COP21 Leaders Event – analysis

Published on: December 2, 2015

Filed Under: Analysis, COP 21, Featured, New Zealand

This article will analyse the various speaker events and panels (listed here) from day one of COP21. There were many encouraging speeches throughout day one – but does converging political rhetoric actually mean that Parties are closer to an effective agreement?

A key issue with any agreement that comes out of Paris will be whether what is undertaken is actually implemented effectively. The potential for gaps between rhetoric and solid action is clear at even at this phase of the climate talks. An example close to home was John Key’s presentation of the Fossil Fuel Subsidy Communique, which landed New Zealand the Climate Action Network’s ‘Fossil of the Day‘ award:

“New funding announced earlier in Prime Minister John Key’s speech suggests $70 million of potentially new climate change funding per year … compared to the $84.92 million spent on fossil subsidies in New Zealand in 2013… The Prime Minister alleged that New Zealand is a leader on fossil fuel subsidy abolition, where in fact New Zealand’s fossil fuel production subsidies have increased seven-fold since Key’s election in 2008.”

The New Zealand government has since disputed that this figure, dismissing the WWF report it is based and instead pointing to an assessment done by APEC which “says that NZ has no fossil fuel subsidies.” Nonetheless, this example is emblematic of how political rhetoric in the COP21 space does not necessarily translate to direct action. This is important to keep in mind with regards to the leaders event.

Overall however, both the Climate Action Network and WWF briefings on day one of COP21 were cautiously optimistic in their assessment of the leaders’ speeches. In terms of the major emitting nations, both Presidents Obama and Xi Jinping backed their speeches with solid actions and “embraced their responsibility.” Countries all presented constructive ideas, linking climate action to economic prosperity and security, rather than just listing demands. Differentiation was less binary than the past; countries were talking about moving in the same direction but at different speeds. The general idea was that they had “passed the test” but the up-coming “exam has many questions.”

A lot rides on the US following through with its promises, because 5 gigatonnes of developing countries’ INDC emission cuts are conditional on financial, technological and capacity building support. The WWF also noted that the “energy transformation” has started regardless of political rhetoric, and thus it won’t “live and die with Paris.”

The Climate Action Network noted that Paris itself does have three elements critical for an agreement: political leadership, as well as a permissive majority who is “ready for renewables”, and an activist base (with over 700,000 intercultural, interfaith people marching in the Global Climate Marches on the 28th and 29th of November). The question that remains is how effective the agreement will be. The INDCs do not add up to the 2 degree goal that world leaders have agreed to, let alone the 1.5 degree one that vulnerable countries and NGOs are calling for.

So what does the agreement still need?

Synthesising the arguments of many political leaders and participating NGOs, an effective Paris agreement still needs the following things:

Guaranteed five year review cycle of the INDCs. This seems likely at this stage – but it is important that the final wording in the text has an equity component and a review against science.

A “Paris Ambition Mechanism”: (or ‘ratchet’), to ensure that NDCs improve over time and the mitigation ‘gap’ is closed. Without this kind of mechanism, the current ambition place would use 3/4s of the remaining ‘carbon budget’ by 2030, which would make subsequent requisite cuts extremely difficult. Similarly, while the Paris Agreement (post 2020 regime) is important, emission cuts will need to begin well before 2020 in order for an effective trajectory to be met.

A transition to renewables through removal of fossil fuel subsidies, and carbon pricing or taxation in a manner that sends clear signals to investors.

A long term goal for resourcing/support/finance. Tim Gor from Oxfam suggested that the current financial disagreements in the text can be overcome by adding to the text collective targets.

A Loss and Damage mechanism for the vulnerable countries, acknowledging that some impacts are too much to adapt to. There are currently only two options in the draft text: developing nations want a mechanism, other Parties such as the US want no mechanism. There will be some kind of “solidarity package” in the text – but it may be limited to the Warsaw Loss and Damage mandate, which exists only in a COP (political) decision rather than a mechanism within the binding post-2020 legal framework. There is a large disagreement over whether liability can be assigned and it is not as clear cut as ‘developed vs developing here’, as large constituencies within countries such as the USA (including youth delegations, faith groups) support the harder legal mechanism.

Somewhere between these options rests the Paris landing zone. The draft text is bloated, but there is no option B (or ‘secret text’ hidden away according to Fabius). If no agreement is reached in the next two weeks, it will probably mark the end of the UNFCCC, and state-led climate action would become a ‘coalition of the willing’. Hopefully this will not be the case, as the willpower seems present for an agreement of some kind. But there is a lot of ground yet to cover. The political leaders have done their job – now it is up to negotiators and ministers.

Simon Hillier | image by UNclimatechange





























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