World seeks to fur­ther cli­mate ac­cord

The Idaho Statesman (Sunday) - - SPORTS - BY BRAD PLUMER New York Times WASHINGTON

With the world still strug­gling to get global warm­ing un­der con­trol, diplo­mats from nearly 200 coun­tries are sched­uled to meet in Poland over the next two weeks to try to put global cli­mate ne­go­ti­a­tions back on track.

The fo­cus of the meeting? To ham­mer out a key set of rules for the Paris cli­mate agree­ment that, del­e­gates hope, will help prod coun­tries to cut fos­sil-fuel emis­sions far more deeply in the years ahead than they’re cur­rently do­ing.

Un­der the Paris deal, signed by world lead­ers in 2015, vir­tu­ally ev­ery coun­try on Earth agreed to sub­mit a plan for curb­ing emis­sions and vowed to ratchet up ef­forts over time. But key ques­tions about how that process would un­fold were left unan­swered: How thor­oughly should coun­tries re­port their progress on emis­sions? How de­tailed should their plans for mak­ing fur­ther cuts be?

Del­e­gates at the con­fer­ence – be­ing held in Ka­tow­ice, at the heart of Poland’s coal-min­ing re­gion, and which is known as COP24, short­hand for its for­mal name – will hag­gle over a “rule book” that will lay out the an­swers to those and other key ques­tions. The de­bates are of­ten tech­ni­cal, but highly con­tentious: China, for in­stance, has sug­gested that de­vel­op­ing coun­tries should be held to looser re­port­ing stan­dards, but Europe and the United States have pushed back.

“This is go­ing to be one of the most dif­fi­cult ne­go­ti­a­tions we’ve seen yet,” said An­drew Light, a se­nior cli­mate change ad­viser at the State Depart­ment un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. “There are so many mov­ing parts.”

The stakes are high: While coun­tries agreed in Paris to keep global tem­per­a­tures from ris­ing more than 2 de­grees Cel­sius, or 3.6 de­grees Fahren­heit, above prein­dus­trial lev­els, the plans that var­i­ous coun­tries have writ­ten so far are wildly in­suf­fi­cient to that task. Cur­rently, the world is on pace for around 3 de­grees Cel­sius of warm­ing or more, bring­ing far higher risks of deadly heat waves, floods, the col­lapse of po­lar ice caps and other po­ten­tial calami­ties.

What’s more, some coun­tries are now back­slid­ing.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has dis­avowed the Paris deal and plans to pull the United States out by 2020, though the coun­try will none­the­less send of­fi­cials to Poland to par­tic­i­pate in talks. Aus­tralia and Brazil also have newly elected lead­ers op­posed to more force­ful cli­mate ac­tion, and some an­a­lysts are now find­ing signs of a “Trump ef­fect” that could un­der­mine global ef­forts on cli­mate change.

Q: What’s the point of these cli­mate talks?

A: To un­der­stand the Ka­tow­ice meeting, it’s use­ful to re­call that the Paris cli­mate agree­ment was largely in­tended to work through peer pres­sure among na­tions.

Un­der the Paris agree­ment, coun­tries aren’t re­quired to sub­mit legally bind­ing plans for re­duc­ing emis­sions. In­stead, each coun­try sub­mits a vol­un­tary plan tai­lored to its own do­mes­tic sit­u­a­tion. This struc­ture, the ar­chi­tects of the Paris deal said, was the most re­al­is­tic way to get ev­ery world leader to agree to par­tic­i­pate.

But those ar­chi­tects also re­al­ized that coun­tries aren’t do­ing nearly enough to keep the world be­low 2 de­grees Cel­sius of warm­ing. So, un­der Paris, coun­tries are re­quired to meet pe­ri­od­i­cally, as­sess their col­lec­tive progress and see where stronger ac­tion can be taken.

In Ka­tow­ice, ne­go­tia­tors will hash out these thorny de­tails, like how rig­or­ously coun­tries should track their progress or what level of out­side scru­tiny fu­ture pledges should face. One cur­rent draft of the ne­go­ti­at­ing text is 236 pages long, and, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by Car­bon Brief, con­tains more than 3,700 items where coun­tries still dis­agree on word­ing. Ne­go­tia­tors have until Dec. 14 to re­solve all of them.

Q: What are the big dis­agree­ments?

A: The rule book is ex­pected to pro­voke fierce de­bate. Some de­vel­op­ing coun­tries have ar­gued that they should be given much more lee­way in how they re­port and track their progress, es­pe­cially if they have lim­ited tech­ni­cal ca­pac­ity to mea­sure their emis­sions. China, in par­tic­u­lar, has long been wary of out­side scru­tiny.

Money is an­other peren­nial stick­ing point. In­dia and African coun­tries, for ex­am­ple, have long in­sisted that wealthy na­tions need to pro­vide more fi­nanc­ing to help poorer gov­ern­ments shift to clean en­ergy or adapt to the im­pacts of global warm­ing. They have pushed for much more de­tailed pledges on aid.

Loom­ing over all these de­bates is the uncer­tain role of the United States, which played a crit­i­cal part in bring­ing coun­tries to­gether to fi­nal­ize the ini­tial Paris agree­ment in 2015.

While the State Depart­ment is still send­ing a team to ne­go­ti­ate the rule book, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has largely re­pu­di­ated the Paris deal and has re­fused to send an ad­di­tional $2 bil­lion in cli­mate aid that had been pledged by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion at Paris. It is still un­clear how much in­flu­ence the United States will have at this new­est round of talks, or whether any other coun­tries might step in to take a lead­er­ship role.

“The global political en­vi­ron­ment is re­ally chal­leng­ing right now, with na­tion­al­ism tak­ing hold in many coun­tries,” said Saman­tha Gross, a fel­low in the Cross-brook­ings Ini­tia­tive on En­ergy and Cli­mate, in a re­cent tele­phone call with re­porters.

Q: How will this af­fect cli­mate change?

A: The most im­por­tant work on cli­mate change pol­icy will con­tinue to be done by na­tional and lo­cal gov­ern­ments around the world; by pri­vate busi­nesses, in­vestors and in­di­vid­u­als; and by sci­en­tists and en­gi­neers de­vel­op­ing clean-en­ergy tech­nolo­gies.

“While this mul­ti­lat­eral process is im­por­tant, it is not the so­lu­tion to cli­mate change,” said El­liot Diringer, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent at the Cen­ter for Cli­mate and En­ergy So­lu­tions. “At best, it can help fa­cil­i­tate cli­mate ac­tion over time.”

If ne­go­tia­tors at Ka­tow­ice strug­gle to agree on a ro­bust rule book, or the talks dead­lock en­tirely, that could fur­ther sap global mo­men­tum for cli­mate ac­tion.


The 2018 U.N. Cli­mate Change Con­fer­ence gets un­der way Tues­day in Ka­tow­ice, Poland. Al­most 200 coun­tries are tak­ing part – in­clud­ing the United States, even though the U.S. plans to pull out of the Paris agree­ment in 2020.

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