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Sticking Points for the Paris Climate Talks

At the Paris climate talks, where ministers are hammering out an international deal to curb climate change, two huge debates remain unresolved: the long-term global warming target and the amount and nature of finance that will flow to poor countries, a debate that hinges on differentiation of developing country and developed country responsibilities.

“Whether the text will also take into account a very justifiable request from the most vulnerable countries to improve on those efforts, it remains to be seen how that is going to be handled,” said United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres. “It wouldn’t surprise me if there is a recognition of the intense vulnerability of some nations.”

It’s about Money and Temperature Goals

Brian Murray, director of the Environmental Economics Program at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, writes from the climate talks in Paris.

The central objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that prevents dangerous interference with Earth’s climate system. The collective proposed efforts of all countries’ pre-Paris emissions pledges, or intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), add up to approximately 3 degrees Celsius of warming above preindustrial levels—well short of the 2 degree Celsius goal established at the 15th Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen in 2009.

Many countries are now advocating for a target of 1.5 C or, alternatively, well below 2 C, but there are no real provisions for revisiting INDCS this week to pursue a 2 C or 1.5 C target. One commenter suggests that the objective of the Paris agreement is not to assign and enforce a temperature goal that will keep the planet safe but to create the “structure and momentum for [mitigation] efforts that are already underway.” However, the difference between 1.5, 2, or 3 C may determine whether low-lying island countries remain habitable. These and other countries that are most vulnerable to climate change view a more aggressive temperature goal as essential to their long-term survival and will likely remain steadfast in their support for such a goal in the agreement to be finalized by Dec. 11.

Acting on the Paris pledges will require money—and the need for money introduces responsibility for providing it. One of the core principles of the UNFCCC is the notion of common but differentiated responsibility—or, more simply, that the responsibility each country bears depends on its economic condition. There is little debate that the very poorest of countries should receive what they need to finance their transition to a low-carbon economy and to adapt to climate change. However, there is disagreement about how much finance major emerging economies such as China, India, and Brazil, home to nearly 40 percent of the world’s population, should receive for their efforts. China appears ready to finance much of its climate action, but it seeks headroom on emissions and proposes to lets its emissions grow until 2030. India has thus far refused to establish a peak for its emissions, proposing instead to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of its economy and establish ambitious targets for renewable energy, while allowing coal use to grow steadily and requesting external finance to achieve its goals. Brazil pledges to continue efforts to significantly reduce its largest emissions source, deforestation, largely through payments from Norway.

In different ways, each of these countries argues that it is entitled to its share of the global carbon dioxide budget to advance its economy, just as the United States and other countries have done. Convincing them that carbon’s consequences (as we understand them today) should modify the terms of access to that budget will be a difficult sell. Another challenge will be determining how much money the advanced economies will provide to these emerging powers to finance their costs of mitigation and adaptation.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Comments

  1. Jack Farrell
    December 9, 2015, 12:36 am

    I already have