De Boer: 'Copenhagen was a lemon, but Paris is the orange'

Jessica Shankleman

Former UN climate change chief says there are many reasons to be hopeful ahead of Paris summit, but issues stark warning over slow pace of talks

The former United Nations climate change chief Yvo de Boer has warned countries over the slow pace of talks in the run up to the Paris summit at the end of this year, urging negotiators to avoid a repeat of the failed Copenhagen negotiations in 2009 which he presided over.

Speaking to BusinessGreen, de Boer, who led the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat from 2006 to 2010, said there were many reasons to be optimistic the Paris talks would deliver a successful international agreement. But he also raised fears that countries have not even started to discuss the language of the final text.

De Boer, who is now director-general of the Global Green Growth Institute, said there were significant differences between the Paris and Copenhagen Summits, which increased the chances of a wide-ranging new climate agreement being reached this year.

"It's always dangerous to compare oranges and lemons, but probably Copenhagen was more of a lemon and Paris is more of the orange," he said.

He argued Paris' lack of emphasis on delivering an internationally legally binding text made it much less "threatening" to governments than the Copenhagen Summit, which sought to deliver a comprehensive and legally binding treaty. "That makes countries more relaxed," he said of the Paris approach of securing non-binding national climate action plans from countries.

He also praised the various bilateral talks that have taken place since Copenhagen to help build stronger foundations for action on climate change, particularly between the world's biggest superpowers the US and China.

And De Boer maintained that as a whole countries now seem more committed to delivering a successful agreement than they did six years ago in the run up to the Copenhagen Summit.

However, he warned that negotiators have taken "a huge" amount of time to draw up the negotiation text. "We were in a very similar situation in Copenhagen where it was only in the final meeting before Copenhagen... that countries got serious about the negotiating text," he said. "And we're in a pretty similar situation now. It's quite an unwieldly document."

His concerns echo those of many countries who raised fears at the last session of talks in Bonn over the painstakingly slow progress to finalise a draft text ahead of Paris. At the end of that session co-chairs Dan Reifsnyder and Ahmed Djoghlaf were given a mandate to whittle down the unwieldy 83-page document into a digestible format.

The new text was unveiled last week and it has been slimmed down to 20 pages. However, over 200 separate issues remain unresolved in the text, leaving diplomats a huge amount of work to complete at the next round of talks in Bonn that start on 19 October.

De Boer said the mandate granted to the co-chairs to develop a draft text is a "silver lining" that could mean the difference between success and failure at the talks. The Copenhagen Summit was marred by a major row when it emerged a group of countries were working on a streamlined text without in-put from all parties. But in contrast the current negotiating process for Paris has given the co-chairs the authority to deliver a more workable text that governments can then discuss.

"When they meet in Bonn next it will be critical that they spend 24/7 on turning that negotiating text into a manageable document," De Boer said. "Because all of the good intentions aside, certainly developing countries will want to see the very, very specific commitments that are being made, and the very specific agreements that are being reached."

He added that even if it proves successful, the Paris Summit will not mark the culmination of the long-running UN climate negotiations. "Paris is a station on a longer journey," he said. "It's not going to deliver two degree reductions, it's not going to deliver the climate finance and therefore there will have to be absolute clarity on the subsequent process to review the adequacy not only of the commitments being made but also how those commitments are being met."

This article is part of BusinessGreen's Road to Paris hub, hosted in association with PwC

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