SB52: Some progress achieved in preparation for the COP26

by Malek Romdhane

Ahead of the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) this year, the 52nd United Nations Climate Change Subsidiary Bodies (SB52) meeting took place virtually from 31 May to 17 June 2021, with approximately 5,800 delegates [1]. This meeting served as a preparation conference for COP26 and was also the first meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Parties since COP25 [2].

Challenges faced during the SB52

During the three-week conference, the discussions had to be held online due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, which required the organisers to consider different country’s time zones. As a result of this consideration the discussions were held in three separate time zones; one time zone per week. The SB52 was one week longer than normal to allow extra time for discussions and negotiations across the online platform.

Several factors interrupted the output of the online talks. Namely, the different time zones, technical problems, Parties’ claims that in-person meetings are needed to make formal decisions, and the fact that China denied access to observers during transparency negotiations [3].

However, some African negotiators assembled in person at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This act proved helpful in partially resolving some of these difficulties like dealing with unexpected technology issues [1]. In this regard, according to UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, who spoke at the closing plenary, there are initiatives to develop more of these regional hubs [4].

Main outcomes during the SB52

Despite these challenges, Parties were able to make some progress on a number of key topics such as transparency, the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), and the first Global Stocktake [2]: 

  • The first Global Stocktake

The chairs of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) issued a “non-paper on preparing for the first Global Stocktake” before the negotiations. A non-paper is a document that has no formal status [4]. The paper offered a series of “guiding questions” regarding previous and current patterns in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and financial hurdles facing developing nations [5]. During SB52 Parties discussed the “sources of input for the global stocktake under the Paris Agreement” [6]. Observers deemed that the online discussions regarding this topic were fruitful, for example, Parties agreed an on-going commitment for the Global Stocktake to be based on the best available science [4]. A final informal note was also issued by the SBSTA chair which acknowledged the need to provide resources to assist NGOs and observer groups in developing countries with the stocktake process [4].

  • Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)

Negotiations on common timeframes, one of the disputed topics during COP25, was resumed during SB52. During COP25 the Parties were unable to narrow down a list of 10 options in relation to the NDC common timeframes [4]. Some countries want the timeframes to also be ‘nationally determined’, while others argue a 10-year cycle would not drive ambition [4]. The list of 10 options was effectively scrapped during SB52 [4].

The online SB52 talks for NDCs common timeframe were concluded by producing an informal note titled ‘Common time frames for NDCs referred to in Article 4, paragraph 10, of the Paris Agreement’; this document will serve as a draft negotiation on the common timeframes during COP26 [4, 7]. The document lists four options (and an additional eight in the appendix) for common NDC timeframes: five years, 10 years, five + five years and five or 10 years [4]. The final decision and the language surrounding common timeframes will be discussed at COP26. 

  • Transparency

A handful of technical issues regarding transparency needed to be discussed at SB52, including tabular formats countries could use to report their emission inventories. 

World Resource Institute’s (WRI) Yamide Dagnet said at a press briefing: “We saw some progress on transparency with the emergence of draft tables (Excel file) to be used to report and facilitate the sort of audit that countries need to do” [4]. However, there was a political bargain between the African Group and China, and developing countries on transparency in exchange of finance and adaptation [1]. Poor (or developing) countries need greater support from rich countries in areas such as finance and adaptation to enable them to meet their Paris Agreement obligations and therefore, without the support such countries refused to move forward with the transparency topic [1]. This caused friction as developed countries wanted to advance the discussion/negotiations on transparency. In order to achieve common ground, developed countries need to be more flexible when it comes to climate adaptation in the future [1]. There were also calls for in-person technical workshops [4]. 

The Parties have frequently failed to make decisions on Article 6 and carbon trading. Technical dialogues were started in April 2021 with the aim of focusing on the 10 unresolved issues surrounding Article 6 [4]. 

Observers to SB52 state there were no significant breakthroughs in relation to Article 6 and carbon trading, and fear a decision will not be made at COP26 either [4]. 

  • Loss and damage

Loss and damage was not on the agenda of SB52. Nevertheless, the developing countries aim to see a decision on the Santiago Network for loss and damage whether before or during the COP26 [4].

Indeed, Parties did not take any formal decision, but the advancement/achievement in discussions have been recorded in informal notes [4, 8]. These informal notes have no legal status, but will serve to advance the talks when the Parties meet in person during COP26 [4].

Main concerns by developing countries

The key concerns raised by developing countries’ Parties were mainly the lack of vaccines and the travel restrictions currently in place in the United Kingdom (UK) for global south delegates. Parties were concerned that these factors may hinder their participation in the COP26 in Glasgow, UK. 

The developing nations frequently expressed their concerns about climate finance too, although this topic was not explicitly on the meeting agenda. The developed countries promised in 2009 to provide  $100 billion by 2020 to cover the needs of developing countries [9]. The COP16 accord notes that “developed country Parties commit, in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries” [9]. This pledge was also reinforced in the Paris Agreement [4].  Developing countries state that delivering on the pledge is a ‘matter of trust’, yet estimates on climate finance indicate the target of $100 billion by 2020 has not been achieved [4]. We look to the G20 summit to see if there will be any further developments in relation to climate finance ahead of COP26.

References

[1] Summary report, 31 May – 17 June 2021, 2021, URL: https://enb.iisd.org/climate/UNFCCC/SB2021/summary [Last accessed on 20/06/2021]
[2] WION Web Team, UN subsidiary bodies meeting makes little progress on key issues, 2021, URL: https://www.wionews.com/world/un-subsidiary-bodies-meeting-makes-little-progress-on-key-issues-392548 [Last accessed on 20/06/2021]
[3] Matt McGrath, Climate change: UN virtual talks make little progress, 2021, URL: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-57520510 [Last accessed on 20/06/2021]
[4] Simon Evans and Josh Gabbatiss, International climate talks have resumed following an 18-month absence, with diplomats from around the world attempting to negotiate the final rules of the Paris Agreement via the online medium of Microsoft Teams., 2021, URL: https://www.carbonbrief.org/un-climate-talks-key-outcomes-from-the-june-2021-virtual-conference [Last accessed on 20/06/2021]
[5] Preparing for the first Global Stocktake non paper by the chair of the SBSTA and SBI,  (Ver.27/05/2021), 2021, URL: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/Non-paper%20on%20Preparing%20for%20GST1_0.pdf [Last Accessed on 20/06/21]
[6] SBSTA draft agenda item 9 Sources of input for the global stocktake under the Paris Agreement, 2021 sessions of the subsidiary bodies (May–June), 2021, URL: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/IN.SBSTA2021.i9.3.pdf [Last Accessed on 20/06/21]
[7] Common time frames for nationally determined contributions referred to in Article 4, paragraph 10, of the Paris Agreement, SBI, 2021, URL: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/IN.SBI2021.i5.1.pdf, [Last Accessed on 20/06/21]
[8] UNFCCC(2021), Progress Made as May-June UN Climate Change Session Closes, URL: https://unfccc.int/news/progress-made-as-may-june-un-climate-change-session-closes [Last accessed on 20/06/2021]
[9] INDEPENDENT EXPERT GROUP ON CLIMATE FINANCE, DELIVERING ON THE $100 BILLION CLIMATE FINANCE COMMITMENT AND TRANSFORMING CLIMATE FINANCE, 2020, URL: https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/100_billion_climate_finance_report.pdf [Last accessed on 20/06/2021]
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