COP21 midpoint: How are we tracking? Opinion Article

Dec 07, 2015 - 4:00pm

This article first appeared in the Lowy Institute Interpreter blog on 7 December, 2015.

John Connor   
CEO, The Climate Institute

Three weeks ago our Deputy CEO, Erwin Jackson wrote for The Interpreter that there was optimism going into the Paris climate negotiations because the process has been set up to avoid a repeat of the chaotic and disappointing Copenhagen negotiations in 2009.

At this mid-point in the negotiations, a stock take of action so far shows this still holds true. The first week of fanfare and negotiations are delivering the ingredients for an effective outcome, which can be realised if strong political will from all world leaders persists.

Of course this is a big ask. But the fact that negotiations managed to cut back the draft 50 page agreement to a slimmer and sharper 20 pages over the first week is a good sign (for context, in Copenhagen by the end of week one, negotiations were grappling with a 300 page tome).

Before Erwin headed to Paris, we released an analysis of the key issues and possible outcome scenarios. This concluded that the Paris agreement won't fix everything, but the best possible agreement will be one that very clearly sets the world on a path toward the international goal of avoiding global warming of 2°C above pre-industrial levels. We outlined three possible outcomes for the negotiations, defined as:

+ Catalyst: Paris sends a strong signal that countries will accelerate action through time, giving the business and investment community confidence to accelerate their own actions to limit emissions.
+ Momentum: The multilateral process continues to supports the development of more robust and effective domestic actions through time.
+ Patchwork: In this most minimal result, Paris outcomes would be vague or ill-defined at best, only mildly affecting the existing trends of growing clean energy investment and national policies.

As the graphic below shows, we are analysing progress against three criteria:
1. Bankability: The confidence the agreement can give investors that policies will be ratcheted up to reward clean technology investments.
2. Accountability: The ability for a nation's actions to be examined by its citizens and other nations.
3. Fairness: Does it include all nations, especially the most vulnerable, in cleaning up their economies but also in preparing for climate impacts?

At the moment, three of the thorniest issues draw on each of these criteria. Will there be a long-term goal that includes a goal of avoiding warming of 1.5°C as well as 2°C, and is there a target for zero emissions, decarbonisation or climate neutrality? Will there be regular stock takes every five years, starting in 2020, when the agreement starts? Will there be adequate financing for vulnerable countries?

We are five to six days away from knowing where the negotiations land. As the graphic shows, there's a wide possibility of outcomes. 

John Connor

John Connor was CEO of The Climate Institute from 2007 to March 2017. Whilst qualified as a lawyer, John has spent over twenty years working in a variety of policy and advocacy roles with organisations including World Vision, Make Poverty History, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the NSW Nature Conservation Council. Since joining The Climate Institute in 2007 John has been a leading analyst and commentator on the rollercoaster that has been Australia’s domestic and international carbon policy and overseen the Institute’s additional focus on institutional investors and climate risk. John has also worked on numerous government and business advisory panels.

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