Paris Climate Talks Day 1: oh, so pious

Wednesday 02 December 2015

Going by the happenings on the first day, the gathering at Paris seems to be all about homilies

                    Smokestack   Credit: Flickr
Smokestack Credit: Flickr

If a single word were to be used to describe all that happened on November 30, 2015, the inaugural day of the Conference of Parties (CoP 21) in Paris, that word would have to be: pious.

The piety began at the opening plenary session. French President Francois Hollande spoke first, outlining three conditions for the CoP’s success—a credible path; a universal, binding and differentiated agreement; then a condition where he contradicted himself: “All our societies get moving”.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban-Ki-Moon spoke next, in the nuanced, apolitical style that he is a master of. He exhorted the CoP to put together an agreement that would be credible, lasting, dynamic, balanced and embodying solidarity. In short, he completely overlooked developing country mistrust, as evinced in the transformation of the ADP 2.11 (Ad Hoc Working Group of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action) draft negotiation text from a bald 20-pager to the current 51-pager, and as repeatedly outlined by heads of state in Plenary 2. He said, “Choose the path of compromise, consensus, if necessary, flexibility; the time for brinkmanship is over”. Pure piety.

Incoming CoP president Laurent Fabius took the lectern, then. One element of his speech stuck out, like a sorely sore thumb. As a condition of the CoP’s success, he welcomed the role “non-state actors” would play in sharing the burden of tackling climate change. He said, “We will hear of concrete commitments by these actors. This struggle is a key opportunity for sustainable development”. Was Mr Fabius, also France’s foreign minister, not aware that in doing so—please understand that “non-state actors” is standard jargon not so much for “civil society” as it is for lobbyists and businesses—he was effectively dumping the Convention in some Le Bourget garbage bin?

Indeed, the piety began at the very beginning, with President Hollande: “It is in the name of climate justice that I speak to you and it is in the name of climate justice that we must act”. His speech began with the (now) mandatory reference to the November terror attack. Actually, a reminder that in the Paris CoP, the European Union (EU) is going to milk this tilt in the moral/ethical balance of power in its favour as much as it can—and the EU has much reason to, for it has accepted the utterly voluntaristic “self-differentiation” route to future climate mitigation in toto, and cannot afford to let Paris become Copenhagen redux. Speechifying, President Hollande also justified an unprecedented climate CoP; the presence of over 150 heads of state on the opening day itself: “[I asked you all to come at the very beginning of the conference] to give this conference a drive and ambition commensurate with the challenge”. Is this a CoP already turned upside-down?

What is not on the agenda at Paris

  • The unequal distribution of carbon emissions.
  • The historical responsibility of the West/North.
  • A way to re-affirm/restore the principle of differentiation, central to the spirit of the Convention, among those who primarily caused climate change and those that have, over 25 years, demanded the right to use the “remaining” carbon space.
  • The “hot air” detritus of the Kyoto Protocol.The apportioning of the remaining, meagre, global carbon budget—as the IPCC has specified, just about a 1,000 gigatonnes-worth of emitting space are left—to developing countries. That is, a guarantee enshrined in the Paris agreement that developed countries will vacate this space.

As Carbon Market Watch has pointed out, “Under the Kyoto Protocol, the lack of environmental integrity in market mechanisms has resulted in an 11-gigatonne hot air loophole”. (“Hot air” refers to Assigned Amount Units, or AAUs, a tradable “Kyoto unit” or “carbon credit” representing an allowance to emit greenhouse gases)

Further, Carbon Market Watch points out: “The EU has committed to reducing its overall emissions by at least 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. While in theory, this will result in about 4 GtCO2e emission reductions, the carry-over of the EU’s hot air could reduce this 2030 climate action commitment to as little as 1.6 GtCO2e. This would reduce the EU’s 2030 target to merely 32 per cent effective emission reductions”.


But there is more, and this is very disturbing: “Unfortunately, nothing currently prohibits [Kyoto Protocol] Parties to use and trade hot air allowances to comply with the post-2020 commit­ments submitted to the UNFCCC”.

  • The question of “outsourced” emissions by the West/North

The emissions reduction targets developed countries have submitted, simply do not account for the fact that these countries—the US, the EU, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada—depend on goods and services that are produced elsewhere.

Just because a country meets its emissions-reduction targets doesn’t mean it isn’t responsible for increased emissions elsewhere. This sounds weird, but isn’t. The way developed countries calculate national targets—“territorial” emissions only—means these countries can effectively, blithely even, “outsource” their emissions to other regions.

Consider, in this respect, a 2010 paper, “Consumption-based accounting of CO2 Emissions” published in the journal PNAS. The paper’s findings, quoted here in full from the “abstract”, are revealing enough:

--In 2004, 23 per cent of global CO2 emissions, or 6.2 gigatonnes CO2, were traded internationally, primarily as exports from China and other emerging markets to consumers in developed countries.

--In some wealthy countries, including Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, the United Kingdom, and France, >30 per cent of consumption-based emissions were imported, with net imports to many Europeans of >4 tonnes CO2 per person in 2004.

--Net import of emissions to the United States in the same year was somewhat less: 10.8 per cent of total consumption-based emissions and 2.4 tonnes CO2 per person.

--In contrast, 22.5 per cent of the emissions produced in China in 2004 were exported, on net, to consumers elsewhere.

The paper, by Stephen J Davis and Ken Caldeira, of the Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution, Stanford, concludes: “Consumption-based accounting of CO2 emissions demonstrates the potential for international carbon leakage. Sharing responsibility for emissions among producers and consumers could facilitate international agreement on global climate policy that is now hindered by concerns over the regional and historical inequity of emissions.”

  • A strong, implementable loss and damage mechanism, one that has no semantic or practicable relation to the adaptation mechanism.
  • A technology mechanism that goes beyond TNAs or technology needs assessment, to measurable, verifiable and actual transfer.
  • US $100 billion per year, routed through the finance mechanism of the UNFCCC.
  • Keeping the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change alive!

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