C&EN @ COP21 – Paris Climate Change Conference – 2015, November 30 to December 11

Three Things That Stand In The Way Of A Climate Deal

Sticking points remain at Paris climate talks. Here, members of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition make a friendly protest to remind negotiators that a more stringent target is needed of not more warming than 1.5 degrees C. Also, they want more money to go from rich countries to affected countries so they can take adaptive measures to prevent the worst effects of sea level rise. Credit: Jerrald Schnoor

Members of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition press negotiators for a more stringent climate target–warming of no more than 1.5 degrees C. Credit: Jerrald Schnoor

As the Paris climate talks reach their final hours, sticking points remain. In the vernacular of negotiators, here are the three issues that are holding things up:

DIFFERENTIATION: What should be expected from developed countries vis-à-vis developing countries in this agreement? Who is responsible for what?

In the predecessor to the Paris talks –the Kyoto Protocol of 1997—negotiators made a distinction between the responsibilities of rich, developed countries and those of low-income developing countries. In Paris, negotiators refined that idea, acknowledging that nations bear “common but differentiated responsibilities” based on their wealth. The bottom-up voluntary pledges of 185 nations before the Paris talks is viewed as a major breakthrough in this regard, but now negotiators must determine how the pledges will be monitored and updated to ensure that climate goals are met. It is important that developed countries take the lead in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They must assure developing countries that they are serious and will not back-slide in meeting their pledges. But developing countries must begin to reduce their emissions, too, albeit to a lesser extent and at a slower pace. As they successfully develop a higher living standard for their people, developing countries must assume more responsibility for financing adaptation to climate change.

FINANCING: Who is going to pay the $100 billion each year into the Green Climate Fund to help the most vulnerable countries adapt to climate change and to cover their loss and damages?

More money is needed to fund adaptation for the most vulnerable countries, with greater certainty of who is paying and how. The agreement should include an assessment of the adequacy of financing to meet the needs of low-income countries to adapt to the inevitability of climate change. If there is a “red-line” on the part of developing countries, it is that the final pact must include a clear plan how high-income countries will pay for “loss and damages” borne by poor, vulnerable countries to climate change.

AMBITION: Should the target be changed for the amount of warming allowed? What are the long term goals of this convention on climate change, and how often should progress be reported?

Approximately 100 countries, including the US and the EU, demand to see some mention in the final agreement of a more ambitious goal — 1.5 degrees C warming, as opposed to the current target of 2.0 degrees. Vulnerable nations, including coastal and low-lying island nations, are already being affected by sea level rise and storm surge. They feel that the goal of two degrees, agreed to in Cancun in 2010, is too large and will result in extreme loss and damage. They want 5-year review meetings where parties will communicate their mitigation contributions and update their commitments. Long-term goals are needed such as “climate neutrality” or complete “decarbonization” by the end of the 21st century.

Negotiators are hard at work to hammer out these final three sticking points. Meanwhile, cautious optimism still prevails. Participants feel that this is a rare opportunity in history where all the stars have aligned to get a comprehensive universal agreement in Paris.

Jerald Schnoor is attending the Paris meeting on assignment for Chemical & Engineering News.  He is professor and co-director of the Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa, and former editor-in-chief of Environmental Science & Technology.  Follow him on Twitter @JerryatCOP21.


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