COP 21 agreement set to miss CO2 reduction target by 10 gigatons

Developing countries generate most of their energy from coal. [Petr Štefek/Wikipedia]

Current national plans for CO2 emissions reduction will fall ten gigatons short of the cut required, if the UN is to meet its target of limiting the global temperature rise to +2°C. EURACTIV France reports

With less than three months to go before the Paris Climate Conference (COP 21), Monday (31 August) marks the start of a week of international climate negotiations in Bonn. It has become clear that the success of the main objective of a potential Paris agreement, to limit global warming to +2°C by 2050, is far from guaranteed.

Ten gigatons too much CO2 by 2030

So far only 56 countries, representing 60% of global CO2 emissions, have submitted their national contributions to the United Nations’ efforts.

“The models show that the current commitments will not allow us to keep the temperature rise below +2°C,” said Laurence Tubiana, France’s lead negotiator for the COP 21. “But we can take immediate action to reduce the ten gigaton carbon gap,” she added, in reference to the contributions from private companies and local communities that are flooding in to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).

The UN’s climate change agency has established a platform for receiving and processing climate pledges from these actors. Several thousands of European towns have joined a legion of businesses in submitting contributions so far.

“There is real momentum in civil society, and expectations are soaring. If the politicians cannot live up to this, it would be a big disappointment” the negotiator warned.

For now, naming and shaming the low achievers in terms of climate action is out of the question. For Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Affairs Minister, “Diplomacy is more crucial to these negotiations than to any other agreement.”

>>Read: Paris to host COP 21 dry run

“Several negotiators from important countries have told me that they are willing to be ambitious as long as the system is not punitive,” Laurence Tubiana said.

While the European Commission trembles with frustration over Australia and Japan’s reluctance and India’s lack of ambition, the European Union has tried to lead by example on the issue.

Digging up the $100 billion

The latest round of negotiations in Bonn will focus on two highly political subjects: how the financial means will be found to combat global warming; and how countries will be helped to adapt to climate change, particularly the less advanced countries.

Both of these issues raise the sensitive question of how such resources will be found. But according to the French President, François Hollande, without agreement on these issues in Paris, there will be no climate agreement at all.

“The mobilisation of $100 billion per year by 2020 is a must. Without the $100 billion, there will be no agreement in Paris,” he said.

The idea of a $100 billion annual fund to transfer wealth from to the Global South was announced at the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009, but the fund has never materialised.

>>Read: Cities and regions call for access to Green Climate Fund

“The problem with the $100 billion is that their origin was never defined,” Laurence Tubiana said. She added that the question of sourcing these funds would be raised once again during this week’s negotiations.

The OECD and the NGO Climate Policy Initiative will publish an assessment of the current climate commitments in October, which they hope will help put the international negotiations on the right track ahead of the COP 21 in December. Laurence Tubiana said, “In theory we should not be far from the $100 billion objective by 2020.”

On top of the contributions by states, largely via the Green Climate Fund, investment projects by other funds and private companies may also be taken into account under certain conditions, in order to help reach this target.

The second issue – that of adapting to climate change and dealing with its economic impact – is another source of friction that will be addressed in Bonn. To get around the pitfalls of the current negotiation text, which is still impossibly long, a group of around 50 environment ministers met in Paris this July and agreed on some common principles: an aide-mémoire that will be submitted for the approval of all parties at the Paris Climate Conference.

Heads of state not welcome?

Organisers of the Paris Climate Conference have learned from the lessons of Copenhagen, where the presence of so many major political personalities dragged the conference down into chaos. To prevent political matters from hijacking the event, France has decided to invite heads of state to the opening of the conference on 29 November, but not to the negotiations themselves. The conference will close on 11 December.

>>Read: EU demands more urgency in climate negotiations

The UN organises an annual international climate change conference called the Conference of the Parites, or COP. Negotiations on climate change began in 1992,

The 20th COP took place in Lima, Peru, from 1 to 12 December 2014, and Paris is hosting the all-important 21st conference in December 2015.

The participating states must reach an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the object of which was to reduce CO2 emissions between 2008 and 2012.

Agreeing on a framework, whether legally binding or not, is the priority between now and December.

  • 25-27 September 2015: sustainable development summit in New York
  • 1 November: UN summary of all commitments
  • 30 November - 11 December 2015: COP 21 in Paris


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