Climate Change Summit Begins in Paris
Today, in a renovated aircraft hanger in northern Paris, climate negotiators representing some 195 countries start to hammer out a new international climate deal.
Their attention is focused on a 54-page draft document, produced in Bonn last month ahead of this summit. This key paper contains a forest of bracketed text which captures states’ competing aspirations. These differences have to be resolved over the next fortnight if a final climate deal is to appear.
The new agreement will aim to hold average global warming below 2℃ above pre-industrial levels, although this goal is itself contentious. Such warming will lead to devastating longer-term impacts, is especially dangerous for least developed countries, and constitutes a death knell for low-lying island states which are arguing for 1.5℃ or less.
Second, there is the matter of climate finance – meeting the costs of mitigation and adaptation, and loss and damage, for poor countries. In 2009, the Copenhagen conference was partly saved from collapse by the rich countries pledging to find US$100 billion each year, by 2020, for poor countries to build resilience against the impacts of global warming. A Green Climate Fund was created for this purpose.
Last, there is the matter of legal form – the question about whether the final agreement will be a legally binding treaty, or an agreement with legal force, or some hybrid of these two. While this was a vital issue some years ago, there seems to be less interest in it now – perhaps in recognition that any attempt to create a binding agreement will likely have a chilling effect on the cooperation of big players such as the United States and China.
The long shadow of the Copenhagen climate talks still falls across the Paris meeting. The failures in 2009 have already disciplined these negotiations, which are an attempt to finish the business of that earlier conference.
Copenhagen was marked by stratospheric hopes and then profound disappointment. A flock of national leaders went to bask in the outcome of a tough, comprehensive, legally binding deal. The talks stalled and almost collapsed, only to be rescued by some deft drafting by the leaders of China, Brazil, India and the United States. The experience almost destroyed the climate treaty itself.
Expectations have been greatly and deliberately lowered for Paris. The biggest shift has been away from the search for a rigid, legally binding treaty with “top-down” targets and solutions like those featured in the Kyoto Protocol. The outcome rescued from Copenhagen was an approach that is voluntarily cooperative, defined by a “bottom-up” approach in which countries determine their own targets, submitted to the conference but no longer dependent on an international legally binding agreement.
A triumphant conclusion would be strong commitments to tighten targets, fund climate resilience, and decarbonise the global economy before 2050.
With time running out and the planet’s carbon budget almost exhausted, this meeting is one of our final chances to tackle the extraordinary dangers of global warming.