At UN climate talks that got underway this week, the differences between developing and developed countries have remained as wide as ever. If the experience of UNFCCC negotiations over two decades is anything to go by, the result will be grudging agreement over the lowest common denominator, leading to a weak Paris agreement that will largely fail to address the ever-worsening threat of climate change.
The incoming president of the Paris summit, France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, wants the deal to be ready before the summit starts on November 30, so that the last moment squabbling that has characterised previous summits can be avoided.
But with no word from rich nations on the concrete steps they are taking between now and 2020 to help poor nations combat climate change, the trust deficit between the two groups of countries is too wide to be bridged right now. The Paris agreement is supposed to come into effect after 2020.
So at best, the Paris outcome will be ‘one more step’ in addressing climate change, as Su Wei put it on the opening day of the Bonn meeting. He underlined the need to address both the ambition and the implementation gaps. The United Nations Environment Programme calculated last year that there was a 40% gap between the mitigation commitments of all governments and what is needed to keep average global temperature rise within 2C. That goal looks increasingly out of reach.
As the negotiators start on the 90-page draft agreement with the stated purpose of reaching consensus, Fabius said four pillars would underpin success in Paris:
· A universal, legally-binding agreement;
· Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – what each country would do;
· Finance, technology and capacity-building;
· The role and contributions of non-state actors.
India is unlikely to accept a legally-binding agreement, while rich countries are unlikely to accept being pinned down on finance, technology and capacity-building commitments. Negotiators have the unenviable job of squaring this circle.
Green groups such as Climate Action Network have reiterated calls for developed countries to honour previous promises on climate funding, and provide a roadmap that specifies how the goal of providing US$100 billion a year will be reached by 2020.
Agreeing to an ambitious deal has become even more urgent as scientists warn that climate change is making such extreme weather events such as India’s current heatwave even more frequent and more severe.
In the midst of scepticism about the extent of global ambition to cut greenhouse gases, one bright spot is the major expansion of efforts taken by local governments and private companies worldwide, especially in the field of renewable energy. Much of that effort is now being reflected in national climate plans, as shown by the 38 countries that have submitted these reports to the UN so far.