September 25, 2015

Paris 2015: neither Copenhagen 2009 nor a French revolution

Paris 2015: neither Copenhagen 2009 nor a French revolution

Climate Negotiations are moving painfully slow. It is not a surprise for those people that work on the issue of climate change. Since the constitution of a working group in 1992, this has been the melody playing throughout meetings, debates, public lectures and conventions.


However, the time has come for reaching an agreement, finally.


When a negotiation involves 193 states, the search for a common ground cannot be an easy task. When ‘common ground’ means to phase out fossil-fuel in a fossil-fuel-based global economy, the definition of a global climate plan for adaptation and mitigation, proper financing (price tag is in trillion), the elaboration of mechanisms for Measurements, Reporting and Verification (MRV) and growth with sustainability; things get very difficult.


However, the prospect of a compromise has recently become possible. For the first time, next December, in Paris, during the high level Conference of Parties (COP21) big economies think of signing a legally binding agreement. Now, contrary to 2009 Copenhagen Summit, when world leaders did not find a satisfying agreement on climate change, key actors do not want to fail anymore.


Beijing and Washington have jointly declared that both are looking forward to act boldly on climate. Same spin comes from the G7, which, again, has expressed the intention to sign a treaty on climate. Everyone is singing kumbaya, including the newest, most prominent, unexpected, environmental leader: Pope Francis. President Barack Obama struggles for a successful deal. In this way, he will have is long-sought legacy on climate. After a very hesitant term, France’s Prime Minister Hollande has the chance to score an important goal.


Besides all these good intentions, doubts remain about the possibility of a resolution with tangible and effective results in the long run.


While scientists, like James Hansen from NASA, think that +1,5°C ought to be the target; diplomacy has agreed that the 2°C goal might be feasible. ‘To limit a rise in world temperatures’, Mr Laurent Fabius, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, explains, ‘to no more than 2 degrees Celsius over the pre-industrial average would signify success and the starting point for a new order’.


Actually, there is still a lot to do in order to reach the +2°C goal.


The first obstacle is finance. The EU, together with the US, is open to mobilize up to 100 billion Dollar a year, starting in 2020, in order to support climate mitigation plans. ‘This is our biggest goal’, says Barbara Hendricks, the German Minister of Environment. So far, out of the 100 billion dream, the two partners have promised 10 billion Dollar to the Climate Fund, which is supposed to manage subsidies and loans for the least developed economies. Problems in funding allocations make the G77 increasingly uneasy. During the final hours of the negotiation process, this can be a powerful argument against the agreement.


The Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) is among the expected outcomes of the negotiation. This would mean to set national and contextually mediated targets, rather than a legally binding benchmark at the global level. Nevertheless, without a clear mechanism of checks and balances, INDC is very unlikely to be as effective as experts think.


A study shows that 10 big economies have presented insufficient plans, which are very unlikely to reach the +2°C goal. At the top of the list, we find Canada, once considered as a green nation, now, because of the oil fields in Alberta, it is one of the worst polluters. On the red list, we see also Australia, Russia and Japan, which are considered weakly prone to tackle a serious carbon reduction. The US and China have presented interesting plans of action. Yet, the main doubt concerns their political future at the domestic level. The US might potentially face a climate-change-sceptic Republican double term; while in China, the looming financial crisis might undermine plans to decrease its carbon intensity. Just Bhutan has been able to get a distinction, thanks to its Gross National Happiness development model.


Therefore, even if prime ministers managed to sign a Protocol in Paris, an effective implementation would rely substantially on the policy strategy of each single country. INDC will not be included in the so-called Paris Protocol. It will be included in a separate text, known as COP Decision, which is a non-binding text with important issues left out of the protocol.


A potentially wise decision, especially in those countries where the treaty needs parliamentary approval (e.g the United States). A solution, nevertheless, that weaken the very potential of the treaty.


Without a strong legal framework that makes INDC truly effective, the risk is that ffected countries will subordinate the UN protocol to national serenity. From a political perspective, after Paris, this will mostly relocate the political struggle to stop climate change at the local level. Civil Society, environmentalists and engaged citizens will have to make sure that their governments act in accordance with the Protocol. One main goal, therefore, will be to include INDC in the national legal framework, everywhere.


Do we have to expect other obstacles in the next future? Federico Brocchieri, an climate change negotiation expert and a member of the Italian Climate Network, is sceptical on the renovated UNFCCC procedural system, introduced after Lima. ‘The new system is more inclusive but so far has had the only effect of slowing down progress while increasing the amount of text to be negotiated, now up to 85 page, an enormity’. At the same time, it might be an opportunity. ‘Everyone has the feeling of higher inclusion in the process. I really cannot tell whether this is the basis for another epic failure or the key element for success in Paris’.


This coming October, we need to look at the pre-COP session in Bonn. There, policy makers will write the first draft of the final text, the one that is going to be discussed at the ministerial level. Delegates are nervous. They fear that the whole process will crash again. ‘Nothing is given here, even when presidents and ministers agree’, a negotiator, who prefers not to reveal her identity, says. There is only one thing left for journalists and policy wonks. Watch closely this UN drama unfold.

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About Emanuele Bompan

Emanuele Bompan

Emanuele Bompan is a geographer and journalist and has been involved in environmental reporting, cooperation and development and international politics since 2008. He has worked with La Stampa, BioEcoGeo, Sole24Ore, Reuters, Nuova Ecologia, LEFT, Vanity Fair and MAX. He studied geography and communication at Bologna, Los Angeles, Madison, and Washington DC. In 2010, he won the prestigious Middlebury Fellowship for Environmental Journalism, an award for environmental journalists, and in 2013 and 2014 the Innovation in Development Reporting Grant Programme (IDR) for innovation in journalism connected with cooperation and development. He specialises in climate talks, environmental disasters, energy markets, food safety and sustainable development.

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