Thursday, March 24, 2016

Paris Agreement - Suprise!

Well, a few months ago we recently finished the Paris talks on a climate change treaty (technically called COP-21). Now that all the hype has died down, let us take a look at it. Very surprisingly we got a good result, known as the Paris Agreement.

First, let me say my overall reactions to it. While not a perfect treaty (more on that in the points below), it was probably the best that we can hope for.

An important point is that the concept behind Paris is radically different from Kyoto (except for the goal of reducing greenhouse gases). The process behind the Paris agreement actually started in Durban.

The foundations on which the Paris agreement is based are the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) which each country must submit to the UNFCCC secretariat. These are declarations of how the country intends to reduce its carbon emissions. Note that while the content of the INDC is not legally binding, the fact they must submit one is.

These INDCs are both the good and bad parts of the agreement. The reason for changing to the INDCs was that the Kyoto Protocol did not work. So another solution was necessary. It also allows countries to choose their own approach to the problem. However, the INDCs are not binding; therefore, there is no enforcement mechanism. More importantly, there is no real mechanism to ensure that the sum of the INDC's will be enough so that global warming stays below the 1.5 degree target. Indeed, with the current INDC's the warming will be 2.6 degrees. Yes, the secretariat must report on the gaps between the total commitments and the overall target, but that will have no real effect.

I also find that the target of 1.5 degrees as specified in the Agreement to be shades of hypocrisy. Even though it sounds good, I think most of the countries have no intention of meeting it.

A highlight of the Agreement is that it places an equal footing adaption (reducing effect of global warming) and mitigation (reducing the greenhouse effect). This is an important step that countries such as small island nations (probably the countries with the biggest impacts) have been asking for a long time.

There is both good news and bad news about the topic known as "loss and damage". The good news is that at last the developed countries have accepted the concept. The bad news is that the Agreement specifically states that no country will be held legally liable or be made to pay composition. Another example of developed countries thinking they can do want they want and not give a shit about anybody else.

Then there is the finance, especially financing of adaptation. Many commentators are stating how great this part is, but I need to remind people (again!), that these are only pledges -- and countries are very bad at keeping their pledges.

Probably the second highlight was the important place for transparency in reporting of countries emissions. This ensures that countries do not try to fudge the numbers and make look like they are doing better than they really are.

In conclusion, this is an important step in reducing global warming, but it is only a step. Much more has to happen, especially at the national level. A lot of work is going to be necessary. Simply turning off the lights when not in the room is not enough.

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