Crucial days for the climate

cloimatechangeby Gerardo Honty – This Friday (December 11, 2015) marks the date for the agreement to put limits on climate change. But the second week of negotiations of the Paris summit on Climate Change (COP 21) began this Monday with little progress, as expected. In spite of the fact that the new draft proposed at the end of last week had fewer pages, it has more brackets and the issues causing greatest divergence remain unchanged.

As has happened in other COPs, the president of the summit – French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius – has created a special group for the negotiation called, in this case, the “Committee of Paris”, to deal with the more complicated issues in four subgroups.

The first is on “implementation”, to treat questions relating to financing, technology transfer and the development of capacities. The second group is about “differentiation”, a central theme, since it will lay the ground for the levels of commitment that can be assumed by some developing countries. The third concerns “ambition” and looks at long term objectives – in particular whether the goal is to maintain the increase of temperature to 2º C or 1.5º C – and the revision of the commitments for the reduction of greenhouse gases. The last of the groups deals with actions to be undertaken before 2020.

In parallel to this there are facilitators for Informal Consultations on other themes that are also not easy to resolve, such as Forests, Adaptation and Carbon Markets, among others.

Inaugurating this second week of negotiations, COP21 president Laurent Fabius recalled for the delegates gathered that: “A week ago the leaders of 150 countries engaged to do everything to reach a solid world agreement on what is necessary to overcome the challenge”. And he added: “This week you will have the opportunity to contribute to eliminating poverty, to developing clean energy, to creating employment, to opening up perspectives and renewing hope for tomorrow”.

The words of Fabius sound encouraging. But the dilemma facing the negotiators is how to eliminate poverty and create employment and at the same time reduce the emissions that come from economic growth and the increase of production and consumption that goes with it. The national contributions presented to the COP (known as INDC) indicate how much each country is prepared to reduce in a possible scenario within their plans of development and growth. But this scenario will lead us to an increase of temperature over 3º C, so it seems difficult to conciliate with the expressions of the president.

Difficult issues

The principal themes of the negotiation remain at the same level of uncertainty as at the outset. To wit:

– The obligatory character – or not – of the agreement. That is to say, if the commitments assumed involve the status of an international treaty with obligations of fulfillment for all countries; if it will be obligatory only in certain aspects; or if it represents no obligation at all.

– The temperature objective. The goal of Copenhagen to limit the temperature to 2º C is insufficient and thus the need is to reduce this to 1,5º C. This change in the objective would involve doubling the present efforts presented in the INDCs and their modification appears difficult.

– The intermediate goals to reach the objective of zero emissions between 2060 and 2080 proposed in the draft and the base year to be considered to compare the reduction of emissions. These data are the key for designing the trajectory of the reduction, the moment for reaching “peak” emissions and above all the costs of such transformation.

– The concept of “differentiation”, which hovers throughout the whole text and which could imply commitments of reduction of emissions and of financial contributions for some developing countries.

It is clear that all these issues are related and although president Fabius may make the best efforts to establish working groups and parallel discussions, finally everything must come together in a single negotiation. This has happened in all the COPs and it can be said that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. That is to say, one cannot evaluate the gains in the COP until the whole project appears on the table without brackets.

Hence, the only thing that can be affirmed at this point on the progress of the COP is that everything appears to be within the normal and expected inefficiency that tends to happen in such negotiations. Only at the end will we be able to discern whether the appearances have deceived us and there was an underlying framework, more or less hidden from most of us – that is advancing more rapidly than what appears on the surface – or whether what we see is all that really exists.

In this latter case, as was foreseeable the agreement will be relatively useless. Although it will include the promise of a revision in five years, leaving the hope that, next time round, it really will cover the ambitious goals that have been promised for the past twenty years.


Gerardo Honty is a senior researcher at CLAES (Latin American Center Social Ecology). Published by ALAI (Latin American Agency Information), on December 8, 2015; translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop.