Still Plenty of Climate Work Ahead After Paris

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By Dean Scott

Dec. 14 — Negotiators from 195 nations will have little time for victory laps after clinching a global climate deal that has eluded them for more than 20 years, with plenty of work still ahead to fulfill key aspects of the deal, including knotty questions on climate finance and still-to-be written verification rules.

The deal left open the prospect of difficult talks ahead on how nations will verify that they are making good on what are essentially voluntary pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions or take other climate actions. A total of 186 pledged climate actions were put on the table to anchor the agreement, which is to enter into force in 2020.

The broad nature of the Dec. 12 Paris Agreement—which runs only a dozen pages—and a related technical decision by the Conference of the Parties (COP) sets out:

• how 195 nations and the European Union will periodically review their pledges for climate action that underpin the deal;
• a process for richer industrialized nations to revisit their $100 billion-a-year pledge to help developing nations adapt to climate impacts and pursue low-carbon development; and
• requirements committing all developed and most big-emitting rapidly developing nations to verify their climate actions every two years.

 

“For the first time, every country in the world has pledged to curb emissions, strengthen resilience and join in common cause to take common climate action,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after the deal was reached late night on Dec. 12, ending more than two weeks of UN talks in Paris.

The India Question

On transparency and verification, what was decided in Paris is this: small island nations and other poor developing countries won't be required to submit reports of their progress.

Developed countries such as the U.S.—but also many rapidly developing nations such as China and, possibly Brazil, will all presumably have to prepare detailed reports every two years, according to observers who are now combing through the deal.

One question likely to be debated at the 2016 talks in Morocco and beyond: whether or not India, the world's third-largest emitting nation, is considered to be technologically ready to comply with the advanced transparency requirements.

“It might be somewhat different for India, but that's a case that can likely be made by other countries as well” that are rapidly developing but lack the technical know-how to verify their emissions and the degree to which their pledged actions drive them down, Alden Meyer, who tracked the Paris negotiations for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Bloomberg BNA.

What wasn't decided: how much technical and financial assistance developing nations can count on in preparing their reports; how a new “technical expert review” of reports that are submitted will work; and exactly how it will be determined whether each developing country that opts for that financial and technical help truly needs it.

U.S. officials said even without those specifics, the transparency and verification commitments—which were key priorities for President Barack Obama going into Paris—were a major component of the deal (see related story).

Unprecedented Level of Transparency

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry cited the transparency commitments as one of three key achievements the 195 nations made in agreeing to the deal along with flexibility they included for periodically strengthening their climate actions and a global temperature goal. The Paris agreement calls for holding average temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial times (238 ECR, 12/11/15).

The parties added a less formal addendum to that goal to at least “pursue efforts” to keep temperature rise to under 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

The Paris Agreement's transparency and verification commitment, housed in Article 13 of the 15-article political deal—“brings an unprecedented level of transparency to the entire effort,” Kerry told reporters in Paris after the deal was reached.

“Why is the transparency [requirement] important? Because the transparency in this agreement will shed light on what every country is doing to keep its commitments,” Kerry said, to cut emissions and take other climate actions.

Requirements Legally Binding

The U.S. also succeed in getting the transparency commitment enshrined in the broader Paris Agreement—and not tucked in a related technical document approved alongside the deal by high-level Conference of the Parties negotiators Dec. 12—and in doing so made the transparency requirements legally binding, Kerry said.

The Paris talks were the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the parent treaty to the deal reached in Paris.

Kerry also suggested that the legally binding nature of the transparency requirement might be one talking point the Obama administration plans to return to again and again in the weeks and months ahead. But congressional Republicans and other opponents are criticizing the deal as too soft on rapidly developing nations such as China.

“The transparency that is in here is legally binding, and that's a way that we can turn to people and say, ‘Look, even these less-developed countries … [have] agreed to sign up and begin to shed light on their nation's emissions levels, their strategies, [and] their reductions,' ” Kerry said.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and has long opposed the U.S. entering into an international climate deal, said the Obama administration's strategy to avoid legally binding language on finance or emissions mitigation actions is proof Obama knows the deal would almost certainly be nixed if submitted for Senate approval.

An international climate deal submitted for Senate ratification would be doomed, Inhofe said Dec. 14 on CNN. “Out of 100 senators, they couldn't get 30 senators to vote for something like that,” the chairman said.

Congressional Republicans have long argued that any deal reached in Paris should be submitted to the Senate given its constitutional authority of advice and consent. They are vowing rigorous oversight of the agreement (see related story).

The administration argues the president has existing executive authority to negotiate the deal, particularly given the talks advance the 1992 UN framework convention, which the U.S. Senate did ratify.

Outside Broad Deal

By contrast, the U.S. was able to get climate finance—and references to the $100 billion-a-year pledge by it and other developed nations—out of the Paris Agreement and into the COP decision, to blunt criticism that the U.S. is legally bound to a certain financial contribution beginning in 2020. The $100 billion figure is to come from public and private sources.

The agreement to revisit that funding commitment before 2025, and possibly increase it, is also in the technical COP decision, not in the broader Paris Agreement.

That left only more general references to developed nation responsibilities for climate finance in the Paris agreement itself; including relatively general phrasing calling for:

• “making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate resilient development” for developing nations;
• richer industrialized nations to “continue to take the lead in mobilizing climate finance from a wide variety of sources, instruments and channels, noting the significant role of public funds,” and;
• “taking into account the needs and priorities of developing” countries that are on the receiving end of the climate funding.

 

REDD, Set to Go?

The 195 countries also took significant steps to combat deforestation and degradation of forestland, which along with other changes in land use are responsible for nearly one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions (237 ECR, 12/10/15).

Directly referenced in the Paris Agreement are commitments toward a fledgling UN program, known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries—or REDD+—which has made quiet but consistent progress during the past decade in the climate negotiations as a way for preserve forests in developing nations.

Some additional work on REDD is still called for, from technical decisions to implement the effort to the need to ramp up funding for the effort. Those will likely be perennial issues, and among those front and center for negotiators at the 2016 UN climate talks in Morocco and beyond.

But getting the forest protection effort in the broad Paris deal—and not relegating it the technical COP decision—means the nearly 200 countries have agreed at the highest level to embrace forest protection, although the effort for now is limited to fighting deforestation in developing nations.

Under the Paris Agreement, the nearly 200 countries agreed to “conserve and enhance” what the deal terms “sinks and reservoirs”—essentially climate negotiation speak for forests and other ecosystems, including oceans, which act as repositories for carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Paris at dscott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com