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Paris Climate Talks In Review: Part One

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Originally published on FGI Publishing.
By Dr. Timothy Cadman

Anatomy of the Negotiations

Demonstrators in the Place de la Republique, December 2015 (

Demonstrators in the Place de la Republique, December 2015 (

As the citizens of France and the world mourned the loss of life in Paris in the wake of the November 13 attacks, it was troubling to note the apparent parallels between the inability of the global policy community to combat both religious extremism and climate change in the lead up to the Paris climate talks (COP 21). A global menace, years in the making, largely created by the industrialized nations, reached a point where its catastrophic consequences demanded an international response. Millions of people in the less developed world have been drawn into the conflagration, and hundreds of thousands more displaced.

Yet the intergovernmental regime, and the United Nations in particular, seemed powerless to do anything, paralyzed by a bizarre set of mutually incompatible interests. Seeing an existential threat to their own way of life, countries that could easily have helped alleviate the suffering of ordinary civilians, squabbled amongst themselves, and hid behind their own increasingly militarized borders. This in turn only served to exacerbate regional tensions as affected populations became ever more desperate to flee the escalating situation, angered and embittered by the lack of action. The inevitable consequences: more conflict, and more people on the move. Spot the difference?

60 ministers gather before COP21, November 8, 2015 (

60 ministers gather before COP21, November 8, 2015 (

As the twenty-first Conference and Meeting of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change approached, the scenario outlined above seemed ever more likely. The endless round of pre-negotiations referred to as the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), and the two workstreams, focusing on the 2015 agreement, and the post-2020 ambition had not brought anything substantive to the table. There was still no indication as to whether the Kyoto Protocol could be complemented by a ‘protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force.’

In addition, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions were not enough to limit global temperatures to the 1.5 degrees Centigrade increase above pre-industrial levels recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and advocated by many countries in advance of the Paris climate talks.

Given the results of the 2013 national assessments of greenhouse gas emissions by sources and removals prepared for the Bonn mid-year negotiations, this did not come as a surprise. But it was disappointing.

Take the case of Australia. It was hardly unexpected that that country/continent, which negotiated an emissions increase for itself above the 1990 base year, increased its emissions, whilst nevertheless using a new baseline year (2005) to indicate to the contrary. Given an ongoing commitment coal-fired power, it was not surprising that the increase came from the energy sector.

But it was nonetheless concerning when it is taken into consideration that over 1.4 million small-scale solar systems are now installed in homes and business across that country, accounting for 2% of electricity generated. More disappointing was a comparison with Austria, placed next to Australia in the reporting tables, which despite a previous commitment to reducing them by 19%, exceeded its emissions target by 22% (OECD Economic Survey 2013: 130), despite actively participating in the European Union Emissions Trading System.

But not all the news going into the Paris climate talks was depressing. The Clean Development Mechanism, one of the Kyoto Protocol’s ‘flexible’ mechanisms, registered over 7,000 projects in developing countries, leading to over 1.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide being ‘offset’ from activities in developed countries, and purchased by companies to meet national carbon reduction targets. Despite some initial teething problems, its robust project design methodologies, and accounting procedures had injected some rigour into emissions trading. However, the fate of the CDM was caught up in the negotiations to take place in Paris. It is not highly regarded by some NGOs, who claim abuses of human rights in some projects, and it might be argued, by some developing countries, which favor nonmarket mechanisms.

NEXT: Paris Climate Talks In Review: Part Two–Early Events.

As well as being Research Fellow at Griffith, Dr. Cadman is also a research fellow in the international Earth Systems Governance Project. He specializes in the governance of sustainable development, natural resource management, climate change and forestry, and responsible investment. Dr. Cadman presented an exciting new tool at the 2015 Global Landscapes Forum–the leading platform for bringing together individuals and organizations that have an impact on land use–on December 5-6. The event was likely the largest meeting on the sidelines of the UNFCCC COP21. Cadman’s books include The Governance of Climate Change and  Quality and legitimacy of global governance: case lessons from forestry.

Reprinted with permission.

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