Paving the way for a new climate change agreement in Paris: Heading over the cliff!

From the way negotiations in Paris have progressed to a new draft treaty to combat climate change it is clear that things are underway, but where exactly are they headed? This is something it is best not to contemplate, especially since the abyss is deep indeed, and rent by storms and howling winds!

Up until yesterday evening everyone was still following the timetable laid out by conference chairman and French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development Laurent Fabius, who had stated that, “by Wednesday evening an agreement must be ready for legal review.” However, by now some were wondering how it would be possible to abide by this injunction if the text itself was still some fifty pages long, containing more than eight hundred phrases between parentheses, and there were only hours left before the ambitiously tight schedule ran out? There was talk of miracles.

The process of consultation focussed around issues of adaption, losses, and harm, mechanisms for cooperation and response, and there were talks on the subject of reducing emissions and climate funding. However when it comes to emissions and funding, the term “obligation” seems to go missing from the negotiators’ dictionaries. When it comes to funding in particular, the concept of some kind of binding requirement tends to be replaced by phrases like, “voluntary donations” or “contributions” made by “those involved” or “prepared” or “able” to do so. There is talk of “cooperation between countries of the South.”

On the topic of developing and transmitting technology, there was no examination of how to alter intellectual property laws and make this climate-saving technology freely available. Instead, we had language like, “cooperative action”, “long-term vision”, and “laying out a framework and mechanism for technology.”

When it came to capacity building, the parties failed to reach any agreement on what needed to be done before 2020 (when the agreement will come into effect) or afterwards. The sole point of agreement was over the formation of the Paris Capacity Building Committee.

Defining responsibilities, particularly historical ones—in what has come to be referred to as respective and differentiated responsibilities—currently involves looking into Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Some parties regard this concept as a positive innovation that gives all parties (states) the opportunity to work to their strengths and improve their performances over time. A more hardline faction sees it as a means to avoid binding obligations to reduce emissions and save the environment.

On the subject of reducing emissions and working to keep the global temperature rise to within a two degree maximum, the majority of negotiators began by agreeing that it was no longer possible to prevent this two degree rise regardless of obligations signed up to or steps taken, and as a result the final text has little hope of being more than a declaration of good intentions and hopes.

Then we had the age-old struggle between developed and developing countries, with the latter stating that the rich nations must shoulder historical responsibility for these emissions and that they would take no steps to reduce their own emissions before 2020. What developed countries will do between now and 2020 remains a matter of debate. In Copenhagen, these states pledged to pay 100 billion US dollars by 2020, hence the reluctance over funding. Indeed, there were murmurs about the lack of any intention to set new legal obligations for developing countries—rather, there was support for the idea of “voluntary contributions” in return for which developed countries would draw up a set of funding pledges.

Other questions that remained unanswered include: How shall the 1,5 degree limit be evaluated, and what year shall be the baseline for emissions? How should one define an acceptable long-term target for emission reduction within a set of different timetables? And was it the case that they had agreed to a five-yearly cycle to evaluate future INDCs for reduction, adaption and support? How can parties ensure that the global evaluation process does not affect the definition of obligations on the national level? 


Translated from the Arabic by Robin Moger