Talking COP26 with an Article 6 Negotiator

Photo: United Nations

Last month, I had the chance to speak with Felipe De León Denegri, the Article 6 negotiator for Costa Rica. De León has represented Costa Rica since the Paris Agreement negotiations.

We discussed key topics at this year’s climate conference (COP26) and, in particular, Article 6, the part of the Paris Agreement that deals with global carbon markets. We also discussed barriers to participation and the return of the U.S. to the negotiations. 

What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Goodman: Why do you think COP26 will be a particularly important conference?

De León Denegri: I think the fact that after the delay that we’ve had, having missed one because of the pandemic, adds to the sense of urgency.

Obviously, the fact that, with the climate crisis, we are running out of time to hit the key milestones is particularly relevant. There’s a general sense that this is the last good chance we have at getting to a successful agreement.

Felipe De León Denegri

Goodman: What do you think the key topics will be at this year’s conference?

De León Denegri: I think you can generally speak about things related to ambition. Things that have to do with transparency and common timeframes. And a bunch of things related to the broader goal of the agreement. 

I think you can speak about some things related to financing that have to be addressed. I think whether developed countries manage to hit the $100 billion goal and come forward with a credible plan to continue to hit that goal will play an important role. So finance is going to be big.

And, obviously, Article 6 which deals with market mechanisms and doesn’t have a set of rules like most of the other articles in the Paris Agreement. It was not agreed to at Katowice or Madrid. It is still the biggest missing link in the Paris system.

Goodman: This year we are seeing the return of the U.S. to the Paris Agreement under a new Administration. How do you think the Biden Administration will affect this year’s negotiations, in particular in relation to Article 6?

De León Denegri: The U.S. has always been active in the Article 6 group. In that sense, we haven’t felt like they actually left and Madrid was still the last time we met. 

 There will be a big difference in the sense that it’s under a different administration, perhaps more so coming back. I fully expect them to be quite active in the transparency framework, and they are quite active in terms of wanting a strong rules basis. These are all things that we agree with.

I think the U.S. will be particularly relevant in mobilizing the $100 billion for adaptation. One of the big issues under Article 6 is how Article 6.2 will support adaptation financing, whether it has some form or version of a share of proceeds for adaptation. The credibility of adaptation financing from other sources of financing from other spaces will play an important role in the flexibility the parties may or may not have. That’s definitely important.

The U.S. has enormous clout internationally and has a very sophisticated diplomatic machinery they can bring to bear.  They are a big player in any space that they occupy.

Goodman: One of the things that we focus on at La Ruta is citizen participation in climate governance, as well as making sure that countries in the Global South are properly represented. How is the pandemic affecting the Costa Rican delegation this year?

De León Denegri: We are very lucky in terms of having a strong healthcare system. Most delegates have already been vaccinated or are in the process of being vaccinated as part of the Costa Rican vaccine rollout.

In that sense, we are in a much better position than many other developing countries that don’t have this level of vaccine access. The U.K. has made some arrangements for vaccinations. I don’t know how effective or how fast those have been going out. I know they weren’t going particularly fast up to a few weeks back. So, obviously, there is an advantage in not having to rely on that to get access to the vaccine.

Having said that, of course, it’s a pandemic and quite literally the whole world is affected by this in a bunch of different ways, starting with having to quarantine five days before.

The vast majority of people who participate in the negotiations for Costa Rica are basically volunteering. This is not part of their job. They’re mostly experts from other fields. They are not part of the government but are consultants or support the government in some way or participate in some form of Costa Rica’s climate action, and are willing to put in their time to participate in the negotiations.

Now that we have to quarantine for five extra days, that’s a non-trivial amount of extra time these people have to put in. It has impacts, but we are very lucky in terms of impacts on the delegation. I don’t think that we are heavily affected. 

Goodman: So last year the San José Principles were released. I was wondering if you could explain more about what the principles are in relation to Article 6 and how you hope these principles might inform this year’s negotiations.

De León Denegri: The San José Principles are just that. A set of principles for the setting out of the rules for international carbon markets. They have to do with what sort of things would need to be present in the ruleset that is being built for Article 6, the so-called markets mechanism under Paris, to ensure a minimum of robustness in environmental integrity and accounting. And basically to make sure it delivers on the Paris needs.

The principles were released in the late hours of the negotiations in Madrid a few years back. They tried to influence what is known as the third iteration, the third text that was developed as a proposal for Article 6. There is a strong difference between the previous text and the third iteration.

We would like to think that part of that at least was due to the fact that we were successful in lending support to the presidency and to the Secretariat in being a voice of pressure. This is always about trying to balance competing demands, and the fact that we were able to articulate a large group across all the typical divides in the negotiations that spoke clearly to a set of needs was part of the reason the presidency in Madrid was able to raise the level of ambition. It was not enough to get there and we will have to do it again.

That is very much what the San José Principles are about. They are about building good pressure. Getting in good trouble in trying to enable the Presidency and the Secretariat, which to some degree is supporting the Presidency, to propose high ambition solutions to the impasse of Article 6. 

