Climate pact: The rocky road to Paris… and beyond

A new agreement to tackle climate change is expected, but there are many hurdles to overcome first. Diplomats crafting a global pact to defuse climate change are under no illusion that the quest will end in Paris in December

If anything, the latest haggle to prepare for the vaunted UN summit, now just weeks away, has strengthened awareness that reining in carbon emissions is a very long-term problem indeed.

The key, say negotiators, is to enshrine measures in the accord so that, for many years to come, nations will be obliged to do more.

In jargon, it’s called a ratcheting-up mechanism.

“This process is not going to finish in Paris,” Cuba’s negotiator Pedro Luis Pedroso told AFP at this week’s five-day parlay in Bonn ahead of the November 30-December 11 climate summit.

“Paris will just be an extremely important stopover because it will give a signal to the future.”

There is little doubt that the summit will come up with some sort of deal.

But will it be an empty shell?

Or will it provide an ambitious roadmap for achieving the UN goal of limiting warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels?

The planet has already warmed by 0.8 C—leaving very little room for dawdling.

“What will really benefit the world’s vulnerable communities is a global agreement which includes a ratchet mechanism to increase ambition and ensure we don’t lock in a long period of inaction,” said climate analyst Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid—which pushes poor nation agendas.

“It is probably the most important issue to be included in the Paris deal. Without a ratchet mechanism, the Paris deal will be like building a beautiful car with no engine.”

Almost everyone agrees on the need to periodically review pledges and ramp them up until the 2 C goal comes into view.

But here’s where they differ: Should the first review be before 2020 or thereafter? Who will conduct these stock-takes? How often? And will nations be obliged to promise ever-higher targets?

Analysts say emissions-curbing pledges from more than 150 nations so far, set the stage for a 3 C warmer world of potentially dangerous storms, drought, sea-level rise and disease spread.

The pledges, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs, will be a cornerstone of the Paris pact, due to enter into force in 2020.

Some nations have set five-year targets for 2025, others look longer-term to 2030.

“The climate pledges made so far are insufficient and it is therefore essential to have a mechanism for ratcheting up those pledges every five years,” said Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace.

“They cannot be allowed to stand as they are for the next 10 to 15 years. That is a recipe for further destruction and human misery.”

Show us the money

Part of the problem is fear of failure—negotiators are keen to avoid a repeat of the 2009 UN climate conference in Copenhagen which didn’t even come close to sealing a global deal.


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