Climate Salvation: urgent but not yet - Kennedy Graham COP21 blog 3

Dr Kennedy Graham (MP, New Zealand), Global Greens delegate to COP-21

The new ‘text’ circulated this week at COP-21 tells the story of our global drama.  The ‘Ad Hoc Working Group for Enhanced Action’ has submitted the text to the Conference of the Parties which is now required to deliberate and adopt it.  This is jargon for ‘the diplomatic grouping responsible for the future of Earth’.

There are two documents. The first is the draft Paris Agreement that is essentially a protocol to the 1992 Framework Convention.  It is a free-standing document.  The second is a draft decision of the Conference.  The Conference, in its decision, will itself adopt the Paris Agreement and attach it as an Annex.  

It is worth analysing what is being said in the draft documents, since it reflects much of the cognitive dissonance I identified in my 2nd blogpost.  

In the Paris Agreement, the 196 States Parties first identify the purpose: “In order to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, Parties agree to take urgent action…”  The goal is to “hold the increase in the global average temperature to [something]”.  That something is either ‘below 1.5°C’ or ‘well below 2.0°C’.   

Let us see how this ‘urgent action’ for this challenging assignment is planned.  First, “all Parties shall regularly prepare communicate and implement nationally-determined contributions on mitigation” [NDCs].  Successive NDCs “will be informed by the result of the global stocktake” and these will be communicated ‘before the expiry of the previous contributions’.  

How is the collective, ‘long-term’ temperature goal to be reached?  There are competing views (bracketed) in the draft. The alternatives are:

  1. Peaking global GHG emissions ‘as soon as possible’;
  2. Rapid reductions ‘to at least a X% compared to 20XX levels by 2050’;
  3. Achieving zero global GHG emissions by 2060-2080;
  4. A long-term low-emissions transformation toward climate neutrality over the course of this century;
  5. Equitable distribution of a global carbon budget based on historical responsibility and climate justice.   

Before the weekend is out, the choice has to be made on this most critical of human issues.

What is to be the individual effort to this end (whatever that is to be)?

  • “Each Party shall regularly prepare, communicate and maintain successive [targets].  These should represent ‘a progression beyond the Party’s previous efforts’ and “reflect its highest possible ambition”.
  • Each Party shall communicate its first [target] no later than upon ratification.  

There is to be an ex ante process.  “Each Party shall submit an intended [target] x months prior to the final communication”.  They shall participate in a preparatory process that promotes clarity, transparency and understanding of the intended [target], “including their aggregate effect in the light of the long-term temperature goal” through an aggregate synthesis report.

There is scope for adjustment: “A Party may at any time adjust its existing [target] with a view to enhancing its level of ambition”.  Adjustment to a lower target is permitted only in an ‘extreme natural event’ (what glorious unwitting irony….), economic shock or force majeure.  

What of the so-called ‘peer review mechanism’?  The Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Agreement (CMA) will “periodically assess progress towards achieving the purpose”. It shall do so in a ‘comprehensive and facilitative manner’.

When?  “The CMA shall undertake its first global stocktake in 2024, and every five years thereafter unless otherwise decided”.   So, 2024, 2029, 2034 and so on, into the future…..

There can be amendments to this Paris Agreement, just as with the original 1992 Convention.  Plus, the adjustment process has a special formula: “An adjustment proposed by a Party to enhance its mitigation commitment shall be adopted by the CMA unless 75% of the Parties object. “Such adjustments shall be binding upon Parties”.  

Except that a Party can, after three years, withdraw with one year’s notice……

So, that is the draft Agreement, more or less, in simplified terms, as it stands at present. What of the draft Decision of the Conference itself (COP-21)?

In the preamble, the Parties allow themselves a tad more emotion.  They recognise, for example, that climate change represents “an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet”.  Steady on, now.

They therefore decide to adopt the Paris Agreement, contained in the Annex.  They request the UN Secretary-General to be the depositary and open it for signature in New York from 22 April 2016 to 21 April ‘17.   A high-level signature ceremony will occur on the first day.  The Ad Hoc Working Group to the Paris Agreement (APA) will prepare for the entry-into-force of the Paris Agreement, and will start meeting in 2016, coinciding with the other UNFCCC meetings.  

Are we all happy?  Not quite.  The Conference of the Parties (to the UNFCCC) “notes with concern that the estimated aggregate GHG emission levels resulting from the INDCs in 2025 and 2030 do not fall within the least-cost 2°C scenarios, and that much greater emission reduction efforts  … will be required in the period after 2025 and 2030” to stay under 2°C or 1.5°C.

And, later in the text: "the Conference emphasises with serious concern the urgent need to address the significant gap between the Parties’ mitigation pledges of global annual GHG emissions by 2020”. It stresses the urgency of accelerating the implementation of the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol in order to enhance pre-2020 ambition”.  

Drat.  All this work, and still screwing the planet.  Well, we’ll just do better, from 2024 on.  

But wait.  The scientists have said that global emissions have to peak before 2020 for the world to stay 2°C.  How can we start a revision of inadequate targets in 2024 and stay under 2°C?

Actually, that is not acknowledged in the Paris Agreement or the draft COP-21 decision.

Question to the negotiators:  Can a Party decide unilaterally to ‘raise its ambition level’ and get away with it?

Answer: Kind of, but you have to be brave.

The Conference “reiterates its invitation to all Parties that have not yet done so to communicate to the secretariat their INDCs … as soon as possible”, and well in advance of COP-22 (December ‘17). In fact, some 184 out of 196 already have.

And a Party can up its game immediately if it wishes – if it is, upon reflection, overcome with shame: a Party’s current INDC “will be automatically recognised as its [target] unless otherwise decided by the Party concerned”.   

A new synthesis report will be ready by May 2016.  And the Conference will convene a ‘facilitative dialogue’ among Parties to stake stock of our collective efforts in 2018 [or ‘19] in relation to the ‘long-term goal’.

And there is a glimmer of intent to relate this diplomatic horse-play to Nature: the Conference may “develop modalities to implement the distribution of a global carbon budget based on climate justice, considering historical responsibilities, ecological footprint, capabilities, state of development and population”.  

This, however, has square brackets…..

Comment:

In the draft Paris Agreement, the square brackets have been removed from around Mother Earth.

Conclusion:

Some say the UNFCCC process is a collective suicide note.  Some say that the Paris COP-21 will be a breakthrough, at least in the sense of the cup being half-full – at least all 196 Parties are on the same page (assuming the texts are adopted this weekend).

In fact, the two texts are the work of an addict.  

  • We know, and now acknowledge belatedly, that we have a problem.  But we refuse to impose binding strictures upon ourselves.  So we allow ourselves voluntary measures.  
  • We know, and acknowledge, that these voluntary measures are insufficient to prevent dangerous climate change.  But we are putting in place a monitoring mechanism that we know will not remedy matters in time.
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