Draft deal emerges midway through Paris climate talks, but leaves plenty to do

Peter Christoff, University of Melbourne

A huge piece of street art with the words “Fluctuat nec mergitur” – Paris’ official motto since 1853 – has just appeared on a building near the city’s Canal Saint Martin. It refers to a ship at sea and translates as “tossed but not sunk”. The slogan is cropping up around the city as a sign of resistance to the recent terror attacks. But it is perhaps also a comment on the Paris climate negotiations.

A catchphrase for Paris, and a metaphor for climate negotiations.
Peter Christoff, Author provided

The Paris Conference of the Parties (COP) aims to land a deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol in 2020. Progress during this first week has been grindingly slow. Nevertheless, the initial 54-page document has been whittled down to a slightly more focused 48-page text, now handed to the COP president Laurent Fabius.

The new draft, released on Saturday, is still dense with contested phrases and bracketed options and landmines of coded language, both substantive and tactical. These will be the focus of this week’s high-level negotiations as ministers arrive for the second half of the summit.

Mind the gaps

The cluster of issues being considered include collective ambition on climate mitigation and adaptation, the level and nature of climate finance, technology transfer and capacity building, and processes for measuring and reviewing progress.

It is hard to predict where the final deal might land, but at this stage negotiators are struggling to bridge two critical gaps – a mitigation gap and a climate finance gap.

Deeply entrenched positions over which countries should do what, how much, and when, have dominated these negotiations. Longstanding disputes between developed and developing countries over the equitable sharing of responsibility and effort for mitigation, and who should bear the costs of mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, stand in the way of bridging either gap.

The mitigation gap lies between the current level of global fossil fuel use and the much lesser amount required to keep global warming below 1.5℃ or 2℃ – the two goals being considered here in Paris.

Before the conference began, 184 states declared their voluntary climate pledges (called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs), which represent their mitigation (and in many cases also adaptation) targets for 2030.

Those arriving in Paris knew that these voluntary pledges would lead to warming of at least 2.7℃. Yet this COP has no forum or process to address this failure, and to pressure states to increase their efforts immediately.

Three elements are the focus of mitigation effort at this COP. The first is the goal of the agreement. The draft text includes both “below 1.5℃” and “well below 2℃” among its options. But there is strong opposition by some major developed and developing states to the tougher and safer 1.5℃ goal.

This week China and India used this target as a bargaining chip for additional financial support, arguing that without adequate resourcing from the developed world, a 1.5℃ goal places an unreasonable economic burden on them and other poor countries.

Ultimately, the position is self-defeating: the greater the warming, the greater the costs of adaptation and loss and damage in these countries and everywhere else.

By contrast, some 120 “climate vulnerable” parties – poor, low-lying countries and island states whose very existence is threatened by global warming – have hinted at their opposition to any agreement which fails to contain a tough temperature target.

Aiming for zero

The second element relates to the long-term goal, variously expressed as “zero net emissions”, “climate neutrality”, or “decarbonisation”, and with various suggested deadlines for peaking emissions, such as 2050, 2060-80, or “as soon as possible after mid-century”. Notably, “zero net emissions” and “climate neutrality” permit a range of climate engineering solutions rather than requiring an absolute reduction in emissions. They are therefore favoured by fossil fuel-dependent developed countries and Saudia Arabia.

Last, there is the question of reviewing targets and actions – which raises questions about when these reviews should happen, and how vigorous, rigorous and transparent they will be.

Then there’s the finance gap. Finance for mitigation and adaptation is a make-or-break issue at these negotiations, which goes to the heart of concerns about equitable effort and differentiation between rich and poor parties.

As the heavily bracketed text of Article 6 in the draft text shows, it is also the one on which the least progress has been made and over which tensions and lack of trust are highest.

The G77 nations – a wide alliance currently led by South Africa – are demanding developed countries convert their aggregate pledge of US$100 billion per year by 2020 into a minimum offer. They also want commitments of post-2020 funding for the Green Climate Fund. There are signs of movement here but without significant further support from developed countries next week, an agreement may fail to materialise.

COP has witnessed notable new and positive developments in this space. Just before the conference began, China pledged some US$3 billion in finance for other nations in the “global South” – for which it was warmly thanked by many developing states in the opening plenary session.

Fluctuat nec mergitur?

Failures of trust between parties have undone previous COPs. Transparency is critical but ensuring that while maintaining momentum is a challenge when 20,000 delegates representing 195 states are hunting for solutions in a forest of concerns.

