Deal long on am­bi­tion short on de­tail, Frank McDon­ald

The stream­lined draft agree­ment is an achieve­ment but vague on specifics

The Irish Times - - FRONT PAGE - Frank McDon­ald

Based on di­ver­gent per­spec­tives, the Paris cli­mate deal can be viewed in a num­ber of ways. Ac­cord­ing to Asad Rehman, of Friends of the Earth UK, for ex­am­ple, it is shap­ing up as “a great es­cape for pol­luters and a poi­son chal­ice for the poor”. At the other end of the spec­trum, though, Ed­ward Cameron, the Ir­ish-born di­rec­tor of Busi­ness for So­cial Re­spon­si­bil­ity, sees it as “a sig­nal to the wider world that the era of build­ing pros­per­ity on high car­bon is com­ing to an end”.

The lat­est stream­lined ne­go­ti­at­ing text, re­leased on Thurs­day night, has some­thing for ev­ery­one – al­most. It’s a mea­sure of the huge amount of work done by min­is­ters and del­e­gates from 195 coun­tries that the num­ber of square brack­ets – in­di­cat­ing con­tentious is­sues – has been slashed from 1,609 when COP21 started on Novem­ber 30th to only 48 in the lat­est draft. That, it­self, is a ma­jor achieve­ment.

Devil in de­tail

As al­ways, how­ever, the devil is in the de­tail. Al­though the long-term goal is to “hold the in­crease in the global av­er­age tem­per­a­ture to well be­low two de­grees above pre-in­dus­trial lev­els and to pursue ef­forts to limit the tem­per­a­ture in­crease to 1.5 de­grees”, the draft agree­ment is quite vague on how this is to be achieved.

At the out­set, a num­ber of op­tions were put for­ward, such as re­duc­ing green­house-gas emis­sions by be­tween 40 per cent and 95 per cent by 2050 and “de­car­bon­i­sa­tion” of the world’s econ­omy over the course of this cen­tury (as the UN’s In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change has rec­om­mended) through set­ting a “car­bon bud­get”. Un­der this, emis­sions would be lim­ited in or­der to achieve tem­per­a­ture goals.

All the 27-page text says is that coun­tries would “aim to reach the peak­ing of green­house-gas emis­sions as soon as pos­si­ble, recog­nis­ing that peak­ing will take longer for de­vel­op­ing coun­try par­ties, and to un­der­take rapid re­duc­tions there­after to­wards reach­ing green­house-gas-emis­sions neu­tral­ity in the sec­ond half of the cen­tury, on the ba­sis of eq­uity and guided by science in the con­text of sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment and poverty erad­i­ca­tion”.

What “emis­sions neu­tral­ity” would look like has not been de­fined, but it is cer­tain to per­mit the con­tin­ued burn­ing of fos­sil fu­els if the emis­sions can be off­set by plant­ing more forests as “car­bon sinks” ei­ther at home or abroad, or by us­ing un­proven tech­nolo­gies such as car­bon cap­ture and stor­age, or even more fan­ci­ful geo-engi­neer­ing no­tions about suck­ing CO2 out of the at­mos­phere.

Set­ting a re­al­is­tic price for car­bon – by far the most

‘‘ The ‘ele­phants in the room’ at the con­fer­ence – avi­a­tion and ship­ping – have got off scot-free again

ef­fec­tive eco­nomic tool to curb emis­sions – is not in the draft agree­ment, even though this would do more than any­thing to ac­cel­er­ate a global switch to clean tech­nolo­gies.

Also, set­ting a timeline “in the sec­ond half of the cen­tury” to achieve “emis­sions neu­tral­ity” could mean any time be­tween 2050 and 2099, al­though no­body really expects that it would be the lat­ter.

As ex­pected, the “ele­phants in the room” at the con­fer­ence – avi­a­tion and ship­ping – have got off scot-free yet again, even though they al­ready ac­count for nearly 6 per cent of global CO2 emis­sions. A para­graph call­ing for th­ese to be lim­ited or re­duced, by work­ing through the In­ter­na­tional Civil Avi­a­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion and the In­ter­na­tional Mar­itime Or­gan­i­sa­tion, re­spec­tively, has dis­ap­peared from the draft agree­ment.

Up­dat­ing the pledges

On the plus side, con­fer­ence del­e­gates have agreed on a process for re­view­ing and up­dat­ing the pledges al­ready made by 185 coun­tries to re­duce their emis­sions, even be­fore the Paris agree­ment takes ef­fect in 2020. There are also ref­er­ences to de­vel­oped coun­tries pro­vid­ing a min­i­mum of $100 bil­lion (¤91 bil­lion) a year in aid to poorer na­tions from 2020 on­wards, to en­able them to both mit­i­gate and adapt to cli­mate change.

This was a key de­mand of the least-de­vel­oped coun­tries and small is­land na­tions on the front­line of global warm­ing, and was first promised by richer coun­tries in 2009 at the abortive Copen­hagen sum­mit.

An­other make-or-break el­e­ment of the Paris deal was a “loss and dam­age” mech­a­nism for coun­tries hit by the worst im­pact of global warm­ing, first mooted at COP19 in War­saw two years ago. Its in­clu­sion is a con­ces­sion to their in­sis­tence, but this came at the price of ex­clud­ing any route to com­pen­sa­tion claims un­der the UN Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change.


Hold­ing the red line: A long red sheet is held at a demonstration call­ing on lead­ers to take ac­tion in Le Bourget, north of Paris.

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