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  1. Environment
15 October 2015

Paris – the beginning not the end of the road

Crucial climate change negotiations will take place in Paris on 30 November. Some commentators say it’s the final chance for global leaders to agree a deal that will save the planet from catastrophic rises in temperature. Here Good Energy founder and CEO, Juliet Davenport OBE, sets the scene and says that Paris is the latest stop in a journey with a long way yet to go.

By Juliet Davenport

You might well have heard of something called “COP 21” by now.

COP 21 is the 21st Conference of the Parties who signed the Kyoto Protocol back in 1997. It’s an international treaty where the  objective was to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to “a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.

The Protocol, based on the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’,: puts the obligation to reduce current emissions on developed countries – on the basis that they  are responsible for the current higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

It required the world’s leading economies   – those developed countries – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 10% on 1990 levels by 2012, .  Europe developed what was, at the time, a ground breaking scheme to trade emissions.  The Emissions Trading Scheme ) is a cap and trade mechanism which aims to reduce greenhouse gases from the main industrial polluting sectors. This was followed by other pieces of legislation on renewables and energy efficiency.  These pieces of legislation have defined Europe as a leader in emissions reductions, with greenhouse gases  dropping to17.2% below the 1990 levels.[1]

Undoubtedly, these are big steps forward. Kyoto led to good things, Europe has done well and there has been real progress.

Nevertheless we need to recognise that reducing emissions in developed countries is no good if we simply move polluting industries to the rest of the world. – Certainly Europe’s emissions reductions look impressive on paper,but how much of those emissions reductions are coming back to Europe in imported carbon from India and China? Problems like carbon leakage won’t be solved until we have a global approach with robust accounting on emissions reductions imports and exports, with some sort of standardised accounting rules underpinning it. This really underlines the importance of Paris.

The big problem we face now is that countries have been unable to agree to extend the initial Kyoto Protocol commitments beyond 2012 and precious few met their targets before 2012.We’ve witnessed six years of limbo since 2009 when the COP met in Copenhagen with such high hopes.

The most that six subsequent COPs have managed to achieve, with much wrangling, is that countries will, at most, agree to do their best –without commitment.

I think we’ve got to understand the challenge for developing countries. They have made strides too. Fossil fuel subsidies are falling in many countries, especially India and Indonesia. China has reduced its coal consumption by 2.8 per cent in 2014 and will that will probably fall again by the end of 2015. The Chinese renewables program is very impressive. But, of course, we shouldn’t forget that the developing countries also have their own development agendas. Perhaps understandably, they are loath to see any fetter put on these.

So we arrive in Paris with each country having submitted ‘intended nationally determined contributions’ (INDCs) which are essentially statements saying “We will do our best – and no more”.

There are difficulties that come with this approach – if parties weren’t able to meet the obligations they signed up to under Kyoto, why will they do any better under the INDC approach?

Any agreement from here has to end fossil fuel subsidies, a major driver for pollution around the world and has to address carbon sinks. We only have two in the world – the ocean and the forests. With deforestation we suffer doubly – the CO2 released by burning and the loss of sinks.And as we lose the forest sink we see ocean acidification reaching dangerous levels, causing significant damage to marine ecosystems, a major protein source for the world’s peoples. A major part of the problem here is agriculture and land-use change, as the largest contributor to climate change is actually agriculture. Deforestation, fertilization, and crop cultivation done for farming has contributed to about one-fourth of all excess CO2 emissions. [2]

Now, just weeks before the conference in Paris begins, 120 submissions have been received, reflecting 147 countries (including the European Union member states), and covering around 86% of global emissions in 2010 (excluding land use, land use change and forestry) and 86% of global population[3]. Based on current projections, experts see this as bringing global warming down to 2.7°C which is an improvement on projections at the last COP by 0.4°C.,  But this is still not enough to reach the 2 degrees experts agree is the level of warming acceptable to avoid dangerous changes to the environment.

The negotiating text released on October 5th wouldn’t fill most with optimism. There are many  –ifs and buts: brackets and lack of firm commitment in it that make the draft text look rather feeble.

But let’s bear in mind that nations rarely give away their ultimate negotiation position before the final days of COP,  so I think we can be  genuinely optimistic that there is something to work with here.

With the eyes of the world on them, negotiators have a real chance to finally pull together an agreement that everyone can buy into, which will respect the right ofdeveloping countries to advance the living standards of their populations, and which may give us the chance to avoid dangerous climate change and biodiversity loss this century, with all that this entails.

It’s encouraging to see that many nations have now copied the European model with embryonic emissions trading schemes – California and Quebec, China, and  South Korea to name but a few. But we’re going to need to see more provisions for market-based mechanisms. Like it or not, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme has been a major driver of the reduction in Europe’s emissions, and 73 of the INDCs so far received express support for using market mechanisms to meet their commitments.

The pressure on COP 21 to deliver to the people of the world is huge. – Our governments must be encouraged to recognise this and put aside national self-interest in order to protect our climate.

Paris has to deliver proper mechanisms which allow countries to accelerate their current intentions and catapult them to something better. This will get us to where we need to be in terms of that all-important 2C target.

Bold pledges on finance and innovation from the richer countries are vital to encourage the developing countries to commit to accelerate.

There is momentum in the global shift away from fossil fuels towards renewables, and energy efficiency is on the up throughout the world.

Paris is not the end of the road; it is the beginning of a new road and the journey is far from over.

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