Cañete: Not enough being done to get a deal in Paris

Despite the low progress and political obstacles, Cañete said that leaders should not get involved in the final hours: "they were part of the drafting in Copenhagen and it was an absolute catastrophe"

The optimism showed by Miguel Arias Cañete before the UN climate conference kicked off on Monday (30 November) has been replaced with clear signs of fatigue and a more cautious tone.

Miguel Arias Cañete is Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy.

He spoke to EURACTIV’s Jorge Valero

Are you still as optimistic as you were before the summit started?

If you listen to the 150 heads of the state or government that gave their speeches on Monday (30 November), it is obvious that there is a political willingness to reach an agreement in Paris.

But if you compared that with the progress made in the technical discussions, the first two days have not cleared any of the many open issues of the draft text, and we have not closed any of the fundamental chapters required for an ambitious agreement. Therefore, there is political will but limited progress in the technical talks. It means that the ministers will have to get involved in the process.

The technical work should have prepared a draft text so the ministers could have agreed on the remaining substantial issues. But the situation is that all the elements remain open. Everybody is in their comfort zones. Nobody is doing proposals to reach a consensus or a compromise. This is what the EU is trying to do, to start closing the gaps between groups which are very divided.

What could prevent a deal?

The main bone of contention now is the position of many developing countries wanting to maintain the difference made in 1992 [during the Kyoto protocol] between developed and developing countries. It is a model in which the developed countries adopted some targets while the developing nations received financial aid for climate adaptation.

But the world has changed substantially since then and today, you cannot consider many of these countries as developing nations anymore. The Kyoto model is not useful anymore, even less if we want an agreement for the whole century, as developed economies will have a lot of problems while emerging economies are growing at 10% and they have very substantial economic resources.

What do you want to achieve in Paris?

Our goal is to stop the global warming and limit the rise of temperature to 2C. Therefore we want an agreement with three basic elements. A long-term target by including in the protocol that our goal is to limit the global warming to 2C. Secondly, a 2050 target of 50% cut in CO2 emissions globally, which means a 80-95% reduction for the developed countries, as we have more capabilities, more technology and more financial resources.

Finally, we would need a review process every five years to see where we are. The 188 national contributions for emissions cuts limit the global warming to 3C, therefore every five years all the parties should meet to analyse how they have implemented their climate change policies and to see the remaining gap with the 2C target.

This review process is one of the most important elements for the EU. China and the US seem to be on board. Will it be part of the final deal?

Basically, we got the US and China’s support for the configuration of the mechanism. But the devil is in the details. China accepts the 2C target but refuses a specific target for 2050. The US support us on the need of transparent rules and accountability to fix a unified process for developing and developed countries.

But there are differences on whether, once we analyse every five years where we are, the countries should necessarily increase their ambition or it would be rather on a voluntary basis. Contrary to Kyoto, which was a top-down approach with binding targets and sanctions, this time around the parties have established their targets freely and, luckily, it has been successful. With this more discretional method, we have 188 countries with national targets representing 98% of the global emissions, compared to 38 countries in Kyoto representing 12% of global emissions.

Regarding the US, what wording could be used to save the Congress’ opposition to a legally binding treaty?

The US admits that the protocol should have binding elements. It is not a complete refusal. These binding elements should be the long term target, the review process and the rules of transparency and accountability.

The problem is that their national target for the emissions cut cannot be binding, since this would require the ratification by the Congress and the Senate. We are looking for intermediate formulas between their position and the EU and the developing nations’ camp in favour of a binding agreement, because it is clear that we need an inclusive and universal agreement.

Now we are in that complex stage of the negotiation of how to guarantee to the rest of the nations that the required national policies would be in place to meet the targets. We are working on the wording to reflect the US political willingness to address the climate change.

How likely is that at the end of the Paris conference there will be an agreement?

The climate change agreements happen in the eleventh hour. That is the tradition, because the most difficult parts are left for the end, and it is an overall package. In light of the progress made in the technical talks I don’t expect an agreement before Friday next week.

Would it be necessary to bring back the leaders?

No. The leaders were part of the drafting in Copenhagen and it was an absolute catastrophe. Therefore what is needed now is that the experts assume their responsibility and from Saturday on the ministers lead the political discussion to overcome the last bone of contentions.

Speaking of Copenhagen, despite of the EU´s ambition and hard work, China and the US have taken centre stage in Paris. Are you afraid of Europe being marginalized from the final talks between the ‘big players’, as it happened in 2009?

What I am afraid of is that an alliance between the US and China could lead us to an agreement with little ambition. Therefore we are forging alliances with all the developing countries, with the Pacific Islands, with the most progressive countries in this field in Latin America and Africa to go for very ambitious targets.

We are in a very good position because we have the most ambitious targets and the most progressive legislation in energy and environment. Even more, we are the most supportive block in terms of climate change financing. Between 2009 and 2013, up to 56% of the financial aid for the developing nations [to support adaptation and mitigation for climate change] came from the EU. We are very well positioned in this summit with a lot of ambition and solidarity, and a lot of coherence in our domestic policies.

All of these give us an authoritative voice for the negotiations. Others make a lot of announcements, but we follow a consistent policy, leading by facts and not only by words.

To what extent is this US-China alliance is possible?

We have bilateral contacts with both Washington and Beijing, almost on a daily basis…

Is there a risk?

All risks exist in serious negotiations, but we want to be part of this alliance to push toward an ambitious accord. 

>> Storify: Live #COP21


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