More than 150 formal and informal negotiating groups met during the first week, often simultaneously. Logistical complexity taxed the capacities of even the largest negotiating teams and slowed the consideration of cross-cutting issues. It made tracking developments determined in rooms closed to all but official delegates even harder for civil society observers.

UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres has pledged that the summit’s second week will avoid splitting into myriad side meetings.
Reuters/Stephane Mahe

Christiana Figueres, the UNFCCC’s dynamic executive secretary, has promised that next week’s talks will proceed in a single unified forum. This cumbersome format will have its own challenges, as is evident whenever the mass of states come together in a plenary.

At the same time, it is hard to discern where leadership is coming from at this COP. Neither the United States and China, nor the European Union nor any of the other major developing states – India, Brazil and South Africa – has been prominent so far. One senses that a weak deal suits the United States and China – they have already announced what they intend to do.

The good news is that, apart from some curmudgeonly outbursts and filibustering on Friday, a surprisingly cooperative tone prevails – a marked contrast to the ebbing of enthusiasm and the rise of dark energies that rose to cripple other COPs by this stage of proceedings.

What will come of all this tossing on the waves? Global emissions must peak by no later than 2030 if we are to have any chance of holding warming below 2℃, let alone closer to 1.5℃.

At its halfway point, this conference is not heading towards a strong agreement that will deliver that sort of mitigation effort now or in the next five or even ten years. If this is where it ends, many will question the value of continuing with these negotiations and others will sink below the waves.

The Conversation

Peter Christoff, Associate Professor, School of Geography, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Who feels the heat first?

Paul N Edwards, University of Michigan

At yesterday’s COP21 science briefing, University of Reading climate scientist Ed Hawkins displayed a chilling (pun intended) colour-coded world map. Nation by nation, it showed which countries are already experiencing obvious effects of climate change. Hawkins’ map isn’t published yet, so I can’t reproduce it here — but read on to find out who’s feeling the heat.

If you live in a place whose climate generally stays the same from year to year, long-term trends in temperature, timing and amount of rainfall, and so on become obvious pretty quickly. But if your climate normally changes a lot from one year to the next, it’s harder to notice the trend. In such a place, cold, wet years come along pretty often. They can wipe out the memory of warm, dry ones, and make you wonder whether anything’s really changing.

Where are year-to-year climates steadiest? In the tropics and around the Equator: Central America, much of South America and Africa, the Indonesian archipelago, southern India — in other words, the global South.

Where are they most variable? In the northern hemisphere’s mid-latitudes: the United States, Europe, Russia, China.

You can see the difference clearly in Hawkins’ graphs of national temperature swings versus global trends.

Feeling the heat in Britain and Kenya.
Ed Hawkins, Author provided

In the United Kingdom, temperatures bounce around so much that without the graph, you might not be sure to notice the warming trend.

In Kenya, things look much different. Comparing its annual swings with those of the UK, you can easily see how much more stable the Kenyan climate is. After the 1970s, as the global trend begins to rise, the Kenyan trend moves right along with it, almost in lockstep.

It’s not a large leap to wonder how things might have turned out, especially in the United States, if this situation were reversed. What might climate politics look like if the global North had felt the heat first?

The Conversation

Paul N Edwards, Professor of Information and History, University of Michigan

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

When climate change hits our food supply, city foodbowls could come to the rescue

Rachel Carey, Deakin University; Jennifer Sheridan, University of Melbourne, and Kirsten Larsen, University of Melbourne

Australians may need to get used to coping with more disruptions to their food supply and rising food prices in a warming climate.

But the food produced near our cities – our “city foodbowls” – could play a vital role in increasing the resilience of our food supply, as discussed in a new briefing from our Foodprint Melbourne project.

The urban fringes of Australia’s major cities are some of the most productive agricultural regions in Australia. They also have access to valuable urban waste streams to support food production, including recycled water from city water treatment plants and desalination plants.

Nonetheless, Australia’s city foodbowls are at risk of urban development, and the opportunity to develop them as climate resilient foodbowls could be lost unless their value is recognised in metropolitan planning policy.

Climate shock

The Queensland floods of 2010-11 showed how a sudden extreme weather event could disrupt a city’s food supply. Major transport routes to Brisbane and other cities were cut off and supermarkets began to run short of some food.

And the Millennium Drought demonstrated the impact that drought could have on food prices, when fruit prices in Australia increased 43% between 2005 and 2007, and vegetable prices by around 33%.

Climate change is expected to reduce the capacity for food production across southern Australia due to water scarcity, increasing temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events.

