Avoiding the “zombie” deal at Paris

The media hype surrounding the upcoming Paris meeting is at risk of positioning COP21 as the “be-all and end-all” of climate agreements. In a recent report, environmental think tank E3G addresses the danger with this line of thinking. The Paris agreement, they suggest, should not be treated as a one-off event, but instead should be viewed as an important political opportunity in the broader context of global climate change objectives.

“Paris is the agreement but importantly it is also the political moment. Paris should be empowering, it should open up the political space in the future.” –E3G

To emphasize the position of COP21 as a political moment, instead of an isolated agreement, E3G developed a list of three possible political scenarios that could be created by the agreement. These scenarios illustrate the precarious position of the negotiations as a tipping point for climate action. The value of this analysis is that it does not outline specific policy outcomes, but rather addresses the shape of potential outcomes, in an effort to identify political areas where ambition can be increased. To this end, the report includes a “checklist” of potential textual indicators that position the agreement within the different scenarios.

Political scenarios

“Le Zombie”

In this scenario, the least ambitious of the three, the Paris agreement takes on the form of a tactical deal, decided at the negotiator level. The deal is limited to countries that have already submitted INDCs, lacks precision, is unstable and at risk of future collapse. Textual indicators of this scenario include vague language anchoring INDCs in the text, with no indication that they will be implemented. The mitigation goal is limited to a “low carbon transformation” with an imprecise “end of century” timeline. Further, there is no link between adaptation and mitigation efforts or the ambition mechanism, and loss and damage is not addressed.

“Comme ci, Comme ça”

This middle-of-the-road scenario provides some guarantees on financial and adaptation support, and the agreement arises from collaboration between parties. However, the outcome will not garner enough momentum to survive on its own, and therefore will need continual support going forward. Indicators of this scenario in the text include intent to implement INDCs, an ambition mechanism that references but does not directly involve finance and adaptation, and the development of an adaptation cycle to assess progress every five years.

“Va Va Voom”

The most ambitious political scenario, the “va va voom” deal is driven by leaders across developing and developed nations. In this agreement, all major components of the deal are addressed and enough detail is included to maintain 2oC as a realistic goal. The agreement provides clear guidance for both current and post 2020 action, ensuring an enduring regime. Indicators of this scenario in the text include clear and specific language anchoring INDCs in the text, and an ambition mechanism that is linked to finance and adaptation. Further, this scenario sees loss and damage addressed in the core agreement.

Potential for an enduring agreement

These three scenarios are described in an effort to bring attention to the political “space” that remains open within the agreement – space that can ultimately be used to maximize ambition and secure an enduring agreement. Fortunately, there is potential for Paris to capitalize on this space, due to the presence of multiple opportunities that make the global political environment conducive to an ambitious agreement.

E3G suggests that COP21 should take advantage of existing political and economic “tailwinds”, such as political momentum to address climate change driven by NGOs and the public, as well as momentum on divestment and the unstable nature of oil and gas prices. Parties should also aim to inscribe the voluntary emissions reductions set out in the INDCs into the Paris text, in order to keep the reductions ambitious but honest. Current INDC positions get close to the 2oC goal, but do not quite close the mitigation gap, so ensuring that countries take immediate and long-term action to see these goals through, as well as voluntarily increase ambition, is essential.

The Paris agreement has the potential to rebalance mitigation and adaptation, which is essential given that the current emissions path will not reach the 2oC goal. In fact, even if this goal is met, the impacts of climate change will still be felt worldwide. Therefore, the agreement must equally address the necessity of mitigating emissions, as well as dealing with inevitable climate impacts both currently, and looking into the future.

Finally, the Paris agreement comes at a time of strong multilateral politics worldwide, which provides an opportunity to capitalize on collaboration. The fact that there are large emitters working together, as illustrated by the US-China bilateral agreement, illustrates that there is a global interest in securing an agreement. This environment provides a unique opportunity for the Paris agreement to set out a collaborative, ambitious, and enduring climate deal.


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