John Sweeney at CoP21 in Paris – Update 4

John Sweeney’s report from Paris: Friday Dec 11, 2015

The language of a UN agreement is virtually impenetrable to the average person. Lengthy preambles and legalistic jargon make it hard to decipher where the key bits are unless one is skilled in international legal matters. Notwithstanding this, almost all of the countries that spoke on the draft agreement issued on Wednesday found fault with it and packed the negotiators off for a night’s work to redraft it. They did so until around 7 am, after which an unusual silence descended on the COP. Those who turned up in the morning had little news to learn as the secretariat assembled the new draft and the legal people scrutinised it. So the press conferences and updates throughout the day mainly consisted of rumour and speculation. It was after 9 pm before Ms. Fabius revealed his new draft.

The new streamlined text reduces the area of indecision considerably and meets some of the criticisms voiced concerning the earlier draft especially by the developing countries and small island states. A stronger statement of intent to restrict warming to 1.5oC is the main addition, though what precisely this will entail in terms of policy efforts is not at all clear. A stronger commitment to achieving the finance target of $100B set for the Green Climate Fund to assist developing countries to adapt to climate change is also evident. Though this sounds like a lot of money it is still only one sixth of what is currently used to subsidise fossil fuels.
However some omissions do raise concerns. Ironically today was International Human Rights Day and reference to human rights and gender equality seem to have slipped down the agenda in the new draft. This is strange given the strong representations made by many countries and especially by Mary Robinson, a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The inclusion of a Loss and Damage section was flagged as vital by the developing countries and this does feature in the new draft. But routeways towards compensation and liability appear to have been closed off by some powerful developed countries. Similarly the concerns expressed by the EU that the rapidly growing emissions from shipping and aviation be incorporated in any agreement also have not been recognised and would seem to have been dropped altogether as an issue. This is a serious issue as emissions from these two sources, occurring outwith national boundaries, amount to the equivalent of Germany and South Korea combined. Ironically the Marshall Islands, likely to be an early casualty of sea level rise, is also the world’s third largest shipping registry after Panama and Liberia. Despite this it is in the vanguard of efforts to include shipping emissions in any agreement. Other countries could learn from such willingness to place global community good before narrow national self interest.

The new benchmark year from which emission cuts would be measured was specified yesterday as 2010 and not 1990. This would have been a disadvantage to several countries who increased their emissions substantially between 1990 and 2010, especially Russia and some eastern European countries. But dates and reduction targets are not detailed as specifically in the new version. The Developed countries would seem to have obtained ‘wriggle room’ in return for concessions elsewhere.
And so the negotiators headed off into the night for another marathon session. Undoubtedly some of today’s draft will be modified. But the clock is ticking down now and injecting more ambition into the agreement will prove difficult. The dilemma of whether a weak agreement is better than no agreement will undoubtedly dominate the next 24 hours. But as with most previous COPs, rabbits can be pulled out of the hat in the closing hours.

John Sweeney

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