Will Paris be different?

Adil Najam
December 09,2015

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Adil Najam

I remember flying into Copenhagen in 2009, wondering if that would be the historic moment when the world would come to its senses. Ten days ago – in 2015 – when I flew into Paris for the 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), I was not holding my breath.

I am not a cynic. Just old.

Old enough to remember not just Copenhagen (COP15, 2009), but also the promise of Bali (COP13, 2007) that preceded it, the dashed hopes of Kyoto (COP3, 1997), the purposeful energy of Berlin (COP1, 1995), the naïve optimism of Rio de Janeiro in 1992 where the Climate Convention was first adopted, and even the calls for urgency when the negotiation process was first launched by the United Nations in 1990.

Most of all, I am old enough to realise that December 11, 2015, when the Paris COP21 officially ends, will mark – to the day – the 25th anniversary of the start of these negotiations.

Yes, it’s been a quarter century. No, it does not make sense to hold your breath that long.

Cautiously, now, I look at what is happening in Paris at COP21. The ministers are back in for the final stretch of negotiations. The aspiration is much lowered. A much-bracketed draft is in hand. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is busy constructing the right coalitions. The process of parsing and paring down the brackets, has begun in earnest.

At one level, Paris is doomed to succeed. The ignominy that was Copenhagen cannot be its destiny. That means getting to an agreement. Any agreement. It is now clear that there will be an agreement. That means Paris will be declared a success.

But how good will a Paris agreement be? How meaningful for the global climate? How just? How implementable? Here are ten questions I will be using as yardstick.

Q1. Is there an agreement? Any agreement?

Q2. Are there binding emission targets for industrialised countries? The responsibility of industrialised countries is already enshrined in Annex I of the Kyoto Protocol. Here, and elsewhere, ‘binding’ would imply clear legal language that makes implementation a responsibility states would, and can, be held accountable to.

Q3. Are there binding emission targets for major emerging economies with large emissions?

This category could be defined, for example, by G20 membership. However, it would, at a minimum, include the two mega-emitters, China and India.

Q4. Does the agreement include quantifiable financial commitments to assist developing countries in mitigation and adaptation, and are these: a) binding, b) sufficient, and c) additional? The obligation to assist developing countries in mitigation and adaptation to climate change has long been accepted. However, actual commitments tend to be vague and often remain unfunded.

A yes on this question would mean all of the following: a) any commitment made is considered binding and implemented transparently, b) the already agreed goal of $100 billion by is met or exceeded, and c) any climate financing is ‘additional’ and does not simply relocate existing development assistance allocations.

Q5. Does the agreement include a clear roadmap for achieving the goal of restricting eventual global warming to 2C, or less? The 2C goal is already contained in international agreements. This question, therefore, pertains to whether the Paris Agreement will include a clear pathway to reaching this goal through INDCs (intended nationally determined contributions) or other mechanisms.

Q6. Does it revise the long-term goal to restricting eventual global warming to 1.5C, or less? The most vulnerable countries, and many scientists, have argued for a downward revision in the long-term goal of climate stabilisation on the grounds that several hundreds of millions of people will slip through the crack between a 2C and a 1.5C goal.

Q7. Does the agreement commit to 2020 as the date for the next major round of commitments and review of progress? 2020 was originally assumed as the date for the next round of review and commitments. Any slippage in this timetable could have adverse long-term impacts.

Q8. IS there a clear and independent mechanism to measure, report and verify emission reduction claims? Especially in the possible absence of binding commitments, a robust and independent system for reporting emissions reductions (mitigation) is necessary. Any self-reporting mechanism would, by default, result in a ‘No’ to this question.

Q9. Does the agreement include clear language on conditions for adaptation financing for vulnerable developing countries? The goal of developing ‘adaptive capacity’ in vulnerable developing countries must not be an unfunded mandate. Clear language on the responsibility of industrialised and large emerging economies to fund such activity, and the principles for its use and disbursement, must not be left vague. It needs to be included in any agreement.

Q10. Does the agreement include a clear mechanism for dealing with ‘loss and damage’? There are a number of climate change impacts, particularly in the most vulnerable and poorest countries, that will be difficult or impossible to adapt to. A clear mechanism – including principles for funding and disbursement of support – is needed to respond to them.

Given the science, the experience of a quarter century of climate talks, and all the promises made in the last three years, an ideal agreement should garner ten ‘yes’ responses. I, however, will be happy with anything that gets at least five or more ‘yeses’.

Anything less, I think, will not be worth the carbon cost of all that has gone into the process.

(This article expands and is based on two opeds written by the writer for The Guardian – November 30 and December 7, 2015).

The writer is the inaugural dean of the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston Univeristy and former Vice Chancellor of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

Twitter: adilnajam


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