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Paris Climate Talks In Review: Part Two–Early Events

Originally published on FGI Publishing.
By Dr. Timothy Cadman

The good news about the Clean Development Mechanism was overshadowed by two early events as the Paris climate talks got under way. After the terrorist attacks, the French government banned the ‘Marche Climat’, which, it was predicted, would have over one million participants. Instead, those wishing to attend left shoes, and the Place de la Republique quickly filled up with these poignant reminders of the impact on democracy that the latest attacks have had. Four tons of shoes — organized by People still came regardless of the prohibition. By midday there were 4,500 attendees, who created a human chain; within half an hour, it was 10,000. Then came the teargas and police squads as the area was evacuated, and the subway station shut down. By four in the afternoon it was pretty much all over.

Four tons of shoes in Place de la Republique, Paris (facebook/GetUp!)

Four tons of shoes in Place de la Republique, Paris (facebook/GetUp!)

Security was a major factor. But so too was the fact that the climate negotiations became the latest venue for the anti-capitalist movement. This in turn provided an opportunity for anarchist interests to challenge the state. Unfortunately, peaceful protest was the victim. Ironically, the capitalist state and the industrial revolution are largely responsible for the current climate situation. But in all the rhetoric of the far left and the anarchists there was nothing about a solution to climate change. For this, for better or worse, the public must rely on the state and (truly) civil society.

Industrialized country posturing over who should pay for the damage inflicted on low-lying countries by sea level rise from historical emissions of greenhouse gasses was another negative issue affecting the talks. The Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage has been a negotiating stream aimed at addressing issues associated with the impacts of climate change, but the idea of compensation was blocked by Australia and Britain in 2013. There appeared to be no progress in the wake of this year’s negotiations in Bonn, despite a further meeting in September, and without it, the legitimacy of the climate deal has been questioned.

Given that the Syrian crisis has been partly linked to drought induced by global warming, the need for an equitable solution out of Paris to both the mass movement of people and climate change was all the more pressing. But blaming the climate negotiators for lack of action would be to overlook the massive complexity that finding a solution poses. With 196 signatories, including the EU as a region, and over 300 institutional elements, agreements, organizations, bodies, and formal and informal groupings, it is amazing anything eventuated at all.

With the Paris climate conference less than twenty-four hours away, negotiators identified several other key issues in preliminary talks likely to prove difficult to resolve.

Most governments party to the convention had submitted their nationally determined contributions to reducing emissions and keeping global temperatures within the temperature recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The aggregate number of contributions reached approximately 80% of the target required to prevent dangerous climate change, with implementation to commence by 2020. This was cause for some cautious optimism that countries were beginning to recognize the need for climate action. However, it was also tempered by the reality that how these reductions would be implemented proved to be one of the most significant challenges for negotiators over the ensuing two weeks.

Climate finance, also a historical source of conflict between the developed and less developed countries, re-emerged as a point of contention during the Conferences of the Parties. Developed countries argued that finance for capacity building (including technology) was essential if activities aimed at countering the effects of climate change (mitigation) and coping with it (adaptation) were to be implemented effectively. Given the present reality of climate change, for the Small Island Developing States increased funding (for responding to existing and future sea level rise) was seen as essential. As predicted, this led to contentious preliminary discussions around loss and damage. This was a separate negotiating stream, and one that had been pushed by the SIDS (especially Tuvalu) for several years, and while it had been a formal Convention mechanism, since Warsaw COP 19, discussions were still not especially advanced, and developed countries, afraid they would end up paying for their own emissions legacy, were reluctant to fund any formal arrangements for redress.

On the mitigation front, negotiators also indicated early on in the talks that it was unlikely that any final decision would be arranged over the fate of the Clean Development Mechanism, the one (relatively) successful market mechanism aimed at reducing emissions. However, strong emissions reduction targets would make it more likely that the CDM would continue, as methods for trading ‘offsets’ have so far proven to work—methodologically, at least, even if the current value of carbon is not especially high.

One unifying ‘meta issue’ connected to all these negotiating elements was the extent to which anything that came out of Paris would be subject to good governance. Existing compliance and enforcement under the Kyoto Protocol is something of a toothless tiger. To strengthen the likelihood of a strong and effective outcome, it became clear early on that the hand of negotiators would only be strengthened if there were sufficient external pressure on their political overlords from civil society and business. In the leadup to Paris there was strong engagement from these stakeholders.

The anticipation was that this would maintain the dynamism of the discussions and push the transformation of the global economy away from fossil fuel dependence towards a ‘decarbonised’ future. The Earth Negotiations Bulletin, covering the Local Governments for Sustainability and United Cities and Local Governments ‘side event’ in COP, reported that cities have already pledged emissions reductions sufficient to account for half of the total urban potential for emissions reduction by 2020.

World leaders gather at COP21 (Sarabeth Brockley)The world leaders, having made their impassioned pleas around the theme ‘we must take action before it’s too late,’ moved on to the next summit, and for the rest of week, the negotiators were back in charge. There is a tradition—almost—in recent COPs that at this point, things tend to revert to familiar national grandstanding, which usually makes up the rest of the first seven days, to be replaced by a greater sense of urgency the following seven days.

The Like-Minded Developing Countries, a somewhat volatile sub-grouping within the G77, were active in the discussions, representing some of those most impacted by climate change, including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Sudan. It is an eclectic assortment, and also incorporates China and Bolivia (who are often the most outspoken), as well as various oil countries such as Saudi Arabia. The LMDCs have been unsuccessfully pushing the developed countries (the US, UK, and the like) to own up to their historical responsibility for climate change.

This view has found favor with other developing countries, such as Brazil, which argued in Warsaw at COP 19 in 2013 that the 1990 baseline for measuring country emissions reductions agreed to in the Kyoto Protocol should also take emissions dating back to 1850 into consideration.

This focus on righting historical wrongs was the sub-text to a critique from the LMDCs that emerged over the week, which argued that the commitments countries made as part of their intended nationally determined contributions were too focused on mitigation of, rather than adaptation to, climate change. Not enough funding had gone into adaptation, it was asserted, and many of the poorest countries were having to respond to climate change right now, and pay for it themselves.

While this position had some validity, it meant that developed countries proved resistant to the loss and damage negotiating stream at COP. It also meant that some developing countries opposed market mechanisms for emissions trading. With the fate of the Clean Development Mechanism largely depending on the level of (market-based) mitigation activities pledged in the INDCs (the more activities, the better the chance of survival), it was clear both ‘sides’ had a lot to play for.

This game-within-a-game was made all the more difficult by the extant reality of paying for adaptation—right now. While the World Bank put the required target at between $70 and $100 billion a year, some commentators were suggesting that $500B was closer to the mark. A recent claim by OECD that $60 billion was provided last year, and that developed countries were well on the way to the funding target, was dismissed as ‘misleading’ before the Paris climate talks by nongovernment organizations active in climate change affected developing countries.

NEXT: Paris Climate Talks In Review: Part Three

ALSO READ: Part One—Anatomy Of The Negotiations

Dr. Cadman is Research Fellow at Griffith University Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law, Coffs Harbour Area, Australia, He 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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