French Pres­i­dent François Hol­land re­luc­tant to get his hopes up ahead of cli­mate sum­mit,


Hope is build­ing that world lead­ers will strike an in­ter­na­tional deal on green­house gas re­duc­tions this De­cem­ber at the Paris cli­mate sum­mit, driven in part by un­prece­dented lead­er­ship from the United States and China.

The cost of re­new­able energy has fallen dra­mat­i­cally and King Coal has lost its cen­tury-long throne. Pope Fran­cis has cham­pi­oned cli­mate ac­tion as a moral im­per­a­tive, while in­vestors rep­re­sent­ing $25 tril­lion (U.S.) have pub­licly backed the move to a low-car­bon econ­omy. But even as mo­men­tum for an agree­ment builds, con­cern has emerged that, af­ter years of failed cli­mate talks — par­tic­u­larly the Copenhagen sum­mit in 2009 — the world is once again set­ting it­self up for dis­ap­point­ment.

“Risk of fail­ure is real,” François Hol­lande, pres­i­dent of host coun­try France, warned jour­nal­ists last week as he an­nounced the of­fi­cial sum­mit count­down.

David Run­nalls, a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Ot­tawa’s In­sti­tute of the En­vi­ron­ment, said the big worry is that Paris will be Copenhagen re­dux.

“The French are try­ing to ratchet down ex­pec­ta­tions,” said Run­nalls, who, af­ter 20 years of at­tend­ing UN cli­mate con­fer­ences, re­mains op­ti­mistic that Paris will be dif­fer­ent.

“Copenhagen was a fail­ure dressed up to look like a suc­cess. I think Paris will be a suc­cess dressed up to look like a fail­ure.”

Dis­cus­sion in Paris will re­volve around what’s called the “two-de­gree path­way” or “two-de­gree sce­nario” — a gen­eral ac­knowl­edge­ment of how much av­er­age global tem­per­a­tures can rise be­fore cli­mate change be­comes a run­away train. It’s a con­tro­ver­sial tar­get, as many sci­en­tists be­lieve 1.5 de­grees is the most than can be tol­er­ated.

Paired with this tar­get is the idea of a “car­bon bud­get,” which caps the amount of coal, oil and nat­u­ral gas that can be burned over the next 35 years if we have any hope of stay­ing within the two-de­gree sce­nario.

Many global in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing the In­ter­na­tional Energy Agency, now ac­cept that two-thirds of fos­sil­fuel re­serves must be left in the ground to avoid the worst of cli­mate change. At the cur­rent rate of con­sump­tion, ex­perts say we’ll blow through our global car­bon bud­get within 20 to 30 years if dra­matic ac­tion isn’t taken now.

In prepa­ra­tion for this sum­mit, coun­tries were asked to pledge emis­sion re­duc­tions — awk­wardly called In­tended Na­tion­ally De­ter­mined Con­tri­bu­tions (INDCs).

The idea is that all pledges would be ag­gre­gated be­fore the sum­mit to get a sense of how close coun­tries are to that two-de­gree sce­nario.

Fi­nal com­mit­ments by the end of the sum­mit would form the ba­sis of an in­ter­na­tional agree­ment that would go into ef­fect in 2020.

So far, only 56 of 196 coun­tries — a group rep­re­sent­ing about two-thirds of global emis­sions — have sub­mit­ted their INDCs, and those pledges that have come in fall well short of what’s needed.

The Pots­dam In­sti­tute for Cli­mate Im­pact Re­search, along with three other re­search part­ners, cal­cu­lated that con­tri­bu­tions so far show “in­suf­fi­cient am­bi­tion” and that only two coun­tries — Ethiopia and Morocco — have made the kind of pledges needed.

Seven coun­tries, in­clud­ing Canada, have sub­mit­ted “in­ad­e­quate” pledges that don’t rep­re­sent their fair share of green­house gas emis­sions. Canada is joined by Aus­tralia, Ja­pan, New Zealand, Sin­ga­pore, South Korea and Rus­sia.

“These coun­tries would have to in­crease their am­bi­tion lev­els sig­nif­i­cantly to be con­sis­tent with a fair­share con­tri­bu­tion to lim­it­ing warm­ing to two de­grees,” ac­cord­ing to the Pots­dam-led group. “It is clear that ef­forts to en­cour­age greater pol­icy ac­tion need to be ramped up as part of the Paris Agree­ment.”

Such a ramp­ing-up ef­fort is not ex­pected to come from Canada — at least not be­fore the fed­eral elec­tion in Oc­to­ber. Even if the NDP or Lib­er­als form the next gov­ern­ment, chances are slim that Canada’s pledge can be strength­ened in time for Paris.

What Canada may be able to do is sal­vage its in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion on the cli­mate file, said Run­nalls, point­ing to lead­er­ship roles from On­tario, Que­bec, B.C. and even Al­berta.

Al­berta, which is re­spon­si­ble for 37 per cent of Canada’s GHG emis­sion, is the wild card as Canada ap­proaches Paris. New NDP Premier Rachel Not­ley has vowed to earn her province cred­i­bil­ity on the in­ter­na­tional stage and is ex­pected to per­son­ally at­tend the De­cem­ber sum­mit.

Last week, Al­berta En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Shan­non Phillips, speak­ing at a cli­mate pol­icy con­fer­ence in Ed­mon­ton, sig­nalled a new chap­ter in the province’s ap­proach to cli­mate change. “The days of de­nial are over,” she said.

What’s un­de­ni­able is Paris has mo­men­tum that Copenhagen never did. Back at the 2009 sum­mit, coun­tries rep­re­sent­ing only a quar­ter of global emis­sions pledged to take ac­tion. Al­ready, with Paris just over two months away, nearly 70 per cent of global emis­sions are cov­ered by pledges. It’s a num­ber that ex­cludes forth­com­ing com­mit­ments from In­dia and Brazil.

Jules Korten­horst, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the Rocky Moun­tain In­sti­tute, an energy and en­vi­ron­men­tal think-tank in Boul­der, Colo., said he has no doubt that Paris will yield good re­sults.

He says Paris is about fi­nally putting in place an in­ter­na­tional frame­work and lock­ing in coun­try com­mit­ments that can serve as build­ing blocks over time.

Also im­por­tant is to es­tab­lish a “ratch­et­ing mech­a­nism” that can ac­com­mo­date the pe­ri­odic strength­en­ing of emis­sion-re­duc­tion pledges.

“But maybe even more im­por­tant,” he added, “Paris will de­liver a very clear marker — a sign that tells us where we’re head­ing, that it’s game over for tarsands, game over for coal and game over for the old way of think­ing about the energy sys­tem and sus­tain­abil­ity.”

This ar­ti­cle is part of a se­ries pro­duced in part­ner­ship by the Toronto Star and Tides Canada to ad­dress a range of press­ing cli­mate is­sues in Canada lead­ing up to the United Na­tions Cli­mate Change Con­fer­ence in Paris, De­cem­ber 2015. Tides Canada is sup­port­ing this part­ner­ship to in­crease public aware­ness and di­a­logue around the im­pacts of cli­mate change on Canada’s econ­omy and com­mu­ni­ties. The Toronto Star has full ed­i­to­rial con­trol and re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure sto­ries are rig­or­ously edited in or­der to meet its ed­i­to­rial stan­dards.


Observers hope U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, left, and Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping will help bro­ker a global deal on green­house gas re­duc­tions.

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