Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Home Stretch for Paris

As I've noted from time to time, the COP 21 Paris Climate Conference may be scheduled for early December, but the real work is happening this fall. In that light a milestone of sorts was achieved last week as India filed its national plan, the last such plan expected from a large economy. With that in place, analysts are able to see what the overall results look like: not great in relation to the 2 degrees C temperature rise postulated as the 'goal,' but a lot better than the 'business as usual' low bar alternative.

On another plane the conference is shaping up around the draft document that the 195 member states have been negotiating all year--and for several previous years--and that draft, released on Monday, was the object of much commentary. Most visible for American readers is the hopelessly snarky account given in Andrew Revkin's normally respectable Dot Earth blog in the Times. Revkin's focus is the UN practice of creating drafts with unresolved alternative phrases in brackets--the better to see what stands and what still needs to be worked out. Revkin has some fun with this: the title of his post refers to "a draft climate [agreement][accord][pact]" and goes on to cite some really substantive alternatives still pending resolution. For example, this opening statement:

"Parties aim to reach by [X date] [a peaking of global greenhouse gas emissions][zero net greenhouse gas emissions][a[n] X per cent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions][global low-carbon transformation][global low-emission transformation][carbon neutrality][climate neutrality]. "

Yes, there are big differences in these various formulations, and the negotiators have a lot of work to do--scheduled for the end of this month--before the document can be taken up by the full conference. But as Revkin himself admits, that work is actually being done--heroically, the long way, the only way it can be to reach global agreement. This is just what didn't happen in advance of Copenhagen, and the result was a hasty, incomplete, closed door agreement among major powers that left all the other participants dismayed. For all Revkin's ironic asides, the process this time--though it may go down to the wire and could still fail in some respects--has been far more transparent, participatory, and promising thus far. For what it's worth, the Guardian managed to report on exactly the same status of the drafting process without making fun of it at all.

More useful by far would be to consider what could still be achieved, what is missing altogether from the document, and how, beyond Paris, the 2 C goal might still be achieved. Some of this information finds its way into this account by Megan Darby of Climate Change News. Darby notes some important omissions: air travel and nautical shipping, both major sources of GHG emissions, are not addressed. Carbon markets are relegated to subordinate documents, as is the whole vexed question of the Green Climate Fund, or more generally the financial transfers from wealthier to poorer nations to cover adaptation, mitigation, or 'loss and damage' expenses. This 'climate debt' from the historic polluters--i.e. wealthy industrialized nations--to the less developed, less responsible nations, is perhaps the toughest pending issue, though it may be finessed by shadowy accounting, i.e. citing existing funds and relabeling them.

In any case, for those of us wondering if the Paris conference stands a chance of success--by whatever measure--we don't have to wait passively till December. The pieces are falling rapidly into place, and the results of the conference, good and bad, can be glimpsed already in the documents that are surfacing.

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