COP21 is still on track as countries drop their more unfeasible ambitions

Robert Stavins, Harvard University

The first week of the COP21 Paris climate conference has drawn to a close, and the delegates have taken some brief and well-deserved time off before returning to the negotiations today. They are moving towards a final agreement by the scheduled adjournment on Friday – or more likely, by an extended adjournment on Saturday (or even Sunday).

The draft text of what will become the Paris Agreement is now 48 pages long, with abundant bracketed insertions of suggested text. The eventual agreed text will likely be about half to two-thirds this length.

Progress is being made. In terms of my scorecard previously posted on this blog, here is where things stand in regard to my five criteria of success for the Paris talks.

Criterion 1: Include at least 90% of global emissions in the set of climate pledges (called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs) that are submitted and part of the Paris Agreement (compared with 14% in the current commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol).

This has been achieved, with today’s total number of submitted INDCs reaching 157, reflecting 184 countries (including the European Union member states), and covering about 94% of global emissions and 97% of the global population. An additional 3% of global emissions will be covered by separate international aviation and maritime transport regimes.

Criterion 2: Establish credible reporting and transparency requirements. For many years, what Europe and the United States saw as the necessity for transparency regarding emissions and emissions reduction efforts was seen by China and some of the other large emerging economies as a threat to national sovereignty. But China, in various statements, has gradually moved closer to recognising the importance of transparency for monitoring, reporting, and verification.

Criterion 3: Begin to set up a system to finance climate adaptation (and mitigation) — the famous US$100 billion commitment. A key question has been whether the accounting of these funds would include private-sector finance, in addition to public-sector finance (that is, foreign aid). It appears very likely that leveraged private-sector finance (that is, foreign direct investment) will be counted as part of the total, which is good news. Now, a key question is whether the final text will also include some reference to the US$100 billion being only a floor – a view favored by developing countries.

These finance issues could still upset the talks, but that appears unlikely. One way or another, agreement should be reached by the weekend.

Criterion 4: Agree to return to negotiations periodically, such as every 5 years, to revisit the ambition and structure of the INDCs.

There is emerging agreement of the importance of providing for periodic review and revisiting of INDCs, but the exact timing is still up in the air. Anything less than 5 years is not feasible, and anything longer than 10 years looks problematic. I expect that the delegates will converge on text that specifies something within that range.

Criterion 5: Put aside unproductive disagreements, such as on so-called “loss and damage”, which looks to rich countries like unlimited liability for bad weather events in developing countries, and the insistence by some parties that the INDCs themselves be binding under international law.

The loss and damage issue is difficult, because the interests of the wealthy countries, at one extreme, and the most vulnerable countries, such as the small island states, at the other, are so divergent that negotiations can become polarised. But it is highly unlikely that even the most aggressive of the most vulnerable countries would want to bring down the whole house of cards just for the sake of this issue.

There has been more progress on discussions in the corridors, if not in the negotiations, regarding the eventual legal status of the agreement. The French have now recognised publicly that their previous position arguing that the entire agreement, including the numerical contributions in the INDCs, be binding under international law is simply not feasible. Among other things, it would mean that the Paris Agreement would require Senate ratification in the United States, which means that the United States would not be a party to the agreement. No one wants to repeat the Kyoto Protocol experience.

Finally, there is more and more talk about stating in the agreement some aspirational target that is more ambitious than the frequently discussed 2℃ limit for temperature increase this century (relative to the average pre-industrial temperature). Despite the passion with which many countries, particularly the most vulnerable ones, have spoken on this, the final text is unlikely to enshrine a new global objective, given how difficult it was to reach agreement on the current one.

So my fundamental prediction for Paris continues to be – according to my specified criteria – eventual success when the talks adjourn. Again, for those of you who would like to keep up on the work of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, here is a web page describing our activities in Paris and related to the Paris climate talks here.

The Conversation

Robert Stavins, Professor of Business and Government, Harvard University

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


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