Quantcast

Carl Pope: What’s Really Happening at COP21

Climate

If global warming was an enemy army besieging Paris and the COP21 UN climate summit the defenders, there is no sign outside that the siege is being lifted. It’s in the mid-50’s here, a full 10 degrees above normal.

But you can sense that climate advocates recognize that this may be their moment. At the opening assembly of heads of state four days ago, the Big Four – U.S., China, EU and India—laid their claim to leadership and ambition and called for success. Canada and Australia, the two carbon exporting industrial democracies, have both replaced climate skeptical Prime Ministers with advocates of action. Russia, whose short-term self interest might lie in a failure of the Paris talks, has pledged not to disrupt. Poland remains as the biggest outlier, calling for less ambition, but seemingly still in the tent.

The formal negotiations, predictably, are bogging down and tempers are rising. Unlike heads of state, climate negotiators each strive to take home a head on a platter at each other’s expense, so they see a “zero sum game” however sternly Chinese President Xi may caution against that narrow view.

Most of the inside reporting from these talks will be framed within that narrow negotiating context. An enormous amount of the argument will be “sound and fury,” not substance:

1. Legally binding is a meaningless term. President Obama and the Republican Congress may spar over what this means; the EU may pound the table demanding more “bindingness.” China and India may draw a bright line against being “obligated” themselves while seeking to make the OECD powers “deliver” on their obligations. But no country is going to get so much as a traffic ticket as a result of any deal struck in Paris—or even offered. The UN has no black helicopters to enforce any agreement. No version of the text on the Cop 21 table imposes any penalties on anyone. Kyoto was, in the language of these talks, “binding.” Canada ratified it. The U.S. did not. Canada walked away from its obligations and paid no price. The U.S. met obligations it had not legally assumed. It got no reward from the UNFCCC.

2. The 2 degree pathway is a destination, not a starting point. We already know what the world is planning to do in terms of immediate decarbonization. The final commitments made by the end of the week will simply ratify the national offers already on the table. Roughly speaking, these “INDC’s” [Intended Nationally Determined Contributions] will cut emissions by about half of what climate scientists recommend. That “gap” will not, in any arithmetic sense, be closed in the next two weeks. But this is good, not bad news—we have closed half of the global ambition gap in the past eighteen months, a pace of progress vastly in excess of anything we have seen before.

3. What the negotiations will drive is momentum. The incentives and the level of trust and perceived solidarity—will shape how quickly the world economy prepares itself for the next round of carbon pledges, ones that will be identified between now and 2020, initiated during that period and ratified at COP26. The speed at which decarbonization accelerates is the crucial factor. These elements of the next ten days of negotiation will shape our future.

  • Will the finance ministers in the industrial nations shake themselves free from the shackles of the post-WWII vision of the role of development finance? They need to provide emerging markets with the necessary liquidity and derisking mechanisms so that banks, pension funds and other investors can provide developing nations with the trillions of long term, lucrative clean energy finance that will be needed. It’s a win-win, but it needs a guarantor—and none has yet been identified.

  • Can mechanisms be found to help poor countries already suffering from climate disruption get ready for grimmer weather almost certain to come? How can we ensure that there is advance planning and security to adjust to the losses and damages which are already mounting as weather becomes less predictable and more volatile?

  • Can the negotiators, collectively, overcome the instinct to be overly cautious and deferential to the most isolationism segments of their domestic constituencies and forge a genuinely multi-lateral low carbon development regime? Feelings and signals, matter—not just dollars. Here’s where bridging countries like Mexico can be so important—but their work will almost certainly remain hidden behind quiet Paris curtains.

We are indeed poised to ratify more climate diplomacy progress in the next week than we have achieved in the past 20 years. But we can still stumble and the path to success is narrow and slippery. Stay tuned.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE 

Carl Pope: Cities Can Lead … Cities Want to Lead … So Let them!

Leonardo DiCaprio: ‘Do Not Wait Another Day’ to Move to 100% Renewable Energy

Kick Big Polluters Out to Stop Corporate Capture of COP21

Bill McKibben: ‘Paris Summit is Missing One of the Great World Leaders on Climate’ Because He’s in Prison

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Record flood water levels in Venice hit again on Sunday making this the worst week of flooding in the city in over 50 years.

Read More Show Less

By Brian Barth

Late fall, after the last crops have been harvested, is a time to rest and reflect on the successes and challenges of the gardening year. But for those whose need to putter around in the garden doesn't end when cold weather comes, there's surely a few lingering chores. Get them done now and you'll be ahead of the game in spring.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
(L) Selma Three Stone Engagement Ring. (R) The Greener Diamond Farm Project. MiaDonna

By Bailey Hopp

If you had to choose a diamond for your engagement ring from below or above the ground, which would you pick … and why would you pick it? This is the main question consumers are facing when picking out their diamond engagement ring today. With a dramatic increase in demand for conflict-free lab-grown diamonds, the diamond industry is shifting right before our eyes.

Read More Show Less
(L) 3D graphical representation of a spherical-shaped, measles virus particle that is studded with glycoprotein tubercles.
(R) The measles virus pictured under a microscope. PHIL / CDC

The Pacific Island nation of Samoa declared a state of emergency this week, closed all of its schools and limited the number of public gatherings allowed after a measles outbreak has swept across the country of just 200,000 people, according to Reuters.

Read More Show Less
Austin Nuñez is Chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation, which joined with the Hopi and Pascua Yaqui Tribes to fight a proposed open-pit copper mine on sacred sites in Arizona. Mamta Popat

By Alison Cagle

Rising above the Arizona desert, the Santa Rita Mountains cradle 10,000 years of Indigenous history. The Tohono O'odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and Hopi Tribe, among numerous other tribes, have worshipped, foraged, hunted and laid their ancestors to rest in the mountains for generations.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
The Navajo Nation has suffered from limited freshwater resources as a result of climate, insufficient infrastructure, and contamination. They collaborated with NASA to develop the Drought Severity Evaluation Tool. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Native Americans are disproportionately without access to clean water, according to a new report, "Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States: A National Action Plan," to be released this afternoon, which shows that more than two million Americans do not have access to access to running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater services.

Read More Show Less
Wild Exmoor ponies graze on a meadow in the Czech Republic. rapier / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Nanticha Ocharoenchai

In the Czech Republic, horses have become the knights in shining armor. A study published in the Journal for Nature Conservation suggests that returning feral horses to grasslands in Podyjí National Park could help boost the numbers of several threatened butterfly species.

Read More Show Less

Despite huge strides in improving the lives of children since 1989, many of the world's poorest are being left behind, the United Nations children's fund UNICEF warned Monday.

Read More Show Less