Monday, December 14, 2015

Climate Deal Reached in Paris

As dawn broke on Saturday morning the Climate negotiators and ministers who had been meeting behind closed doors in Le Bourget in north-east Paris at the 21st Conference of the Parties called COP-21 reached an agreement after working through Friday night to thrash out remaining details for the final draft agreement to present for a vote by the ministers on limiting climate change. Later in the day, Delegates from 196 countries that are party to COP-adopted the proposal.

Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, had called for a cooling-off period Friday night from the public meetings to allow more high level lobbying behind closed doors as sharp disagreements remained among nations. Fabius put off the planned public plenary sessions to create the urgency and time needed to reach an agreement marshalling the text through its final stages as president of the talks.

The White House said that President Obama telephoned the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, to try and reach a deal; using whatever limited leverage the U.S. still had with China. Earlier in the week the President had phone conversations with the Indian, French, and Brazilian leaders. Even with President’s efforts strong differences remained Friday between the U.S., India and China. China and Asia (excluding Japan) currently account for about 40% of world emissions were essential to reaching an agreement.

The key points of the agreement are:
  • The new climate treaty will run from 2020-2030. 
  • Though this treaty will allow the nations to determine what they are prepared to do, the nations embrace the aim of keeping temperatures “well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. “ It also aims to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.,” The 2 degree Celsius limit is based on what scientists think will prevent the eventual drowning of many coastal cities, the disruption of agricultural climates and reductions in drinking water availability; but the Island nations had pushed for the lower limit believing that a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius would doom them. 
  • Each nation will declare their “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” (INDC) instead of the UNFCCC mandating cuts, but even the declared INDCs are not enough to meet the 1.5 degree Celsius goal. The emissions cuts pledges made so far still leave the world on track for at least 2.7 degree Celsius increase in global temperatures this century. 
  • A key part of the deal is therefore the mechanism designed to make countries pledge to deeper emissions cuts in future. This goal will be achieved by beginning with an INDC base of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from 185 countries and covering more than 90% per cent of global emissions were made. 
  • However, neither China nor India representing about a third of world greenhouse gas emissions and the other developing nations committed to reductions. Instead they are projecting when their greenhouse gas emissions will peak. The agreement asks that countries should aim to “reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science”. 
  • The countries are requested to review their climate plans by 2018 before the agreement takes effect. 
  • In addition, the agreement includes a review of goals and progress towards the goals every five years with the first happening in 2023. 
  • The loss and damage section of the agreement says they "intend to continue their existing collective mobilization goal through 2025." This just means that the nations will continue the $100 billion (US) finance plan where, developed countries are obliged to 'mobilise' $100 billion (US) a year of public and private finance to help developing countries through 2025, and then by 2025 set a new and higher goal "from a floor of $100 billion.” This serves as a mechanism for addressing the financial losses vulnerable countries face from climate impacts such as extreme weather but does not provide for any liability compensation. Although many poorer countries wanted increased finance to be a legally-binding requirement, the US made it clear it would never ratify such a deal. 
What is missing from the deal:
  • So far the global temperature rise has been about 1 degree Celsius from pre-industrial times. The agreement lacks any clear path on how the nations will maintain the 1.5 degree Celsius limit in average global temperature. The carbon reductions committed to under the INDC are inadequate to meet that goal. There is no timescale of when fossil fuels must be phased out in the second half of the century. The phrase of working “towards reaching greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century” that was present in various drafts was eliminated. 
  • Though all countries will use the same system to report their emissions, the treaty allows developing nations to report fewer details until they build the ability to better count their carbon emissions. The recent revisions in the Chinese government data that revealed that China had been burning as much as 17 % more coal annually than previously thought illustrates the problem with that approach. 
Naturally, world leaders hailed the agreement as a milestone in the battle to keep Earth a planet that is hospitable to human life. Certainly, it is progress. There are only “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and no mandated cuts, but the world is moving forward. There are no liability payments and many routes to the commitments the U.S. has made in its INDC, but all the new regulations including the Clean Carbon Plan and auto and truck mileage standards will not meet the U.S. INDC, more will have to be done. The CO2 emissions reduction pledges of the accord are voluntary, while others are elements legally binding.

The White House pushed for this hy­brid agree­ment in which coun­tries’ in­di­vidu­al cli­mate pledges are vol­un­tary not binding, but with the oth­er pro­vi­sions, mon­it­or­ing of na­tion­al pledges and financial support would be bind­ing.  This neatly sidesteps the need for any new rat­i­fic­a­tion of this agreement by the Sen­ate, In 1992 the senate ratified the United Na­tions Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change that re­quired its parties set na­tion­al strategies to re­duce green­house-gas emis­sions and co­oper­ate in fu­ture talks to pre­pare for the im­pacts of cli­mate change. The George H.W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion said at the time that any “pro­tocol or amend­ment” that set bind­ing green­house-gas-re­duc­tion tar­gets would have to go through the Sen­ate. This is sad because we need to be a unified nation working together towards our joint future, and we need an agreement that survives this administration.

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