The example I keep going back to when we talk about this is the 1.5°C goal.  Having been in Paris, I can say with certainty we would not have a 1.5°C goal if the French Presidency was not daring enough to include it. That came from the text of the Presidency. A bunch of other parties were looking for it and lobbying. But ultimately the reason it was included was the text from the Presidency. 

That would not have happened if the French were not daring enough to push for that ambition. That is true, but what is also true is that the French would not have tried to do that, or they would not have been successful if they tried, if they did not have sufficient support amongst the parties and support that was voiced clearly enough for them to actually take that leap. 

Part of the idea here is to be able to support higher ambition solutions and to help develop, wherever we can, high-ambition solutions from these countries that break almost every possible divide. It includes parties from almost every negotiating group, from developed and developing countries, and around the world. It’s a unique space to make those calls for high ambition because it’s so diverse.

Goodman: One of the other questions that’s really important to us at La Ruta is human rights. How do you think human rights will figure into this year’s negotiations, particularly in relation to Article 6?

De León Denegri: That’s always an interesting question and a hard topic to get at. On the one hand, I think the things that have happened with the pandemic and around the pandemic highlight the importance of ensuring international cooperation in a framework that promotes and protects human rights and sustainable development. 

That’s always been obvious, but I think the pandemic and the things that have happened have made it much starker for everybody. Hopefully, that is a good thing.

Human rights, and particularly the rights of indigenous peoples, are not mentioned in the San José Principles at this point. And that I think speaks to the sort of tunnel vision that the negotiations can easily lead you into. The principles themselves are developed from a clear mindframe about human rights and the protection of human rights, but they are never expressed there.

They are not expressed there because we lost the forest for the trees.  We were looking at so many of the technical details that have to be resolved successfully for a good implementation of Article 6 that this fundamental feature of ensuring and promoting human rights got lost. And that is indicative of the difficulties that we face when trying to address this in the negotiations. We have been working since the day after we launched them with our partners to convene and to basically amend the principles to include human rights specifically. That is something I fully hope we will be able to do before COP comes around so that we can speak clearly from that space.

And in Article 6, we have to see sufficient safeguards, I think most importantly, to ensure, this is ultimately going to come down to, in most cases, host country responsibilities and authorities. It is probably impossible to try to address this in any meaningful way all the way from the top in the U.N. system. This is ultimately going to come down to how the rules of the U.N. system and Article 6 ensure and promote the protection of human rights.

That is always a challenging conversation in these sort of spaces both because human rights conversations are in general challenging, but more specifically with carbon markets because you have a school of thought that thinks that whenever you add layers of requirements on top of the actual emission reductions, you are making the emissions reductions that are the fundamental goal harder.

There is one school of thought that thinks we should be focusing almost exclusively on the accurate accounting of emissions and emissions reductions because this is about reducing the emissions and ensuring that we stay within 1.5°C.

There is another school of thought that the only way we can implement the kind of transformations required to ensure that we stay within 1.5°C are to have transformations that are so profound that they require, from a harm prevention perspective, a focus on human rights, particularly of indigenous peoples, and, more broadly, traditionally excluded or historically excluded groups in society.

In Costa Rica, in our NDC for example, we worked with indigenous populations, but we also worked with Afro-descendant communities. We worked with people with disabilities. We worked with senior citizens. We worked with the youth. Because they all had specific vulnerabilities or perspectives that needed to be brought into the conversation around the NDC.

I am of the view that this is the better solution. I recognize the difficulties that those who hold the other view are pointing to. Our analysis in relation to the NDC has shown us repeatedly that in order to build the sort of world, and especially Costa Rica, we are looking to build through decarbonization, we are going to have to address many of the socioeconomic disparities that we have historically had in the country. I see no reason to expect that this is different in the broader perspective.

Our analysis points to the fact that if we are going to be successful in mobilizing the sort of transformation that we need on a global scale, that sort of global transformation is going to have to literally involve the globe. And to do that we have to be looking at building a better future, not just a future with less emissions.

If you are going to ask people to fundamentally change the way they live and to mobilize at the scale they are going to mobilize to address the climate crisis, I don’t think you can credibly ask them to do that just for the sake of emissions. I think you have to bring this into their quality of life. Their children’s quality of life. Their ecosystem’s quality of life.

You have to look at this from a human rights perspective. You have to look at this from a sustainable development perspective. And you have to do this going back to indigenous peoples and Afro-descendent communities that have different worldviews to bring to the table to enable that sort of transformation.

Goodman: Are you optimistic about this year’s negotiations? Do you think it’s possible we might see a resolution this fall?

De León Denegri:  The role that I have, and the work that I do, require me to be optimistic almost institutionally. I believe in Greta Thunberg’s definition of optimism, which is that optimism is earned through action. And so I am optimistic, mostly because we have been doing a lot of work  within our team, with our colleagues at AILAC, and within the broader coalition of the San José Principles, to try to make sure this is a successful COP and to ensure that we have a good outcome.

Does that mean that I would bet on it? I’m not a betting man, but I am convinced the solutions are out there. I am convinced there are enough of us who are committed to those solutions to bring them about and I am committed to doing my part in making that happen.

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