COP21 tracking

Jottings on the Paris climate conference.

Random jottings follow. I’m not going to try to follow the jamboree systematically, just a few things I spot related to my checklist here.
I left out the 5-year timetable for the review, on the assumption that it’s a done deal (Hollande got the Chinese to sign up beforehand).

November 30
François Hollande:

The first is that we need to sketch out a credible path allowing us to limit global warming to below 2C, or 1.5C if possible.

So Fabius will do his considerable best to keep 1.5C in. A good sign.

November 30 – bis
The group photo. It’s a commercial press photo site, and I couldn’t download the image.
I reckon this photo locks them all in. None can afford to be identified later as the holdout blocking the agreement.

December 1
Statements by leaders on the conference website, filling up slowly.
Turnbull, Australia: Positive tone. Promise of $1bn in climate aid, but “from our existing aid budget”. “We will meet and beat our 2020 emissions reduction target”. Shout-out to Martin Green’s solar research at UNSW. I imagine his research funding is secure.
A link to Modi’s statement, but it doesn’t work for me.

December 1 – bis
There seems to be a surprising amount of corridor talk in favour of a carbon tax: eg Obama, Bachelet of Chile. Perhaps enough to get a serious plan on the agenda in five years’ time, or earlier in regional and subnational groups. Update 3/12: James Hansen, five eminent economists.

December 2
Xi Jinping’s statement, video with English interpretation (so not a vetted translation). No update to the INDC offer, but indications of new and even stronger policies in the next Five-Year Plan. Standard language in favour of differentiated responsibilities, respect for national differences, right to develop, etc but a long way from endorsement of Modi’s climate justice rhetoric. Instead “win-win cooperation”.

December 3
Modi’s text. As expected, no concessions, but no threats to derail. The climate justice rhetoric of the INDC has been toned down, for lack of allies: having Venezuela say on your side doesn’t help. An astonishing error: “By 2030, we will reduce emissions by 33-35% of 2005 level.” The INDC undertaking (pdf, page 29) is in fact to lower emissions intensity by these percentages: absolute emissions will still grow, that’s the problem. Lie or carelessness?

December 3
The real negotiations are taking place in a diplomatic black hole. Meanwhile the rest of us are offered distracting side-events. The most significant to me is the joint statement of the development banks, promising to increase climate-related lending. The EIB alone will up its lending to over $22bn a year, a fifth of the $100bn Copenhagen promise. This is real money. The LDCs are not going to scupper the Paris agreement because pledges fall a bit short of $100bn and McConnell throws a spanner in the US contribution to the pot. Remember that wind and solar farms are about the easiest sort of project imaginable to a development bank: technological risk zero, planning risk negligible (unlike dams), repayment risk low (the customers are tied to a monopoly grid and can be disconnected if they don’t pay for an essential and affordable service), political risk as low as it gets (the projects are popular everywhere).

We also have India’s Solar Alliance: a pure displacement activity to distract attention from India’s obnoxious coal-burning plans. It’s harmless, also pointless – what the members need is technology and finance, which they can’t get from each other. As a policy shop, it duplicates IRENA.

Then there is the “Breakthrough Energy Coalition” of Silicon Valley billionaires promising to throw vast sums of their money at reinventing the wheel, following Bjorn Lomborg’s deluded cargo cult. Again, it won’t actually do any harm. Both Joe Romm and the Giant Vampire Squid agree that this is rubbish and the overwhelming need is simply deployment of the technologies we already have. One is irresistibly reminded of Samuel Johnson’s celebrated smackdown of the Earl of Chesterfield’s last-minute offer to be patron of his great Dictionary:

Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it: till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it.

December 5
We have a new negotiating text: on time and of reasonable length (21 pages), both good signs. The good news:

  • 1.5.dec C is still in. Article 2(a):”To hold the increase in the global average temperature [below 1.5 °C] [or] [well below 2 °C] above pre-industrial levels by ensuring deep reductions in global greenhouse gas [net] emissions”. This is an astonishing victory for Jim Hansen (though typically he’s being complaining instead about the lack of a carbon tax). Even the weaker formulation is a big step forward from Copenhagen’s 2 deg C, and probably commits the parties to large-scale sequestration.
  • The 5-year review looks solid, though apparently Saudi Arabia has been trying to derail it. Article 10(2): “The CMA shall undertake its first global stocktake in 2024 and every five years thereafter unless otherwise decided by the CMA.” No square brackets indicating dissent.
  • The US has got its way on the binding/non-binding split. The goal and mechanism are legally binding, the national commitments only politically.
  • It’s not very important, but we have a date and place for Obama’s victory lap. Article 16(1): “[This Agreement] .. shall be open for signature at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 22 April 2016 to 21 April 2017.” No square brackets, 22 April it is.

