Countries will gather in Paris next week to begin the two-week process of finalising a UN climate agreement.
But they won’t be going it alone. Countries negotiate as “blocs”, clustering in groups according to their common positions on climate change.
Over the past year, blocs have fought hard to ensure that their views have survived through various iterations of the negotiating text.
Carbon Brief has compiled a grid, summarising the views of the negotiating blocs on the key issues in the Paris climate deal (go to the master version to see a fully sourced edition).
This spreadsheet contains views expressed in official submissions to the UNFCCC, the UN’s climate body (plus the outcomes of a council meeting in the case of the EU, the only bloc to have officially released a detailed position statement).
As negotiations in Paris progress, positions are expected to evolve. To avoid stalemate, countries will likely have to soften their views and reach compromises with opposing blocs.
How the blocs work
Negotiating in blocs has various benefits.
Practically, it streamlines the views of 196 parties into a more manageable number, preventing impossibly lengthy negotiating sessions.
It also amplifies the voices of smaller countries that could be lost in the crowd, by giving them strength in numbers, as is the case with the small island states, or aligning them with heavyweights, such as China or Brazil.
Some of these groups are very small, while others are very large. The BASIC group, for instance, has only four members – Brazil, South Africa, India and China. Counter-intuitively, the Group of 77+China has 134 members.
Others are newly established, answering to what they saw as a gap in the negotiations. This applies to AILAC, a coalition of Latin American countries that was set up in 2012.
There are no easy assumptions to be made when it comes to matching countries to their views on climate change.
While the similarities between the countries in each bloc are often obvious, based on regional and historical groupings, there are also a number of unlikely alliances, traversing continents and income level.
The Umbrella Group, for instance, is one of the few places where Russia, Ukraine and the US are still united by a common cause. The Environmental Integrity Group (EIG) contains both super-rich Monaco and middle-income Mexico.
Carbon Brief has also produced an interactive graphic of the negotiating blocs, allowing you to see the blocs’ respective member nations and the way some of them share some members. The blocs are sized in the graphic according to the combined population of their members.
Countries don’t always stick to the party line. It is common for certain nations to strike out with their own views on certain issues that they hold dear, or that do not have the support of the entire group.
For large emitters, such as the US, India and China, their individual support for, or opposition to, an idea carries political significance, even without a backup team. These can be expressed through official submissions to the UN, or in statements by key politicians.
For instance, a lot is hanging on the US position on the legal form of the new agreement. A treaty with legally binding targets would require the approval of Congress, which President Obama is keen to avoid.
Officially, the US supports a submission made by New Zealand, which suggests a hybrid approach to the legal form of the new agreement.
Todd Stern, the US special envoy on climate change, explained to reporters in a recent press call:
So, for example, the provisions that apply fundamentally to the accountability of the agreement, the transparency of the agreement, accountability for – precisely for the targets you put forward, for what you say you’re going to do, as well as various elements of process and various rules that would apply to how you count emissions and things like that [would be legally binding]. The thing that would not be legally binding in the New Zealand approach is the targets themselves, and we thought that that was a good balance, and we thought that and we think that because we’re looking for an agreement that has broad, really full participation and we were quite convinced that an agreement that required actually legally binding targets would have many countries unable to participate.
Stern also said that the US:
- Supports five-year cycles of commitments
- A “facilitative” review of countries’ progress on meeting targets
- An expanded donor base for climate finance contributions
Business Standard, an Indian newspaper, ran an interview on 19 November with Prakash Javadekar, India’s environment minister. He voiced some of the positions that his country would support, including:
- A roadmap for predictable, scalable and new finance
- A midterm review of targets in 2024-2025
- A review system of “international review and assessment” for developed countries, and “analysis and consultations” for developing countries
- Does not support the inclusion of decarbonisation or carbon-neutral concepts
Views such as these are likely to hold sway within the negotiations, simply because of the influential role that these nations play within the talks.
For many leaders and countries, climate change has become a key diplomatic issue, with pressure mounting in the run-up to Paris.
Countries have taken advantage of opportunities outside the UNFCCC to forge consensus on various issues. For instance, a G7 meeting in August saw the world’s seven largest economies agree to completely decarbonise “over the course of the century”.
In the attempt to find common ground, countries have also come together to make bilateral statements, such as the recent declaration by China and France. Among other things, this saw the two countries underline similar views on transparency, five-year cycles and pre-2020 action.
An “informal working lunch” for leaders hosted by UN general secretary Ban Ki-moon on 27 September also saw some convergence on possibilities on what could be included in the Paris deal, including language on a long-term goal.
These are the sorts of expressions of intent that may find their way into the eventual text, creating ties and areas of convergence beyond the traditional negotiating groups.
However, they come about, cross-cutting ideas — and some compromise — will be necessary if countries are going to secure a UN climate deal in Paris.
Major negotiating blocs
- Africa Group
- Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC)
- Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS)
- Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC)
- Environmental Integrity Group (EIG)
Main image: Residential buildings in Paris, France. Credit: © Peter Karlsson/Matton Collection/Corbis.
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