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Paris Climate Talks Will Continue Past Deadline

Late yesterday, French leadership at the United Nations climate talks in Paris produced a new draft text of a global agreement calling on countries to keep temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 but recognizing a maximum temperature rise of below 1.5 Celsius as an ideal goal. Although the talks will continue past the Friday deadlinea final draft is expected 0800 GMT Saturday—progress appears to have been made: the number of brackets, which contain contested language, dropped from 300 in Wednesday’s draft to 48 in yesterday’s draft.

Christiana Figueres, the United Nations climate chief, argued that a possible settlement “is already pointing towards an agreement that is ambitious, that is fair and has the transparency of implementation over the few decades that the agreement will last.”

Negotiators worked through the night on what Figueres referred to as “political crunch issues,” including climate finance for developing countries, transparency, and, most divisive, differentiation of mitigation responsibility between developed countries, which historically have been the largest emitters, and developing countries, which today are the largest emitters.

Draft Details, As of Friday

Billy Pizer, faculty fellow with the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy, discusses where negotiations stand on these issues and what it all means.

As the negotiators head into (hopefully) the final night of negotiation, now is a good time to review what a Paris agreement really means and how some of these crunch issues will likely affect that outcome.

At its core, the Paris agreement is about achieving specific, near-term, national mitigation targets that cover the vast majority of global emissions along, with provisions to regularly review, update, and strengthen those targets. We need specific targets for accountability. These targets need to cover the vast majority of emissions in order to make meaningful progress. And there needs to be regular review, updating, and strengthening in order to deal with the fact that this is but one, modest step in a multiple-step process.

If one considers the long arc of climate change negotiations, from 1992 to the present, the Paris agreement is a significant achievement. In 1992, there were only vague references to near-term targets, and only for developed countries in aggregate. In 1997, there were specific near-term targets and provisions for review and updating, but again only for developed countries. In 2009/2010, there were specific near-term targets for most major countries, but without provisions to review and update them. Now, finally in 2015, we have both participation from countries representing 97.8 percent of global emissions and provisions for review and updating.

So how will the outcome on particular crunch issues affect the new agreement’s success?

Updating. The key questions are both the frequency with which countries will be asked to submit updated targets and guidance for that effort. The current draft requests targets be submitted every five years with an eye towards economy-wide targets for all countries in the future, while recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing countries. This would codify a regularity to the process that, at every five years, would provide a relatively frequent opportunity to rally countries to stronger action. The emphasis on economy-wide targets for all countries would point to an eventual cap on global emissions.

Transparency. What matters here are both the information that countries are required to submit with their target, in order to understand underlying assumptions, as well as how those targets will be reviewed both at the time of submission and as time passes. The current draft only refers to information that countries “may include” with their submitted target.  It also offers options for reviewing progress that might focus whether a country achieved its targets, or might be limited to whether its reporting followed established guidelines. In both cases, many details are being left to subsequent negotiations. This vagueness leaves open, for now, how useful this formal process will be in establishing the countries’ track record and rallying future national commitments. It potentially puts a greater emphasis on outside analysis and debate.

Legally binding. There has been much discussion about whether the targets would be legally binding or whether submission of targets and reporting would be legally binding (and whether this would require the U.S. Senate to ratify the agreement). The current draft does not suggest the targets would be legally binding. Ultimately, this is likely not a huge deal: The 1997 Kyoto Protocol included legally binding limits but with countries such as Japan, Canada, and Russia deciding they no longer wanted to comply, they simply withdrew.

Differentiation: Since 1992, developed and developing countries have had bifurcated obligations —nowhere more evident than in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which applied mitigation responsibilities only to developed countries. This differentiation is increasingly problematic as a growing majority of emissions come from developing—particularly emerging—countries. The current draft makes little distinction between developing and developed economies in terms of mitigation and transparency—except for noting that more financial support to developing countries will allow for higher ambition in their actions.

Finance: Finance is always a contentious issue and of critical importance to developing countries.  Not surprisingly, language referring to the terms of financial resources remains bracketed in the current text. At the same time, finance is typically not an issue that prevents a deal from being made, and most major developing countries are recognizing the need to take action independent of finance.

Although this last stage of negotiation is tough—everyone wants to get the last little bit out of it—and the stakes are high, it is hard to look at the remaining issues and not believe that success is on the horizon. Moreover, a lot of action is being taken outside of negotiations.  As noted in an earlier post by my colleague Brian Murray, there are a host of actions and pledges by sub-nationals actors—states and cities. This activity is complemented by announcements of external finance by a host of wealthy investors. There is a good chance that we’ll wake up Saturday with some good news from Paris.

 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.