Can Europe Make It?

Climate negotiations: countries must commit to short term objectives in order to succeed

An agreement on short term objectives for climate change must absolutely be found in order to make the Paris agreement a truly sustainable, effective and human one.

Charlotte Flechet
25 September 2015

Artist Robson Cezar holds his work at London rally for climate change. Peter Marshall/Demotix. All rights reserved.A recent briefing by Climate Action Tracker (CAT), released at the beginning of September, revealed that the pledges of countries that have already submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) are insufficient to remain within a temperature increase of 2°C. This is considered by many as the ultimate boundary to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

On the basis of the pledges announced by states representing together approximately 65% of greenhouse gas emissions, including the EU, China and the USA,  the Consortium, composed of four European research organisations, claims that global warming is on track to reach 3°C by the end of this century.

Gathered in Bonn at the beginning of the month for the penultimate official discussions session, climate negotiators managed to make some slow progress on a global binding climate agreement. In particular, two key questions must be addressed for the agreement to be truly sustainable and effective: the need for short-term emissions reduction objectives and the thorny issue of loss and damage related to climate change.

On the one hand, it is crucial that nations reinforce their emissions reduction commitments for the period 2020-2025 in order to maintain climate warming within 2°C. Objectives with a 2030 deadline,  as is largely the case right now, risk encouraging dangerous inertia and delaying immediate climate action. According to CAT’s briefing, states must absolutely reduce by 12-15 gigatonnes their greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, and another 17-21 gigatonness by 2030, in order to stay within the 2°C boundary. All nations would indeed benefit from a solution that embraces an approach based on risk reduction.

Unfortunately, CAT’s analysis also underlines that most countries that have already submitted their pledges, at the exception of China and the EU, don’t have the appropriate policies to align their emissions with their INDCs for 2025.

Given the gap between official commitments that have 2030 as a deadline and the need to reduce emissions before 2025, it is imperative that the Paris agreement establishes a mechanism allowing countries to periodically reassess their objectives. This will allow matching objectives with the concrete reality of emission trajectories and actual climate change.

According to Bill Hare from Climate Analytics, “It is clear that if the Paris meeting locks in present climate commitments for 2030, holding warming below 2 degrees could essentially become infeasible, and 1.5°C beyond reach”.

That the EU hasn’t made any short-term commitment and has barely announced a 10-year objective is rather disappointing.

On the other hand, given the current trajectory of global emissions, and the very small probability of limiting climate change to 1.5°C (considered a much safer target) addressing the question of loss and damage has become inevitable.

This stormy debate raises the difficult question of compensation and responsibilities for loss and damages associated with the inevitable impacts of climate change. This is a central issue for vulnerable developing nations, particularly Small Island Developing States.

The negotiations in Bonn have shown a positive step in this direction, since the idea of including loss and damage in the Paris agreement has been accepted by a majority of developed countries which are usually reluctant to move on this issue. There is still no agreement on the definition of the concept, however, and no information has yet been disclosed on the notions of responsibility and compensation or on the practicalities of implementation.

This issue is unfortunately very topical since climate change is likely to impact on future refugee fluxes, as was highlighted by the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, in his recent speech on the state of the Union. This opinion is one shared by French President François Hollande.

A study published in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” did indeed underline the catalytic effect of the severe 2006-2009 Syrian drought that would have contributed to the displacement of almost two million people and favoured the emergence of civil unrest in the country.

Today, developing countries are asking for organised migration to be included in the binding Paris climate treaty, along with clear provisions on loss and damage.

With only five official negotiation days left, negotiators have a lot on their plate and the spectre of the Copenhagen Conference, largely remembered as a bitter failure, is haunting the negotiations. Six years later, failure is no longer an option.

An agreement on the essential and intimately tied issues that are short term objectives and loss and damage must absolutely be found in order to make the Paris agreement a truly sustainable, effective and human one.

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