We don’t know exactly how climate change will affect food production, but it is likely that Australia’s major regional foodbowl, the Murray-Darling Basin, will see significant impacts in a severe drying scenario. Wheat and dairy production are predicted to decrease due to climate change. Crops such as fruit and vegetables are likely to be particularly affected.

As the impacts of climate change are felt in Australia’s regional foodbowls, urban and urban fringe (or “peri-urban”) areas of food production around Australian capital cities could become more important sources of fresh foods. Cities have access to resources that are in increasingly short supply, such as water, fertile land and organic waste streams that can be composted to provide fertilisers.

Australia’s city foodbowls

These urban fringes are not widely-recognised as “foodbowls”, but historically they have been an important source of food. Like many world cities, they were typically founded in fertile areas with good access to water. This fed their growing populations.

As cities sprawl, market gardens have been pushed further out and city foodbowls have shrunk, but many are still highly productive. Sydney’s foodbowl produces at least 20% of New South Wales’ total vegetable production, for instance, including the majority of the state’s total production of cabbage, spring onions, shallots and mushrooms.

Melbourne’s foodbowl produces a wide variety of foods, including fresh vegetables, fruit, eggs and meat. It currently has the capacity to meet up to 41% of the food needs of city’s population.

Crops such as lettuce are commonly grown on the urban fringes of cities thanks to close access to markets and labour
Rachel Carey

Some areas of Melbourne’s foodbowl have access to recycled water, such as Werribee to the city’s west and the proposed Bunyip Food Belt to the south-east. The Werribee Irrigation District, next to Melbourne’s Western Treatment Plant, grows around 10% of the vegetables produced in Victoria, including the majority of the state’s broccoli and cauliflower.

Towards the end of the Millennium Drought, vegetable production in this region became dependent on recycled water from the water treatment plant as river levels fell.

But areas such as Werribee are under threat from urban development.

Resilient food supply

The importance of city foodbowls for resilient and sustainable food systems has been recognised internationally.

Cities such as Melbourne and Sydney are fed from a variety of sources – regional, national and global – as well as local. All are important, but urban and urban fringe food production has the potential to increase the resilience of a city’s food supply in a number of ways. These include reducing the dependence of city populations on distant sources of food, and maximising the use of limited natural resources.

If Australia’s capital cities are able to accommodate growing populations in a way that contains urban sprawl and retains their capacity for food production, city foodbowls could contribute to a food supply more resilient from climate change.

For this to happen, city planning strategies need to recognise the significance of city foodbowls for sustainable and resilient city food systems.

The Conversation

Rachel Carey, Research Fellow, Deakin University; Jennifer Sheridan, Researcher in sustainable food systems, University of Melbourne, and Kirsten Larsen, Manager, Food Systems Research and Partnerships, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Business big hitters highlight the huge growth in climate risk management

Clive Hamilton

“Investors are running ahead of governments.”

This is arguably the most striking and encouraging statement heard so far at the Paris climate conference. It was made in a remarkable speech at a forum on private financing by Martin Skancke, chair of Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), the world’s largest network of investors.

To drive home the point, he referred to the Montreal Carbon Pledge, which in a little over a year has been signed by 120 investors who control more than US$10 trillion in assets (these guys speak in trillions, rather than billions).

It is true that the investors are committing only to measure and disclose the carbon footprint of their portfolios. But it’s also true that “what gets measured gets managed” – which in this case means, once it’s measured you have to manage it.

Another panellist at the forum referred to “the quiet revolution” in green investment, including huge growth in green bonds, expected to be more than US$40 billion this year. The aim is to expand it to US$900 billion. ING France chief executive Karien van Gennip described how her bank’s recent offering of green bonds was seven times oversubscribed within 48 hours.

Shaun Tarbuck, head of the world’s biggest insurance federation, spoke of “a new paradigm” in the business world, emphasizing that these are not just political statements. Even China has developed a strategy for greening its financial system.

Although Bill Gates’ billionaires’ initiative has all the sex appeal and attracted the media attention, the real force in bringing about the transition to low-carbon energy economies will come from private and institutional investors. Not only do they control vastly more cash than the billionaires but they are changing the structure of energy economies now, rather than gambling on “breakthrough technologies” that will not have an appreciable impact for 20 or 30 years, when it will already be too late.

Sea change

The sea change in the global investment community has occurred only in the past 12 months. The signs have all been there, not the least of which is the recognition by the G20 group of major economies that climate change represents a threat to the stability of the global financial system.

