGA Framework, Parties must increase their efforts on GGA to achieve a significant GST outcome.
It is also essential to recognize the significance of adaptation for the most vulnerable countries, as they often bear the brunt of climate change impacts, facing severe challenges. The inability to adapt effectively can exacerbate existing vulnerabilities, undermining sustainable development efforts and intensify social, economic, and environmental disparities. By prioritising the development of a comprehensive framework for the GGA, the international community can take a significant step toward supporting vulnerable countries in their adaptation efforts.
Parties also differed over the recognition of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) findings and the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) which was heightened during the closing plenary session. St Kitts and Nevis, on behalf of AOSIS, were disappointed by the lack of acknowledgement and absence of AR6 in the SB 58 draft decision as some parties stated it lacked inclusiveness and robustness in its findings. The AR6 is considered a comprehensive assessment of climate change and scientific knowledge with new insights and is crucial in supporting effective climate action and policy. This was echoed by other parties such as the EU, the EIG, Canada, Norway, US, New Zealand, Australia, UK, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Peru, and the LDCs who also expressed disappointment and shared similar concern of importance of IPCC AR6 not being reflected in the final outcome of SB 58.
Overall, SB progress was sluggish, and the absence of an adopted agenda prevented progress. As evidenced by the most recent findings of the IPCC, continued engagement and collaboration among all Parties are essential for preserving the goals of the Paris Agreement.
- The Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan adopted at CMA 4 established the work programme for discussion of pathways towards achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement outlined in Article 2.1 in the context of Article 2.2.
- By decision 1/CP.21, para. 53, Parties decided that, in accordance with Article 9, paragraph 3, of the Paris Agreement, the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA) shall set a new collective quantified goal (NCQG) from a floor of USD 100 billion per year, taking into account the needs and priorities of developing countries, prior to 2025.
- Article 9 focuses broadly on finance flows in general on the provision and mobilisation of finance and says “developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention”.
- Article 2.1c refers to countries “making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development”.
- The SCF plays a very important role in assisting the COP and the CMA in exercising its functions in relation to the Financial Mechanism of the Convention and the Paris Agreement.
- COP 26 established the Glasgow Dialogue to discuss the arrangements for funding activities to avert, minimise, and address loss and damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate change.