Climate

What Will A Global Agreement On Climate Change Look Like? The U.N. Just Gave Us A Clue.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Martin Meissner

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius talks to delegates during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany, Monday, June 1, 2015.

With less than two months before the world’s leaders convene in Paris for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the U.N. has released a new preliminary draft of what an international climate agreement — the purpose of the two-week convention — might look like.

While the new draft is sparse on specific details, it does include a commitment by the world’s governments to hold global warming at 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, the threshold that scientists generally agree is required to stave off irreversible consequences of climate change. The new draft also stipulates that nations should readdress their limits on greenhouse gas emissions every five years, a requirement that environmentalists championed at negotiations in Bonn in early September.

“This draft is an improvement on previous versions,” Han Chen, international climate advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told ThinkProgress. “The text has been significantly shortened from 83 pages in September to 20 pages. This text is based on the conversations between negotiators at the spin-off discussions during the September negotiating session. So it’s clear that there were areas where countries found some compromise at the last session.”

Representatives from leading nations have just five days of negotiations left before the Paris talks begin — they’ll meet from October 19 to 23 in Bonn, Germany, to solidify as many details about an international agreement as possible before Paris.

There is some concern that current national pledges won’t be enough to stay under 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, which is why environmentalists view a requirement that countries reevaluate their greenhouse gas emission targets every five years as crucial to a successful climate deal. And while the new draft does contain that provision, exactly how countries will be expected to mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions is still a topic of negotiation. As it stands now, this is what the draft agreement has to say about climate mitigation:

1. Parties aim to reach by [X date] [a peaking of global greenhouse gas emissions][zero net greenhouse gas emissions][a[n] X per cent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions][global low-carbon transformation][global low-emission transformation][carbon neutrality][climate neutrality].
2. Each Party [shall][should][other] regularly communicate a nationally determined mitigation [contribution][commitment][other] that it [shall][should][other] implement.
3. Each Party’s nationally determined mitigation [contribution][commitment][other] [shall][should][other] reflect a progression beyond its previous efforts, noting that those Parties that have previously communicated economy-wide efforts should continue to do so in a manner that is progressively more ambitious and that all Parties should aim to do so over time. Each mitigation [contribution][commitment][other] [shall][should][other] reflect the Party’s highest
possible ambition, in light of its national circumstances, and:
(a) [Be quantified or quantifiable;]
(b) [Be unconditional, at least in part;]
(c) [Other].

The new draft is also vague on how much responsibility developed countries should bear in financing adaptation and mitigation efforts in developing countries, another contentious issue that some experts say is crucial for a successful international deal. As part of the international negotiations before Copenhagen in 2009, developed countries pledged to contribute $100 billion a year to developing nations starting in 2020 — but the new draft suggests that $100 billion might not be enough.

“The mobilization of climate finance [shall][should][other] be scaled up [from USD 100 billion per year] from 2020,” the draft reads. The draft doesn’t specify how the funds would be collected, though it does say that they would need to come from both public and private sources.

Greenpeace praised the new draft as a step in the right direction, though the group expressed disappointment in the fact that the draft didn’t get into specifics about how nations could mitigate their emissions.

“The long term goals being proposed ignore the options outlined by those heads of government invited to the climate lunch last week of September in New York — namely the de-carbonisation of the global economy and the goal of 100% renewable energy,” Martin Kaiser, head of international climate politics for Greenpeace, said in an emailed statement. “If we are to keep mean temperatures increases to below 2°C or even 1.5, the process must speed up. The only way to achieve that is through a transition to 100 percent renewable energy by mid-century.”

But while the new draft leaves much to be negotiated, Chen saw it as an important step forward in advance of the next round of Bonn talks and the Paris conference.

“The draft Agreement has really clarified the options on mitigation, adaptation, and finance,” she said. “A draft text that is only 20 pages long puts the Paris negotiations in a much better place than the talks in Copenhagen. It gives negotiators a much more manageable set of options to work with.”