The Irish Times
Deal long on ambition short on detail, Frank McDonald
The streamlined draft agreement is an achievement but vague on specifics
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.