Last April, G20 finance ministers and central bank governors asked the Financial Stability Board (FSB) of the world’s central banks to prepare a report on climate risk, to be considered at its next meeting in China. This is a big deal; it’s the system, not individual corporations, that is now seen to be at risk.

The FSB is chaired by Bank of England governor Mark Carney, who in September created huge waves in the global financial sector with a speech to insurers warning of serious risks to investors from climate change (a warning met with squeals from the fossil fuel industry).

On Friday, at a side event at the conference, Carney listed the types of risk to which financial markets are exposed, including direct risks due to massive insurance payouts after climate disasters, and liability risks for directors should corporations be sued.

But he put most stress on the exposure of capital providers to an “abrupt transition” to a low-energy economy, due to future sudden changes in policy or sentiment. Investors have a fiduciary responsibility to prepare. He may have been thinking of a sharp write-down in fossil fuel asset values as the issue of unburnable coal gathers momentum. Carney wants a market structure that will bring about “an ordered transition” to a zero-carbon economy.

Carney was joined at the event by Michael Bloomberg, who will chair the new FSB taskforce. The businessman and former New York City mayor stressed that corporations have to think about their future financial liabilities from carbon emissions, noting that GE has been ordered to clean up the Hudson River, 20 years after it finished polluting it. No one saw that coming.

Business versus politics

At the same time that Carney and Bloomberg were speaking about climate risks in the financial sector, Laurent Fabius, the president of the conference, was giving a briefing on progress in the negotiations. Two things stood out about the audiences for the competing events. Carney-Bloomberg attracted a bigger crowd and most were wearing dark blue suits. At no previous UN climate summit would a leading central banker have turned up, to have his words copied down by men and women in business attire.

Drew a crowd: Michael Bloomberg
EPA/Ian Langsdon

Today, if you read the business press, climate change is no longer treated as if it were happening in some other world of no interest to investors. So whether the final agreement to come out of the formal negotiations next Friday is strong or weak, the importance of it is the signal it is sending to investors.

The unmistakable message is that the world is changing: the major economies are beginning the transition to low-carbon energy systems, and if you are not planning for it you are not doing your job. It’s taken them a long time, but investors now get it. The issue is not whether they care about climate change, but whether they are properly managing risk in a changing world.

Mark Carney pointed out that the 185 national climate targets on the table for this conference contain real information about where governments and the world are headed, and that it is legitimate for investors to ask companies “what’s your strategy for net zero (emissions)?”

When asked about Republican presidential candidates, Bloomberg was scathing, dismissing their debates as “Kabuki theatre”. He said that he keeps one of the four TV screens by his desk tuned to Fox News. Fox recently spent a whole day expressing outrage at Obama’s climate change efforts, but not one of the talking heads was from business. “No business person could get away with it,” he said.

The Conversation

Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics, Centre For Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics (CAPPE)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Paris climate talks slow to a crawl as obstructionists threaten the deal

Luke Kemp, Australian National University

Hopes are high that a strong climate treaty can be hammered out here in Paris, amid a groundswell of climate action around the world.

But there is little sign of this urgency inside the negotiating halls themselves, and the talks have fallen into many of the same traps that befell the underwhelming Copenhagen summit six years ago.

Negotiators have spent the summit’s opening days working tirelessly to trim down the 54-page draft text of the Paris agreement into a shorter version to take into week two of the talks. The fact that the current text is still 48 pages long speaks volumes about the pace of the negotiations.

Each of the different sections of the draft agreement (climate finance, adaptation, emissions targets, and so on) are being worked on by numerous negotiating groups.

At any given time, there might be several smaller meetings taking place for different paragraphs, or even individual sentences, for each topic. The abundance of constant meetings is wearing negotiators ragged. Developing countries’ delegations, which are notoriously understaffed, have repeatedly complained of suffering from overstretch and exhaustion. But there is simply no other way forward.

Unfortunately, many issues have been going backwards. The discussion on legal form (whether the Paris agreement will be a legally binding treaty) is one example. Tuesday’s initial discussion of this issue lasted for more than three hours and resulted in a longer text with more disputed sections. This is by no means an exception.

The actions of certain delegations have contributed significantly to this. Saudi Arabia is traditionally known as an obstructionist in the climate talks. Its delegates have lived up to their reputation in Paris.

Bracketing text suggests that the wording is up for deletion, or is at least disputed. A Saudi negotiator will often briskly walk into a negotiating session, bracket some text, question the procedures, engage little thereafter, and leave before the session is closed.

Stalling tactics and bracketing numerous paragraphs across the agreement have been used to slow the negotiations to a snail’s pace.

