Beware the Gentlemen’s Agreement

19 June 2019

COP24 requested the SBSTA to consider the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR1.5°C) in order to strengthen scientific knowledge on the 1.5°C goal.

With apologies to Shakespeare (and the planet), it appears that some Parties have come here to bury the SR1.5°C, not to praise it or to learn from it.

There is much in this report that Parties must grapple with and collectively and individually take on board. The report spells out the emissions pathways compatible with this goal, the financing and economic transformations necessary, and the implications for equity and justice.

Parties that are more concerned about climate change impacts than oil revenue want to have a substantive discussion and reach conclusions from that outcome that can help drive action to limit warming to 1.5°C.

But some would prefer to ignore the science, and thus also the impacts, and the suffering of those facing the impacts. After first arguing Parties should completely ignore this request, Saudi Arabia then called for “procedural outcomes” from this consideration €“ which is UNFCCC-speak for a text that ends discussion of the topic and never looks back.

Now the SBSTA Chair has reported a “gentlemen’s agreement” that dispenses with Rule 16, a rule which calls for an agenda item to be taken up at the next meeting if agreement on an outcome is not reached at this one.

This puts the Saudi negotiators in a potentially no-lose situation. They are free to do all they can to obstruct and prevent a substantive outcome at this session, with no risk of the issue resurfacing at the next session if no outcome is agreed.

This tips the scales heavily towards an empty procedural outcome, unless the Saudis (and others who put their oil, gas, or coal revenue ahead of people and planet) are isolated and parties actually interested in preventing a climate disaster stand up to them.

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