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

Mr.TinDC / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

By Adda Bjarnadottir, MS

Many nutrients are essential for good health.

Read More Show Less
albedo20 / Flickr

By Pat Thomas

Throughout the U.S., major food brands are trying to get rid of GMO ingredients — not necessarily for the right reasons, but because nearly half of consumers say they avoid them in their food, primarily for health reasons.

But the CEO of Impossible Foods, purveyor of the Impossible Burger, is bucking that trend.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
People in more than 100 countries are expected to take part in well over 1,000 strikes on May 24 to demand climate action from their governments. @ExtinctionR / Twitter

By Julia Conley

Two months after what was reportedly the largest international climate demonstration ever, young people around the world are expected to make history again on Friday with a second global climate strike.

Read More Show Less
DoneGood

By Cullen Schwarz

Ethical shopping is a somewhat new phenomenon. We're far more familiar with the "tried and tested" methods of doing good, like donating our money or time.

Read More Show Less
Asian elephants frolic in Kaudulla Wewa at Kaudulla National Park in central Sri Lanka. David Stanley / CC BY 2.0

When it comes to saving some of the planet's largest animals, a group of researchers says that old methods of conservation just won't cut it anymore.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pexels

A low-fat diet that prioritizes eating healthier foods like fruits and vegetables each day could lower the risk a woman's risk of dying from breast cancer, according to a multi-decade study published this month.

Read More Show Less
smcgee / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Several New York City Starbucks exposed customers to a potentially deadly pesticide, two lawsuits filed Tuesday allege.

Read More Show Less
Drinks with plastic straws on sale at London's Borough Market. Susie Adams / Getty Images

The UK government has set a date for a ban on the sale of single use plastics, The Guardian reported Wednesday. From April 2020, the sale of plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds with plastic stems will be prohibited in England.

Read More Show Less