Despite the wider political momentum on climate action outside these walls, the negotiations themselves tend to operate in a bubble. They are strangled by arcane procedures and old ideological battles.

Working a treaty

A key point of debate is whether or not the Paris climate agreement will be classed as an international treaty. It’s a delicate issue that has already threatened to stall the talks.

In one sense, this legal issue is very straightforward. A treaty, defined under the Vienna Convention, is an agreement that is binding under international law. So an agreement is either a treaty or not. This depends on some legal interpretation as there is no direct branding of an agreement as a treaty per se. A treaty is binding under international law, while an agreement only has political force.

Going into the negotiations, it seemed obvious that the Paris agreement would almost certainly be an international treaty. Countries’ climate targets would remain non-binding and nationally determined, but the agreement itself – including issues such as how often to review the targets – would be a treaty.

The opening days suggest that this may not be the case. The legal form of Paris is still very much up for grabs.

During the opening discussions Tuvalu wanted to insert text which would imply that the Paris outcome would be a treaty. But the United States expressed concerns and wanted to bracket Tuvalu’s suggestion. Saudi Arabia then suggested bracketing the entire paragraph.

Tensions flared, which is why the session lasted three hours and resulted in an even more complex and difficult piece of text.

This is coupled with last month’s declaration by US Secretary of State John Kerry that Paris would not result in a legal treaty. Paris, like Copenhagen, may not result in a legally binding deal. But of course, the negotiations are not over yet.

French president Francois Hollande (centre) and foreign minister Laurent Fabius (right) are anxious not to preside over a failure.
EPA/Philippe Wojazer

What’s the plan from here?

The negotiations are scheduled to end on Friday December 11. The plan is to have a final draft of the agreement prepared much earlier than that – ideally by the summit’s middle weekend. The key undecided issues will then be worked out during the early stages of the second week, during the “high-level” sessions attended by ministers.

The finalised agreement will then be agreed on Thursday 10 December and legally adopted the following day, after which negotiators will crack open the champagne before returning home triumphant on the Saturday.

That’s the plan – but it will almost certainly not pan out like that.

What will really happen?

The text is supposed to be handed over today, but at the current rate, the negotiations may need an extra day or two to produce a suitable draft.

The current draft is almost certainly too controversial and unwieldy to be worked out quickly over a few days, and rumours abound that the French host delegation is preparing its own alternative text should the negotiations stall completely.

However, the arrival of ministers on Monday could help to shift the talks forward. Or it could simply entrench the existing negotiating positions, and lead to lowest-common-denominator compromises being made at the last minute.

In the worst-case scenario, the planned treaty could give way to collapse or a smaller agreement between the major powers. If that happened, we would be staring down the barrel of another Copenhagen.

The Conversation

Luke Kemp, Lecturer and PhD Candidate in International Relations and Environmental Policy, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Al Gore: ‘the will to act is a renewable resource in itself’

Ralph Sims, Massey University

With the main negotiations getting bogged down in such issues as whether to include a 1.5℃ target along with the accepted 2℃ goal (St Lucia and small island states say yes; Saudi Arabia and oil-exporting countries say no), much of the interest is found at the many side events going on at the same time.

One of them was today’s appearance by Al Gore – climate campaigner, former US vice-president, and winner of a Nobel Peace Prize shared with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“Changing to a low-carbon economy is a daunting prospect,” he told a packed audience, before posing three questions:

Must we change? Can we change? Will we change?

“Yes” he said to the first, because our energy supply, food supply, transport systems and forests are all under various levels of stress and increasing risks.

“Yes” to the second, as improved energy efficiency continues and the shift to renewable energy is moving fast. In many cases, renewables are now competing on cost with fossil fuels – not just for electricity but also for heating and transport.

And he said the answer to “Will we change?” will be known when the final text from the Paris meeting is agreed at the end of next week – only then will businesses and investors know where they stand.

“Investors now need to look closely at investing in fossil fuel companies else they may be left with stranded assets because much of the known coal, oil and gas reserves have to be left in the ground or under the sea,” Gore said. “Now is the time to consider divestment of such investments.”

This was supported in the ensuing panel discussion, in which one speaker made the point that the composition of company boards will have to change to accommodate “climate-comprehending members”, and not just bankers and lawyers.

And a question from the floor from a member of the World Council of Churches, which includes some major investors, asked if progress towards this level of understanding is happening rapidly enough.

Gore’s earlier closing statement – “the will to act is a renewable resource in itself” – summed up the potential well.

The Conversation

Ralph Sims, Professor, School of Engineering and Advanced Technology, Massey University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.