Paris Text: what are we aiming for?

Published on: May 19, 2015

Filed Under: Analysis, Draft Text

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When examining the 90-page draft text for Paris, a document with no clear structure, inconsistent terminology and conflicting plans, it is difficult to determine what the Parties actually hope to achieve. Presumably, the best place to find the parties goals’ would be the “general objective” section. However, a closer examination leaves many questions unanswered.

There are 16 different objectives proposed in the draft text, canvassing almost four pages. While it is highly unlikely that the final agreement will contain all of these objectives, they are instructive in determining the focus for Paris. That said, all the objectives are verbose and long-winded and ten contain two or more ‘options’ for what that objective might include. This, and the many references to the UNFCCC, makes the objectives section difficult to unpack.

After closely reading through the section it is possible to boil down these wordy objectives into 16 one-sentence objective summaries:[1]

  1. Achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in line with Article 2 of the UNFCCC
  2. Achieve universal participation and enhance the UNFCCC principles
  3. Achieve low greenhouse gas climate-resilient economies/protect the climate system, for the benefit of present and future generations, taking into account different roles and goals of developed and developing countries
  4. Activities within one Party’s jurisdiction not to cause damage to the environment beyond their jurisdiction
  5. Limit the global average temperature increase to below 2 °C or 1.5 °C above pre-industrial level, achieve resilience and adaptive capacity, support developing countries, and achieve adaptation and mitigation
  6. Work on mitigation and adaptation, developing countries will rely on developed countries to do this
  7. Maximise ambition
  8. Developed countries to take the lead
  9. Countries vulnerable to climate change effects can only implement the Convention to the extent that their specific needs and special situations allow them to- reliant on developed countries
  10. Countries to communicate their actions under the Convention and create a timeframe for their actions to share with other countries
  11. Whether or not to make reference to unilateral measures
  12. Whether or not reference should be make to subsidiary bodies or institutional arrangements
  13. Whether or not to make reference to non-state actors
  14. Parties to cooperate to make policies for climate change education for the public
  15. Implement agreement inline with human rights, gender equality, rights of indigenous peoples, create decent work and quality jobs
  16. May need new or strengthened institutional arrangements

A number of common themes emerge when summarizing the objectives in this way: namely, the aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to limit the global average temperature increase, and to undertake mitigation and adaptation with resilience and ambition, while implementing the objectives, principles and commitments of the UNFCCC. There is also a focus on developed countries supporting developing countries.

So why are four pages and 16 objectives required to get this message across? Few logical reasons can be given in answer to this question, save for the central reality that there is ongoing disagreement between the parties as to the objectives of the process. An objectives section should be clear and to the point, leaving the details to fleshed out in the body of the agreement. The draft text does not meet this standard.

Despite their length, the objectives are not ground breaking or unique either. In fact, when compared to the objectives laid out in the UNFCCC, they are largely identical. One could be forgiven for arguing that the objective section might as well be completely removed from the draft text and substituted for the objectives and principles of the UNFCCC itself. Perhaps this indicates that the goals of the process have remained consistent since its inception in 1992; but given the developments in the science as well as the need to take decisive action in the short term, it is worrying that the objectives add little in the way of ambitious goals or stringent emissions reduction targets.

If the Parties’ intention is to reflect the UNFCCC objectives, we propose that the objectives section of the draft text be aligned completely. A simple reference to the better written, easier to follow, and more concise objectives, principles and commitments of the UNFCCC would do a much better job of conveying the objectives of the Parties than the draft text does at present. However, if the Parties do intend to go beyond the objectives of the UNFCCC, as is the hope of the authors, we propose that simple, clear and ambitious policy goals be incorporated in this section -goals that reflect the urgency of the problem, prioritise collaborative action, and specifically commit states to take action to preserve a sustainable climate.

[1] Italics indicate objectives that have an option to not be included at all.

Amanda Bryant | Image by Ivan Malkin

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