What climate talks in Paris will mean: The Economist explains…

Climate change demonstrations are expected to take place worldwide in the lead up to the Paris summit [File: AP
Climate change demonstrations are expected to take place worldwide in the lead up to the Paris summit (File: AP)
In December 2009, during climate talks held under the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen, negotiators failed to forge an international agreement. Hopes had been high: Barack Obama’s election meant many expected America to power negotiations. Instead, alongside Brazil, South Africa, India and China, America reached a non-binding deal on the side.

Among other measures, the “Copenhagen Accord” agreed international co-operation to raise $100 billion per year by 2020 to help countries cut back greenhouse gases. In meetings at Doha two years later, international leaders promised to adopt a legal agreement on climate no later than 2015. Now the world is set for another round of such climate talks, to take place in Paris starting November 30th. But how likely is an agreement, and what would it represent?

Rather than herding bigwigs into a huge room and presenting them with a plan, as the Danes did, countries have had nine months to come up with pledges of greenhouse-gas emission cuts ahead of the meeting—a clever manoeuvre. More than 150 countries have submitted their plans; pledges to cut back cover almost 90% of global emissions. A recent synthesis report from the UNFCCC says the pledges mean that the relative rate of growth in emissions between 2010 and 2030 will be 10-57% lower than in the two decades after 1990.

Consequently they will probably only limit average global temperature rise to 3C, not the 2C goal that has dominated climate policy of recent years. But Laurence Tubiana, France’s top climate diplomat, says she is ever more optimistic about reaching a deal because “everyone is talking to everyone.” Indeed, engagement from major polluters is greater than in the past.

Climate talks-pollutions
For the climate talks in Paris later this year, the bloc hopes to conclude a binding global agreement that further reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

China plans to peak its emissions in 2030, if not before, and to introduce a national carbon-trading scheme in 2017. And America is embarking on the Clean Power Plan: it aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power stations by 870m tonnes by 2030—a cut of almost a third from 2005 levels and the equivalent of taking 166m cars off the road. Brazil also intends to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 43% by 2030 compared with levels in 2005.

As with many other pledges, these plans are less impressive upon closer inspection: America is already half way to reaching its target thanks to its fracking boom. And no one knows precisely how much carbon dioxide China releases into the atmosphere each year, so its efforts to cut back will be difficult to measure.

Meanwhile Brazil attracted criticism for failing significantly to address deforestation in its pledge. Just two countries, Morocco and Ethiopia, are willing to do their part to keep global warming to just 2C according to Climate Action Tracker, an analysis tool run by four environmental research groups.

Nevertheless, if a deal is cobbled together in Paris from pledges, as seems most likely, it will be the most significant international step in reducing emissions to date. Countries will proceed only if the right incentives are dangled before them, so talks will turn on financing.

Climate talks
UN climate talks: tough issues on the table…

A coalition of the willing may be weak, but it is all that is politically possible. This means an agreement will not stave off climate change, but it will provide a signal to companies and investors of greener times ahead. And if it manages to include a clause requiring countries to tighten their pledges every five years, so much the better. “We’re not in a world of business-as-usual anymore,” says Christiana Figueres, head of the UNFCCC, “we’re in a world of business-as-urgent.”(Source: Oilprice.com)

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