Paris Climate Change Conference

New Paris Draft Climate Accord Unveiled: It's All About the Cash

Fourth Dispatch: Saving the climate is nice and all, but where's the money?



Paris – The president of the Paris climate change conference, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, released today a new draft text of the prospective universal climate accord being negotiated here. It has been cut down from 48 to 29 pages with core agreement numbering 14 pages. While some options have been whittled down, it is still filled with bracketed texts indicating that negotiators have yet to agree on some of the biggest outstanding issues. So what's in play?


The section dealing with the purpose of the agreement lists three options for the ultimate year 2100 temperature goal. The first would commit countries to working to keep future temperature increases below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The second would aim for keeping them "well below" 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to rapidly scale up global efforts to limit temperature increase to below 1.5°C. And the third option would set the goal at holding temperatures below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

The 1.5°C limit is being championed by small island states that fear that rising seas spurred by man-made global warming will engulf their homelands sometime during this century unless the world adopts this more stringent goal. Keep in mind that the world has already warmed by about 1°C since the pre-industrial era. U.S. Special Representative Todd Stern has said that the U.S. would like to work out some language that would recognize the 1.5°C goal in the agreement. This suggests that U.S. negotiators are backing the second option.

Long-Term Goal

Activists are pushing to set a long-term goal in the accord. One option aims at setting a concrete goal such as "peaking of global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible" or reducing global emissions by 70-95 percent below 2010 levels by 2050, or achieving "net zero greenhouse gas emissions [by the end][after the middle] of the century." Option two more generally commits signatories to realizing whatever temperature goal is adopted through "a long-term global low emissions [transformation toward [climate neutrality][decarbonization]]over the course of this century informed by best available science." (I include some bracketed text to give readers an idea of what's still up for grabs.) In general the activists prefer the numerical goals. They argue that such a goal is easier to monitor and will send a strong signal to businesses and investors that the fossil fuel era is fast coming to a close.

Reporting and Accountability

The rich countries want all countries to set clear quantified emissions targets and be bound by the same system of monitoring, reporting and verification. Some poor countries favor language that says the least developed countries "may communicate" whatever they doing with regard to climate change "at their discretion." In any case, poor countries want rich countries to agree to pick up the tab for any efforts they make toward monitoring, reporting, and verifying their greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.S. is also arguing for establishing a regular five year review and update cycle to see how countries are doing with respect to fulfilling their pledges starting in 2020 when the new accord comes into effect. This is being resisted by some countries, say China, on the grounds that they have already set their 2030 goals.


The idea is that there is now no way to avoid a certain amount of future warming, so countries will have to adapt to it. Since most of the text describes various reporting and planning activities, very little of it has been bracketed. To give readers a sense of how these documents work I include this bit of text from the adaptation section:

Parties acknowledge that adaptation action should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems, and should be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional, indigenous peoples knowledge and local knowledge systems, with a view to integrating adaptation into relevant socioeconomic and environmental policies and actions, where appropriate.

Since this text is not bracketed, this likely to make it into final accord.

On the other hand, a whole section devoted to establishing some kind of sustainable development mechanism is bracketed. "Mechanism" is a term of art that usually means that rich country governments are committed to giving poor country governments cash for some allegedly worthy activity or other.

Money, Money, Money

The longest section of the draft accord deals with the issues of loss and damage and climate finance. The idea behind climate loss and damage is that it occurs despite emissions reductions that aim to keep temperatures low and efforts to adapt to the warming that does occur. Loss and damage can result from severe weather events like typhoons or slower changes such sea level rise.

Poor countries and activists at the conference insist that the lost and damage section does not impose liability and the obligation to compensate poor countries for climate disasters. Nevertheless rich countries are strongly resisting inclusion of this concept in the accord because they understand that such provisions have tendency to metastasize into international shakedown bureaucracies. Consequently, the whole section is bracketed.

About the section on finance, let's just say that there is still a lot to discuss and agree on. Way back in 1992, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change divided the world into two groups; rich countries that agreed to do something about their greenhouse gas emissions and poor countries, including China and India, that had no obligations to do anything at all. The world has changed since then; notably China's GDP has grown more than 20-fold. Many poor countries, nevertheless, want to maintain this distinction and make the same set of rich countries solely responsible for forking over climate financing to them after 2020. The U.S. wants to recognize the new realities by inserting language in the accord that says that "all parties" can provide climate finance to poor countries "in line with their respective and evolving responsibilities and capabilities." Here's looking at you China!

In addition, poor countries want rich countries to "provide [new,][additional,] [adequate,] [predictable,][accessible,][sustained] and [scaled-up] financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation." They essentially want all of the brackets lifted from this long row of adjectives. At the failed 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, President Obama promised that the rich countries would "mobilize" $100 billion per year in climate finance by 2020. Provisions in the text treat this amount as merely a "floor" above which more should be supplied in the coming years.

Those are some highlights from the current draft. There is supposed to be a clean text by tomorrow (Thursday), but nobody really believes that. It's likely to be a long weekend.

Note: I am filing daily dispatches from the Paris climate change conference, and I will keep readers apprised of who gets what out of the climate accord when (and if) it's completed.