Report from Geneva: One Week to Change the World

In Durban, the Conference of the Parties agreed to a country-by-country low-carbon roadmap process. The Ad-hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, the ADP, is the all-party working group, within the UNFCCC process, that is responsible for drafting the language of the forthcoming Paris climate agreement. Like the Conference of the Parties, the ADP is comprised of all nations, so consensus in the ADP is considered at least grounds for consensus at the COP.

During this one week in Geneva, the ADP is tasked with finalizing a text that contains all of the elements of the eventual Paris agreement.

Frustrations over past failure to achieve a “big bang treaty”, that would solve the climate crisis in one historic document, persist. Many still talk of being “wounded” or “shellshocked” by the collapse of the Copenhagen talks. But the current moment is one of optimism and of strong, complex, coordinating across multiple layers, to achieve that “enhanced action”. Everyone is here, because they believe the work is too important to be left unattended, and that we are smart enough, as a global community, not to miss this opportunity again.

In the proceedings of the ADP 2.8, last weekend and throughout this week in Geneva, the work was focused on adding ideas, adding language, adding options. There is now a text which some describe as “putting everything on the table”, the intent of which is to make everyone feel welcome at the table, and to motivate a more ambitious and deliberate planning of game-changing climate solutions.

For context, this meeting of the ADP is really playing several roles at once. On the one hand, it is the ADP, doing what it is tasked to do, with all countries contributing, discussing and allowed to suggest edits. It is also an exercise in setting abitions. By recognizing new ideas, targets, framing and legal language, it is helping to provide a way for nations to develop more ambitious INDCs, their national low-carbon development strategies.

Since Tuesday, when the work of streamlining the proposed text got started, three areas of conflict have emerged, none of them disrupting the process, but each of them highlighting gaps in thinking that will need to be resolved before the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, in Paris in December. Those conflicts are, simplifying greatly:

  • How adaptation should fit into the work of the ADP, which is tasked with actions to mitigate climate disruption;
  • Whether revisions made here in Geneva should focus on the Lima consensus text, or treat the work done here as the new de facto proposed consensus text;
  • Whether the final agreement should lay out specific solutions in detail, or a menu of options, or whether it should serve as “constitutional language” for actions described in an attached document.

There are factions which would view one of these as success and the others as failure, but there is no pressure at the moment to make such a judgment. The 38-page elements text is now 90 pages long, after a week of adding, and then cutting back. The current text has been described by the LDC chair as “an everybody text”.

As an observer of the process, looking at what citizens need to see from government to be supportive of the process, the “everybody text” is encouraging. All of the elements necessary for a viable legal framework are there; all voices have been heard; now, we look forward to a complicated process of streamlining, which will likely raise old divisions. Maintaining trust and transparency will be crucial for getting to a Paris accord that sets every nation on course to a prosperous, low-carbon future.

The spirit of inclusion and collaboration that has held here in Geneva points to a real possibility that mutual empowerment will become part of the discussion in 2015. Where for years, there were complaints that industrial countries were unwilling to give enough and developing countries were unwilling to curb emissions, there is now a different, more pragmatic tone: how can we help each other to get this done? seems now to be the background question.

There are serious disagreements still to be worked through or smoothed over. The mood here in Geneva, what one observer referred to as “the spirit of Geneva”, is that such disagreements need not disrupt the process of building real consensus on serious climate action. With everything on the table, it is possible to see more clearly where affinities and faultlines are, and to be deliberate about how to fit particular pieces into the final agreement.

What will follow from here are months of ministerial meetings, and bilateral and multilateral meetings, where the governments of the world will work out positions that can be viable as part of an agreement that flows from the current text. By the end of March, every nation that is Party to the UNFCCC (there are 195) should have released its INDC, its intended nationally determined contribution to the global climate response.

There is a lot of creative, future-making work to be done through the INDC process. Some nations want to hold out, as if not disclosing their action gives them negotiating room; others will find their footing in a global race to be first in low-carbon development. With all of the key elements now in the text, with all variations of possible legal framework included, the work now will be more like carving out of rough stone the work of art that was already inside.

There is much to do. Attention will now turn to the INDCs, the country plans that will give force and substance to the agreed aims and language. More than any other factor, the amount of intelligent, collaborative attention that goes into that process and into the shaping of the Paris agreement will determine to what degree the global climate response is ambitious, effective, and conducive to sustainable human liberty and prosperity.

How you can help: Our next Pathway to Paris online working session will be Thursday, February 26, at 2:00 pm New York time, 8:00 pm in Geneva. Click here to join us. 

Where things stand: Read the negotiated text [pdf] that emerged from the Geneva meeting of the ADP. 


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  • Joe—
    Great work! Was “steadily increasing price on carbon” mentioned or discussed in Geneva?