Sleepless nights and saving the world in Paris Opinion Article

Dec 11, 2015 - 1:00pm

This article first appeared in Crikey on 11 December, 2015.

Erwin Jackson                
Deputy CEO, The Climate Institute

Another draft of the final COP21 climate agreement is out. There were a lot of bleary eyes at the conference centre today after negotiators worked through the night. Parties first met as a cohort to give “indaba” responses to the draft released yesterday, and then split up to smaller groups to hash out the areas that will need more work to find consensus.

“Indaba” refers to a process where each member at the table gets to speak and be heard. The inclusive process has a Zulu name that first appeared in the 2011 Durban meeting. That meeting provided the key breakthrough that recognised that all countries, including China and India, would offer broad climate action commitments. The Kyoto model, where only developed countries make emission reduction commitments, formed the basis pf a major argument used by some against the UN process and climate action more generally.

Among the usual lamentations about the exhausting negotiation process, there were also murmurs of agreement that yesterday’s text was an improvement. But not everyone saw their priorities in there yet.

As Thursday has now drawn to a close with a text that is mostly clear of square brackets (which highlight disagreements or alternative options). It suggests broad agreement on a range of issues but the following remain clearly contested:

  • how to build a common system of transparency for country actions;
  • how to address unmanageable climate change impacts in vulnerable nations; and
  • how to financially support poor nations participate in climate change solutions.

This is a strong, carefully balanced text. It includes the formal review and updating of targets every five years starting, in 2019. This would be done against the reference to limiting global warming below 1.5-2°C by the end of the century and achieving net zero emissions or ‘emissions neutrality (the science on this suggests all greenhouse gases would need to be at net zero by 2050 to have a chance at 1.5°C and between 2060 and 2070 for 2°C. CO2 emissions from energy and industry, which last longer in the atmosphere, would need to be at zero earlier than other gases). Finance contributions would be scaled up to the poorest and this would be tracked through time.

There are a number of challenges in here for Australia, which will need to recognise that its pollution reduction targets are more aligned to 3-4°C warming and would leave us with the petro-state of Saudi Arabia as the highest per capital polluters in 2030.

However, this text is not the final agreement. With a desire to present a penultimate version in the morning and make history by closing the meeting on time, with a final agreement Friday evening Paris time, the French president of the COP has called for “solutions indabas”.

The journey to where we are now in Paris has been a long and difficult one; ministers could still tumble at the final hurdle.

Erwin Jackson

Erwin is Deputy CEO of The Climate Institute. With nearly 20 years practical experience in climate change policy and research, Erwin has developed and led many national and international programs aimed at reducing greenhouse pollution. This work has been undertaken in Australia, Europe, North and South America, the Pacific and Antarctica. He has represented non-governmental groups and advised government and business in national, regional and international fora, including being a non-governmental expert reviewer of the reports of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Erwin has written, researched and produced many publications on climate change and energy policy including a number of review papers in scientific journals such as the Medical Journal of Australia.
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