Finance, compensation shaping up as endgame issues for Paris climate deal

By Lisa Friedman | 10/26/2015 08:39 AM EDT

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once said, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want.” Climate change negotiators are saying something similar about the text they have going into December’s landmark U.N. talks.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once said, "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want." Climate change negotiators are saying something similar about the text they have going into December’s landmark U.N. talks.

The main decision stands at 55 pages, with 1,255 brackets defining still-disputed words and phrases. Thirty of those brackets define choices between "should" and "shall." One is even an option between a comma and a semicolon.

One group wants wealthy countries to be beholden to an International Tribunal of Climate Justice. Another wants the final Paris agreement to reflect the rights of Mother Earth. Some countries want "free of cost" access to clean technology. Others have a counteroffer: "no text."


One thing everyone seems to agree on is that the past week of negotiations in Bonn, Germany, did little to make the decisions for a new global climate agreement any easier. While countries did make the thousands of options before them somewhat clearer, no one actually compromised. Come December, all the hard decisions will still be on the table.

"It’s what we have, and we’ll go to work," U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern said after the talks closed, adding that he was optimistic about seeing a final deal.

Finance remains the most contentious issue of the deal. Many developing nations feel that wealthy countries are trying to back out of a 2009 promise to deliver $100 billion annually by 2020, and some say the 1992 architecture of the entire climate change regime demands that industrialized nations deliver assistance in perpetuity for poorer countries.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-led "Umbrella Group" of wealthy countries, as well as the European Union, is arguing that the donor base should be broadened. Under their language, all countries "in a position to do so" should help with climate efforts.

Has the world changed since 1992?

"The E.U. approach is that in the post-2020 world, mobilization of financing for climate needs solely and exclusively from Annex 1 [industrialized] countries is disingenuous. We live in an entirely different world," said Elina Bardram, who leads the European Commission’s delegation.

"The donor base can be broader, and it is by that broader action that we facilitate the transformation to a low-carbon economy … a firewall approach to climate financing is grossly insufficient to match the challenge," she said.

The Group of 77 developing nations, led in Bonn by South African Ambassador Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko, disagreed. She said she rejects that view and said rich countries are trying to shift burdens onto poor ones. Doing so, she argued, upends the 1992 U.N. Convention on Climate Change, which divides the obligations of 15 wealthy countries and the European Union from the rest of the world.

"The narrative that we are being given is that the world has changed and it is time to expand the so-called pool or donors of so-called climate aid. This is a very simplistic narrative that changes the United Nations Framework Convention," Mxakato-Diseko said.

"When I initiate young people into climate change, I say, ‘If the world had changed, we’d all be members of the [U.N.] Security Council,’" she said.

Are rich nations liable for damage claims?

A closely linked and equally contentious issue known in the talks as "loss and damage" is also shaping up to be one of the most contentious endgame decisions.

Island nations and other countries deeply vulnerable to climate change are currently experiencing the impacts of extreme weather events that scientists say are worsened by the greenhouse gas emissions currently in the atmosphere. They want a provision in the main agreement out of Paris that will ultimately allow them to seek compensation.

"Loss and damage are negotiated euphemisms for liability and compensation, which remain taboo words for many of the developed countries," said Saleemul Huq, a longtime negotiator who advises least-developed countries in the talks.

The United States and other rich countries are indeed rejecting any text that even implies their countries are liable for the impact of climate pollution. Their counteroffer to a lengthy G-77 proposal for tackling the issue is to delete the section altogether. Activists say they don’t believe that tactic will succeed.

"Deleting everything, that is an old trick and its time has passed," Huq said. "I can say with a great deal of assurance that deleting the text will not work."

Meanwhile, the woman in charge of herding the nearly 200 countries toward a final deal, French Ambassador Laurence Tubiana, said there is no "Plan B," no secret text waiting in the wings and no plans for heads of state to ease the jobs of negotiators, as they did at the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark.

"I can’t be more explicit than I have been all along the week," she said in closing the Bonn talks. "I don’t think parties should shy away from responsibilities."