Now that the Paris climate talks are near (November 30 to December 11), it’s time to sit up and pay attention to what those talks might accomplish.
The draft agreement has been written and revised, and it's now ready for prime time. Realistically, though, the entire agreement could be changed again once discussion begins in December. Here is a very brief, very simple summary of what is included — and what is not included — in the draft agreement that will be discussed in Paris.
The draft Paris agreement upholds the current goal of limiting the average global temperature to at most 2°C above pre-industrial levels. It even includes an option to tighten that goal to 1.5°C. To support that, it calls for countries to develop national commitments that are progressively more ambitious, and suggests that financial assistance will be available where needed, but it does not provide details about where that assistance might come from.
In addition, it calls for countries to share expertise and technology to mitigate the effects of climate change, and commits to developing a mechanism for sharing those strategies, but it doesn't include details about what that mechanism might include.
The agreement also calls for transparency in many areas including national inventories of greenhouse gas emissions by source, greenhouse gas removal by sink, progress made, support provided, and support received. A mechanism for monitoring these inventories will probably be established at the first annual follow-up conference.
What has been removed from previous drafts?
There is bound to be compromise involved when 195 nations work on something together. These and other deletions may be a result of that that process.
- Earlier references to two potential opportunities for international cooperation have been removed: a suggestion that sectors work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in sea and air transportation and a commitment to reduce international support for high-carbon investment.
- Previous drafts hinted at developing a mechanism for building climate resiliency in conjunction with promoting sustainable development and reducing poverty. While the draft affirms this goal in general, references to any specific mechanism have been removed.
What is still left to decide?
So far, the agreement does not include specific targets for greenhouse gas emissions or dates for achieving those targets, nor does it specify how developing countries will qualify for assistance as they work to meet their commitments. It includes the idea that developed countries may play a different role than developing countries or may proceed at a different pace only as an option. I don't think anyone will be surprised if there is a lot of debate about this.
The agreement recognizes that some countries will suffer loss or damage as a result of climate change and will need financial assistance to deal with it, but it does not include details of any compensation plan. These details will probably be negotiated at a follow-up conference.
In many cases, delegates in Paris will need to decide between options that vary in rigour, and decide whether each commitment will be a requirement or a recommendation. (The verb introducing many of the commitments now reads “[shall] [should] [other].”)
In addition, we don’t yet know the answers to these process-related questions:
- How will the agreement be ratified? Will it be approved if a certain number of parties sign it, or only if those parties represent a certain percentage of global emissions? Will there be any preconditions for participating in the agreement?
- What process will be used to facilitate implementation and compliance? The draft specifies that the process should be non-punitive and non-judicial, and outlines two possible processes. It also leaves open the possibility of not specifying a process.
And, of course, we don't know if the agreement will be ratified at all.
Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. “Non-paper, note by the co-chairs,” (October 5, 2015).
Deconstructing Paris. “October’s draft text: a breakdown,” (October 8, 2015).
Deconstructing Paris. “COP 21 in context—a brief overview and useful links,” (August 14, 2015).
Paris2015. “End of the Bonn session: we know the negotiating text that will be discussed in Paris,” (October 20, 2015).