Paris Climate Change Conference

Paris Universal Climate Agreement Final Draft Released

Fifth Dispatch: Here's betting that activists decry it as a "weak" accord.



I am in awe. The presidency of the Paris climate change conference released, as promised, the final draft text of the proposed universal climate accord at around 10 p.m. on Thursday. This kind of diplomatic efficiency never happens at a U.N. climate change confab.

So what's in the pact that Chinese negotiator Gao Feng characterized as "a long-term agreement that will shape everyone's future?"

The apparently agreed upon objective of the accord is to 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. Climate activists who are eager for the agreement to contain a definite end to the fossil fuel era, say by 2050, will be infuriated by the provision that says that Parties will aim to peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible with the goal of reaching greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century. Neutrality means that countries will offset as much greenhouse gases as they emit.

Rich countries more or less got what they wanted with regard to having every country eventually submitting hard greenhouse gas reduction or limitation targets, although the poorest countries get some leeway. Of course, really poor countries don't emit all that much in the way of greenhouse gases anyway. In addition, each new target submitted under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is supposed to be tighter than the last.

There is a long section the agreement that is devoted to adapting to whatever consequences flow from future climate change. As far as I can tell, it basically says that governments should plan on adapting to climate change. They should also talk among themselves about their problems and offer each other advice. Of course, poor country governments "shall receive continuous and enhanced international support" from rich country governments to help pay for their adaptation efforts.

Poor countries and activists are also keen on getting some provisions into the agreement that dealt with the issue of climate "loss and damage." The idea is that some effects of man-made global warming cannot be adapted to and will be irreversible. Rich country governments are afraid that incorporating loss and damage provision into the accord could subject them to unlimited liability claims and open the floodgates to endless demands for compensation. The whole section remains wide open, but it there is an option that says that Parties will enhance action and support to address loss and damage, but "in a manner that does not involve or provide a basis for liability or compensation nor prejudice existing rights under international law." Activists and poor country representatives have been saying in the most sincere way all week that loss and damage provisions would not subject rich countries to liability and compensation claims. So they should be perfectly happy to accept the stipulation, but somehow I doubt that they will be.

Interestingly, most of the brackets have been taken off of the sections dealing with climate finance to be provided to poor countries. In addition, rich country governments have apparently agreed that $100 billion in annual climate finance by 2020 is a floor and that funding should increase during the next decade. On the other hand, the text seems to say that the money will only be handed over if poor countries can demonstrate that they are making good efforts to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Poor country governments were pushing to make climate finance essentially foreign aid grants, but have apparently now agreed upon provisions count private funds as well. Nevertheless, rich countries will have to account for how much public money they've forked over in climate finance every two years. Still, some brackets remain: "Developed country Parties shall provide [new,] [additional,] [adequate,] [predictable,] [accessible,] [sustained] and [scaled-up] financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation."

Rich country governments are keen to establish a unified and robust monitoring, reporting, and verification procedures in order to track how well each country is doing with regard to keeping its promises. Rich country governments point out that without this information it is impossible to tell if the accord is actually having an effect on the global trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions. Also it would be harder to tell if countries are reneging on their promises.  

The three options for establishing the transparency framework state that it is applicable to all Parties. Just how the information from the reports gets reviewed is still up in the air. One version wants the information provided by all Parties to be evaluated by an expert technical committee without interference from governments. In the alternative version the information from rich countries will be subject technical reviews which will then be "followed by a multilateral assessment process, and result in a conclusion with consequences for compliance." In other words, a kangaroo court consisting of poor country governments will decide if each rich country has done enough. Under the same alternative provision the technical review of information provided by poor countries will be followed by a "facilitative sharing of views, and result in a summary report, in a manner that is nonintrusive, non-punitive and respectful of national sovereignty." It will be interesting to see which of these gets adopted by this weekend.

The agreement also sets 2023 for a first global "stocktake" of how the agreement is working and how faithfully countries have fulfilled their climate change promises. The U.S. with the support of most environmentalist organizations had been pushing for some kind global stocktake to occur in 2018 or 2019. China apparently won this round. Activists will be furious with this decision.  

The ministers are supposed to finalize the agreement by the end of tomorrow (Friday).

Note: I am filing daily dispatches from the Paris climate change conference, and I will certainly report to readers if French diplomatic efficiency is sufficiently maintained that I can enjoy the weekend in the City of Light.