Saturday,24 March, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1274, (10 - 16 December 2015)
Saturday,24 March, 2018
Issue 1274, (10 - 16 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Hopes of an agreement

Negotiations continued at the UN Conference on Climate Change in France this week, with hopes still high that an agreement can be reached before Friday’s deadline, writes David Tresilian in Paris

Al-Ahram Weekly

Hopes remained high this week that a new international agreement can be reached to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, believed to be responsible for climate change, below the level necessary to limit global warming to beneath the threshold of 2°C, commonly agreed as the point where catastrophic changes to the global climate are more likely to set in.

But in the absence of clear signs coming from the UN Conference on Climate Change being held in the town of Le Bourget outside Paris with the participation of the 196 countries party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) within which the Conference, dubbed COP21 (21st Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC), has been organised, little can be said with certainty until tomorrow evening when it is hoped a new agreement can be announced.

A new draft text of an agreement was produced last Saturday, and it has since been examined by negotiators who will now need to make the decisions necessary to reach a deal by Friday. There was optimism at the weekend among observers of the conference since the original draft, arrived at before the meeting, had been halved in length and there had been no reports of irreconcilable differences among the parties.

“The negotiations have entered a crucial phase,” commented French President François Hollande, visiting the conference venue on Saturday. According to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, presiding over the conference on behalf of the host country, the new draft, the product of the first week of negotiations, would need to be “gone into in detail and its provisions concretised between now and Friday” when it is hoped that a legally binding instrument can be announced that will help keep global warming beneath 2°C.

The conference, which opened on 30 November, is the first meeting on climate change to take place on such a scale since the Copenhagen Conference in 2009 which 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 some 150 other heads of state or government.

Among the difficulties that need to be resolved before an agreement can be reached are the reductions that will need to be made to greenhouse gas emissions to keep global warming beneath the 2°C limit and the amount of assistance that developed countries, which have historically benefitted from burning the fossil fuels thought to be responsible for global warming, should give developing countries to help them adapt to climate change.

147 of the 196 parties to the UNFCCC submitted plans to reduce their emissions, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), by the pre-conference deadline of 1 October, a figure that has now risen to 184. These INDCs are not, however, thought to offer sufficient measures to keep temperature rises within the 2°C limit, and even if all the INDCs were implemented this would likely lead to a rise in temperatures of between 2.7 and 3.3°C, well above the target.

According to a report in the French newspaper Le Monde on Tuesday, while the INDCs represent an important effort at slowing down emissions, they will not lead to an absolute reduction in them since both China and India are presently on course to increase their emissions between now and 2030, cumulatively leading to a 20 per cent increase, and no decrease, in global emissions.

“Beijing has certainly undertaken to achieve peak emissions by 2030 at the latest, dividing by three the carbon intensity of its economy (emissions by GDP), but it has not announced a reduction in its emissions,” and will in fact increase them, the newspaper commented. As for India, its emissions are likely to treble by 2030, with the two countries by this date representing 40 per cent of all global emissions and “wiping out the efforts made [to reduce emissions] of all other countries.”

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 will be to mobilise $100 billion every year to 2020 in financial support for developing countries to help them adapt their economies and mitigate the effects of climate change.

In a tour of ambassadors carried out by Le Monde at the weekend, several laid emphasis on this question. “The agreement will stand or fall on the question of financing,” the paper quoted the South African ambassador as saying, also quoting the Gambian Environment Minister, Pa Ousman Jarju, who emphasised not only the importance of reaching the $100 billion figure, but also of “making clear engagements for the period after 2020.”

“The question of financing and mitigation are the most sensitive in the negotiations,” conference co-facilitator Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu from the Democratic Republic of Congo was quoted as saying. “But we aren’t advancing very quickly on the question of reducing greenhouse gas emissions either, or on the issue of transparency,” a reference to the verification mechanisms that will be used to ensure that countries meet their obligations under an eventual agreement.

There have also been questions regarding the form an eventual agreement will take. US Secretary of State John Kerry earlier caused panic at the conference when he said that any 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.

In response, Fabius emphasised in his comments at the conference that any agreement “should be legally binding”. He was quoted in Le Monde last weekend as saying that “what should come out of the Paris meeting is not a political conversation but mechanisms that have a real and concrete meaning.”

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