Why will Paris upcoming “loose” climate change agreement work better than the previous ones?

Participation of Miguel Arias Cañete, EU Commissioner for Energy and Climate Action, at the INDC Forum organised in Rabat, Morocco (EC Audiovisual Services, 13/10/2015)

It was only last Tuesday when the European Commission (EC) together with the Moroccan government, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) convened at the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) Forum in Morocco to discuss the overall effect of countries’ contributions to the climate agreement which is going to be concluded in December at the 21stConference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris. The outcome of the Forum was that a global climate effort is greatly increasing but more endeavours are needed in order to reduce global warming in fact.

The European Parliament (EP), in view of the COP21 next month, convened two days ago and voted in favour of a global agreement that can fight climate change by targeting mainly to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and increase the relevant climate finance commitments.

As far as Europe’s contribution is concerned, it is certain that we are on the right track, with the United Kingdom (UK) to lead the way. Not only UK announced a £5.8bn climate finance pledge but also has reduced the carbon intensity of its economy more than the rest 20 biggest economies in the world (G20). Furthermore, France and Germany are following the race in carbon intensity cuts and in climate finance pledges, strengthening the EU commitment in the fight against climate change.

However, the new anticipated climate agreement is not going to include punishment measures or sanctions for the countries that will not be in line with the targets. This decision was clearly made due to the unwillingness of many member states to legally bind to it.

Recognition for a long-term climate approach

The INDC Forum though brought together around 200 experts from different backgrounds and all stressed the need for further and stronger commitments if we want to tackle the climate change issue. Particularly, Miguel Arias Cañete, EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy mentioned: “The initial contributions on the table make a significant difference, but these alone will not be enough to keep global warming below 2 degrees. That’s why in Paris we need to agree a long-term goal to guide our efforts, a process for taking stock of the progress made and raising ambition, and robust transparency and accountability rules. The new deal must show to the world that governments are united, determined and serious when it comes to fighting climate change.”

EP puts pressure on the EU for a legally binding agreement

The EP will be represented by 15 Members who will go to Paris to urge for commitments on reducing the greenhouse gas emissions to 80–95% below 1990 levels by 2050 and raise up the financing attributed to climate up to $100bn a year by 2020. The Parliament will also focus on the transportation which is the second-largest sector producing greenhouse gas emissions and will try to persuade the member states to implement measures that will be able to reduce emissions through the participation of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

UK: EU’s climate panache

Even though UK’s finance pledge is smaller than the German or the French one, UK has managed to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted, per dollar of economic output, by 10.9% in 2014 according to a relevant report published by the accounting firm PWC. That was accomplished mainly by reducing burning coal.

What is more, energy-related emissions dropped by 8.7% while the economy experienced a 2.6% growth. The latter reveals that economies can grow at a fast pace while targeting at the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, which can lead to the desired goal of limiting the temperature rise since preindustrial times to 2 degrees Celsius.

Further efforts in a loose regime; will it work?

The Paris agreement is going to be concluded in less than two months but under a framework that will probably not impose “punishments” to the parties which do not comply with the rules. This is also supported by Christiana Figueres , head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat who pointed that: “ The overwhelming view of member states is that any agreement has to be much more collaborative than punitive, if it is to happen at all. Even if you do have a punitive system, that doesn’t guarantee that it is going to be imposed or would lead to any better action.”

But is this the case or is it too difficult (not to say impossible) to impose sanctions to the parties that fell short to the climate commitments? According to Yvo de Boer, the UN’s former top climate official, the Kyoto Protocol “was to be legally binding, but it became very clear that a lot of countries didn’t want sanctions” and weren’t imposed any when violating or abandoning the agreement.

Consequently, we end up to a Protocol that has to reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically over the next decades and keep global warming temperature under the 2 C barrier, but with no legal bindings whatsoever. Is this going to work at all?

The next meeting regarding the climate agreement is to be held in Born on 19–23 October and is the last gathering before the major COP21. This is the last chance for all parties to assemble a beneficial and realistic plan to be sealed in Paris. The European Sting will be monitoring the matter closely.

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Originally published at europeansting.com on October 16, 2015.

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