What follows is a guest editorial from Sir Geoffrey Palmer. Sir Geoffrey is a former Prime Minister of New Zealand, former Minister for the Environment, and is currenly a Distinguished Fellow at the Victoria University of Wellington Faculty of Law.
Who will be obliged to do what after Paris?
The negotiating text released in Paris is soft and may get softer.
The prolific options, the square brackets and the qualifications suggest that predicting the outcome is hazardous at this stage.
Partial success and failure are both still available.
One cannot call the result on this text.
We have had twenty years of procrastination. We are likely to get more of it.
Hard and enforceable decisions seem a long way off.
There is insufficient language of obligation in this text.
There are too many weasel words.
I am thinking that to save the planet something like a legislature is required.
A unanimous consent based negotiation seems likely to fail the peoples of the planet.
Lowest common denominator diplomacy does not address the known science.
The outcome will not be evidenced based.
Sovereign states may visit great suffering on people in the years to come.
The available instruments of international and domestic governance do match the challenges that climate change poses.
If mitigation fails, as seems entirely possible, adaptation will be awful.
Human rights will be washed away in many places.
Cultures will be destroyed.
Health and weather will be adversely affected.
Security will become a big problem.
The Security Council of the United Nations that has so far held aloof from this problem will necessarily be engaged.
We do not have much time. Perhaps another twenty years at best.
Success in Paris requires the securing of a binding agreement that will keep greenhouse gas emission down to 2 degrees and prevent anthropogenic climate change.
Actually now the science says it must be 1.5 degrees.
It was clear before the negotiations began that Paris will not produce a pathway to reduce GHG emissions so that increases are held to the necessary levels.
Paris may, however, produce an agreement that has some binding elements.
And these could produce, after big iterations in the future, an outcome that will keep within the limits.
After Paris the practical issues of enforceability of any agreement, monitoring and verification will become topics of vital importance.
The text looks weak on these issues.
And the weakness of international law adds to the problem.
Compliance and ambition are the key issues.
And what about the money?
The tendency to postpone hard decisions has been very powerful in the 20 previous negotiations.
On the published text there is some progress but not enough.
Whatever happens in the next few days you can be sure political leaders will pat themselves on the back at the end.
Political leaders will proclaim they have made progress when the reality may be different.
Since 1992, the history of climate change negotiations has been littered with false starts, blind alleys and a lack of achievement in arriving at binding targets or equivalent measures for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.
After Paris future iterations are inevitable and I will still fear for my grandchildren.
Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC,
Distinguished Fellow, Faculty of Law, Victoria University of Wellington;
Minister for the Environment 1987– 1990, Prime Minister 1989-1990.
Image by Jonathan Ah Kit