Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1273, (3 - 9 December 2015)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1273, (3 - 9 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Climate conference opens

Some 150 world leaders converged on the French town of Le Bourget outside Paris this week for the UN Conference on Climate Change, writes David Tresilian in Paris

Al-Ahram Weekly

The long-awaited UN Conference on Climate Change, formally dubbed the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), opened on Monday.

The conference, to run until 11 December, is the first meeting on climate change to take place on such a scale since the Copenhagen Conference in 2009 failed to reach an agreement. In attendance on the opening day were US President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, among many others.

It is hoped that the meeting will lead to a new international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, believed to be responsible for climate change, and keep global warming below the commonly agreed limit of 2° C. A temperature rise beyond this limit is expected to cause catastrophic changes to the global climate.

However, voices were already being raised during the conference’s opening days on the difficulties likely to be encountered before any such agreement can be reached.

One hundred and forty-seven of the 196 parties to the UNFCCC, within which the conference is taking place, submitted plans to reduce their emissions, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), by the deadline of 1 October. These INDCs are not, however, thought to offer sufficient measures to keep temperature rises within the 2° C limit.

According to information circulating at the conference, even if all the INDCs were implemented, and those received represent only 75 per cent of members of the UNFCCC and 85 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, this would likely lead to a rise in temperatures of between 2.7 and 3.3° C; in other words, well above the 2° C target.

On the opening day, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised the issue of how much developed countries should contribute to efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, and how much they should contribute to the mitigation and other efforts made by developing countries that have historically not been responsible for the emissions thought to be responsible for climate change.

India would “play its part,” Modi wrote in the UK newspaper the Financial Times earlier this week. “We have pledged that, by 2030, we will reduce emissions intensity by at least 33 per cent of 2005 levels, and 40 per cent of installed power capacity will be from non-fossil fuel sources,” he said.

But in return, “justice demands that, with what little carbon we can still safely burn, developing countries are allowed to grow” and that they receive increased assistance from the developed countries that have historically benefitted from burning the fossil fuels thought to be responsible for climate change.

A French negotiator at the conference, Laurence Tubiana, told the UK newspaper The Guardian this summer that the “most difficult” element of an agreement could be the issue of the rich countries most responsible for global warming financially helping poorer countries adapt to climate change.

An essential part of any agreement, according to conference literature, will be to mobilise $100 billion every year after 2020 in financial support for developing countries to help them adapt their economies and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Security was stepped up in the French capital on the meeting’s first day, with roads leading to Le Bourget closed to traffic and France as a whole on alert after the 13 November attacks in Paris, in which 130 people died, claimed by the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group.

Public demonstrations have been banned in France under the emergency laws in force until February, with the result that while demonstrations took place across the world urging the leaders gathered at Le Bourget to act while there is still time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in France itself there were fewer signs of public engagement.

A demonstration in Place de la République in Paris on Sunday, scene of the “Je suis Charlie” demonstrations following the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket killings in Paris in January and now home to an impromptu memorial for those who died in November, degenerated into violence between activists and riot police.

Monday was “one long photo opportunity” for world leaders attending the conference, in the words of one participant. The days and weeks to come, however, will see intense negotiations on a draft agreement that has already been presented to participants, along with meetings of the subsidiary groups responsible for monitoring and implementation aspects.

A first revision of the draft agreement is expected to be presented to the French presidency of the conference on 5 December. The new text will then be negotiated by the 196 countries that are members of the UNFCCC, before arriving at a Paris Agreement by the end of the conference on 11 December, which will be signed at a ceremony planned for early 2016.

There are questions, however, regarding the form any eventual agreement will take. US Secretary of State John Kerry, perhaps with an eye on how unpopular cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are likely to be in the US, said in November that the agreement was “definitively not going to be a treaty” and there were “not going to be legally binding reduction targets like Kyoto,” referring to the 1992 Kyoto Protocol, the only previous legally binding climate change agreement.

His statement brought an immediate reaction from the EU. Miguel Arias Cañete, a spokesman for the EU climate commissioner, said, “The Paris Agreement must be an international legally binding agreement. The title of the agreement is yet to be decided, but it will not affect its legally binding form.”

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, currently presiding over the Paris conference, told the French newspaper Le Monde on Sunday that any agreement “should be legally binding.”

He continued, “Calling it a treaty could cause problems in America because then it would need to be approved by Congress. But an agreement made in Paris that could then be rejected by the Chinese, American or Indian authorities would obviously lose its force.”

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