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.


What’s an INDC anyway?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the negotiating process can be difficult to wrap your head around, especially if you are a new-comer to international negotiations like I am.  To make things even more confusing there are acronyms for anything and everything! The UNFCCC, the ADP (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action), the COP (Conference of the Parties), the acronyms for negotiating blocs and non nation state actors (NNSA), just to name a few.

One important acronym that you might hear thrown around is INDC.  INDC stands for Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, and is a countries’ post 2020 commitment for climate action and GHG reductions.  INDCs were first discussed at COP19 in Warsaw, and both developed and developing countries have been invited to produce and submit them;  this is a first for the UNFCCC as it normally abides by the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) for developed and developing nations.

The first country to submit its INDC was Switzerland in February of 2015, and the submissions have been trickling in ever since.  This past week saw a huge jump in submissions, as the secretariat will be preparing a synthesis report of INDCs that were communicated by October 1, 2015; 73 new and revised submissions were seen this week alone on the INDC Portal!  The synthesis report will hopefully show parties the overall state of global emission reduction commitments before negotiations start in Paris this December. Read more

INDIA’s INDC- “Working towards Climate Justice”

India’s INDC (Intended Nationally-Determined Contribution) was released just before the 1 October deadline for COP21. This article voices some preliminary observations.

India’s INDC[1] is ambitious and relies largely on external funding. While targeting an increase of 3.5-5 billion tons of tree-based carbon sequestration by 2030, the INDC supports “Make in India” and invites investments for low carbon growth– as the per dollar emissions reduction is greater in India than in developed countries.

With current emissions less GDP-intensive than developed countries historical emissions, India believes in the common but differentiated responsibility but agrees to reduce its emissions sharply, subject to funding. India also speaks of increased vulnerability, loss and damage due to extreme and creeping weather events to livestock, coasts, crops and health- particularly increased malaria and dengue; leaving the door open to negotiate funding at Paris.

India aspires to increase its Human Development Index (HDI) and access to infrastructure while preserving and improving the environment. As “a large forest cover provides huge ecological benefits, but there is also an opportunity cost in terms of area not available for other economic activities and this also serves as an important indicator of fiscal disability”[2], 7.5% of the state’s grant (approx. 7 Billion USD) from the federal tax pool will be based on the forest cover. This incentive to preserve and increase forest cover does not seem to prevent old growth forests from being replaced with younger trees. In fact, the current government is a strong advocate of a compensatory afforestation scheme that does not prohibit this.

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