Thursday, June 11, 2015

Is This Time Different?

The Bonn climate summit has just ended: a 2-week marathon including all 195 COP countries, whose purpose was to streamline the preparatory documents for the December Paris conference. Did they? Not exactly, but they did reach a compromise where committee chairs will do the editing and submit drafts in a month or so. This comes after the February Geneva meeting, where the simpler draft from Lima last November was expanded to include all viewpoints. What a lot of slog these COP summits are! But unless the disagreements and frictions are rubbed away as much as possible, there is no chance that Paris will produce the sort of agreement--comprehensive, enforceable, augmentable--that it needs to.

To cite a single example: Chinese representatives dug in to support the phrase "differentiated commitments/contributions" where the US wanted the document to read "commitments/contributions/action." The Chinese phrase, which has its own UN shorthand, CBDR, is actually a placeholder for the argument that historic greenhouse gas emitters--mainly the developed West--own a greater share of the remediation than recently arrived industrial giants such as ... China. This sparring over phrases is either setting the table for unresolvable disputes in Paris, or more optimistically, getting them on the table now so that compromises can be worked out.

Meanwhile, concurrent with the Bonn conference, G7 leaders made a historic--if somewhat vague--declaration about ending the fossil fuel era; 80 major British corporations called on their government to take the lead in reaching a bold agreement in Paris; the six largest European oil corporations urged the UNFCCC to work toward a global carbon tax at the Paris conference; and in short, many wheels are turning to prepare for success in Paris. Jennifer Morgan of World Resources Institute suggested that these parallel meetings of governments and business leaders, more than the Bonn meeting itself, may represent the most important progress.

We've been here before. In 2009 hopes were afloat for a major agreement--but were this many players lined up to make it happen? I can't be sure--memory is a tricky thing--but I do believe the 'climate of opinion' now is different from what it has been, ever. The message that Paris must succeed in creating a meaningful agreement has reached boardrooms, recalcitrant leaders, defiant objectors, complacent upholders of the status quo. Paris and the climate crisis have broken through historic layers of apathy--not so much in the US, though certainly in the Obama White House--and a global process unlike any other is well underway. Will it reach its goal?

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