This article is part of our special report Climate change: The road to Paris.
SPECIAL REPORT: With ten months to go before the COP 21, Paris is doing all it can to provide the ideal conditions for a global agreement. Europe hopes to play a facilitating role in the international negotiations, which will focus on the needs and attainable contributions of individual countries. EURACTIV France reports.
The countdown to Paris has begun. The clock on the new Paris 2015 website ticks off the days, while the feeling of excitement and expectation among the event’s organisers is palpable. The Paris climate conference kicks off in 308 days, and should it fail, it could be the last of its kind.
For France, this is simply not an option. “In this conference, the French are playing the jolly Club Med entertainers! They are not too concerned with detail, they just want the atmosphere to be right,” a source close to the conference told euractiv.fr. The French Minister for Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, has already dedicated a year’s work to paving the way for a successful conference, and the EU is also playing its part.
Still no consensus on method
But so far, progress has been minimal, and largely related to the mechanics of a future agreement. This was discussed at length during the Lima conference in December 2014, and will be a pivotal issue in forming a consensus. Our source said “for everyone to agree, we first have to be speaking the same language, and that is what is missing today”.
The type of objectives, the methods used to achieve them, the periods of commitment and the evaluation of results are all subjects of endless debate.
The shadow of a framework was defined in Lima, and the final text from the December conference suggested that the participants submit their positions for Paris by May 2015. This is standard practice for negotiations whose aim is to arrive at a legally binding agreement; a “classic” international treaty like the Kyoto Protocol. But the nature of national contributions remains ill-defined, and the differentiation between states unclear. The old classifications of Annexes 1 and 2 have been scrapped to make way for a more complex arrangement, with many possible divergences.
The new agreement will take a “bottom-up” approach, consisting of many bilateral agreements, which it is hoped will have a greater impact on reducing CO2 emissions than the “top-down” framework of Kyoto, whereby the required reductions were evaluated on a global scale before being portioned out to individual states.
The USA-China agreement, signed last November, is a prime example of this new approach. It represents a leap forward in the fight against climate change, and comes outside of any conventional framework. The flip side is that this kind of extra-UN declaration is that it can cause unhelpful friction at the Conference of the Parties.
Stefan Aykut, a researcher and co-author of the book Governing the climate? Twenty years of international negotiations, wrote that “India felt excluded from the process after this agreement between the major emitters, and played a part in blocking the Lima negotiations. Which came to nothing in the end”.
Europe to host, but not lead
The changing geopolitical landscape lies at the heart of the problem for Europe. The EU is no longer the driving force behind the global fight against climate change, in part because the 28 country bloc’s carbon footprint is now relatively light compared to that of the worst-emitting emerging economies and the United States, and in part because the “top-down” approach it advocates, and continues to apply within its own borders, has fallen from favour.
Europe’s climate alliance with developing countries, which benefited from payments under the Clean Development Mechanism, collapsed along with the price of carbon. At €7 per ton, these projects are no longer sustainable, leaving the future funding of the fight against climate change under a cloud of uncertainty.
Agreement with room for improvement
The negotiations are further complicated by the fact that the objective of limiting global warming to +2°C by 2050 appears to be getting further and further out of reach. This has been the official objective of the international climate negotiations since 2009, but if climate change continues on its current trajectory, we are likely to see temperature rises of between +4°C and +6°C by the end of the century. The economist and UN advisor Jeffrey D. Sachs wrote that “to stay below the two-degree limit, the world’s governments must embrace a core concept: “deep decarbonisation” of the world’s energy system.”
Stefan Aykut sees what he describes as a “schism” of realities: “on the one hand the scientists are raising the alarm over the pressing need to eliminate CO2 emissions immediately, in order to avoid rapid global warming, and on the other hand the negotiation process is going ahead at an unbelievably slow rate”.
Should we ignore this paradox and continue step by step, regardless? Or should we risk the diplomatic backlash and try to whip the more reticent parties into action? This is what is at stake in the next 308 days.