The bad news:

  • The decarbonisation goal is still all at sea. Article 3 is a forest of square brackets.
    “[Parties [collectively][cooperatively] aim to reach the global temperature goal referred to in Article 2 through:
    (a) [A peaking of global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible[, recognizing that peaking requires deeper cuts of emissions of developed countries and will be longer for developing countries]]
    (b) [Rapid reductions thereafter [in accordance with best available science] to at least a X [-Y] per cent reduction in global [greenhouse gas emissions][CO2 [e]] compared to 20XX levels by 2050]];
    (c) [Achieving zero global GHG emissions by 2060-2080]
    (d) [A long-term low emissions transformation] [toward [climate neutrality][decarbonization] [over the course of this century] [as soon as possible after mid-century];
    (e) [Equitable distribution of a global carbon budget based on historical responsibilities and [climate] justice].”

Paragraph (e) is in contradiction with the basis voluntarist architecture of the agreement, and stands no chance. However it would be a nice miracle if we got “decarbonisation as soon as possible after mid-century” or “Achieving zero global GHG emissions by 2060-2080”. Either are of course still incompatible with a 1.5 deg C target.

  • Pages and pages of square brackets over finance, the principal topic of disagreement. I am resolutely optimistic here. The developing countries will make a huge fuss to the last minute, trying to get rich countries to improve their offer. But in the end they know that texts don’t generate money, and will take the rich countries’ final offer.

December 10

Latest draft here. 1.5deg C is still in the running. The central option is “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels”, with 1.5 deg C as an optional aspiration, so I suppose this is the likeliest language. However, decarbonisation “as soon as possible after mid-century” has disappeared in favour of the less ambitious “over the course of this century informed by best available science”. Never mind that this slow pace is inconsistent wit the temperature goal.

It’s now a “President’s proposal”. At this stage exhaustion gravitates power to the chair.  Down to 14 pages, but there are still dozens of options. It is impossible for outsiders – and possibly insiders – to predict the outcome of all this in detail. But the initial take holds: if there is an agreement, it will be sort-of OK, and confessedly no more, but still a true global deal and (variable) commitment.

Note for aficionados. COP2 doesn’t have “breakout groups”, it has “indabas” (Zulu and/or Xhosa term for a big tribal council). I fear they have cut the drums and dancing, which would be an improvement on PowerPoint slides.

Update 12 December There is content to the indaba format. /update

India have offered to scale back their (in any case unrealistic) plans for expanding coal burning, in exchange for cheap finance.  This is for bargaining after Paris.

The Tyndall Centre at UEA in Norwich have released a forecast that global carbon emissions from fossil fuels will drop 0.6% in 2015 (central estimate, range +0.5% to -1.6%). Separate post planned.

December 10 – bis

A chart from NGO tracking site shows the slow death of the square brackets:


This is what a deal looks like. The French will release a new draft around midnight, then for another all-nighter. And right-wingers think that civil servants and politicians don’t work hard.

December 10 ter – Stop press

They were quicker: here it is. The square brackets are an endangered species.

Temperature goal: ” … hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C ..”

Decarbonisation goal: “Parties aim to reach the peaking of greenhouse house gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter towards reaching greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century..”

No brackets in these articles. These are good results, much better than I had expected.



Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

3 thoughts on “COP21 tracking”

  1. So, I just read a piece in the NYT all about a coordinated attack being made on carbon fuel subsidies in Paris. In theory, I ought to support it, perhaps.

    But how much should we bet that, if implemented, they will not in fact compensate poorer people? No doubt, lip service will get paid. But actual money? Actual help? Even here in the good ol' US of A, most green tech is straight up unaffordable for regular people. The government programs to finance green reno, f.e. … guess where it can't be used? If you guessed on multi family housing, you win the big prize! Nothing bigger than a 3 unit building.

    Oh well. thanks for letting me rant!

  2. So, I couldn't find you on FB, there are too many other people who have a similar name, which is okay since I waste too much time there already.

    But, I did see a post today from the (US) National Association of Railroad Passengers, about how "The transportation bill would move Amtrak in the Right Direction," supposedly. (I have my doubts, and would be extremely surprised.) In the comments was a guy talking about catenaries and integrating local rail. Reminded me of your other post. If you're bored!

  3. Thank you for your insight into the process and for all the helpful information about the agreement. I just started reading your articles this week. Could you explain in more detail how the goal and mechanism are binding while the commitments are not? I understand that this non-binding nature of the commitments is important to keep the agreement away from the US congress, but I don't understand how portions of the agreement can be binding while others are not.

Comments are closed.