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Fateful 48 Hours Will Help Shape Our Collective Future

Eiffel tower at night in Paris

Time is running short for negotiators in Paris to reach an agreement that will bring global greenhouse gas emissions under control.

Shchipkova Elena/Shutterstock

12:01 a.m., Paris: The clock has struck midnight. The question of the hour is whether the draft Paris Agreement, debuted this afternoon at the climate negotiations, can deliver the ambitious agreement that all nations—and all our children—deserve.

The draft is littered with brackets indicating the stubborn areas of disagreement that have bedeviled climate negotiations for years—the level of emissions reductions; who pays, how much and for what; and differentiation of responsibility among countries. This year’s negotiations are sure to go down to the wire.

Countties express their hopes and deep divisions on the draft Paris agreement.
Countries express their hopes and deep divisions on the draft Paris agreement.
Erika Rosenthal/Earthjustice

The mood is cautious but hopeful—there will be an historic Paris agreement, but will it be enough? There are long nights of hard bargaining to come and passions run deep. This is personal—negotiators have to deliver for their people back home. The climate pledges that have been submitted by 186  nations represent unprecedented global action, but still fall dangerously short of what science demands, putting the world on a path to a devastating global temperature rise of more than 3 degrees Celsius (5.6 degrees Fahrenheit). 

The Paris Agreement must deliver both the emissions reductions science tells us are necessary to avert catastrophic warming and climate justice for the poorest and most vulnerable countries and communities that have contributed the least to the climate crisis but are suffering the most acute impacts. 

It must deliver a strong signal to the markets that the age of renewable energy is here to stay (and is the biggest investment opportunity of the century). And it must meet the moral obligation to provide financing to help poor nations leapfrog to clean technologies, adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change and address irreversible and permanent damages.

Here’s a run-down of the critical hang-ups in the current draft text:

Long Term Goal

Will the agreement declare the global ambition to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, as scientists recommend, and how will that be translated into a global de-carbonization target (i.e a certain percentage of renewables by a specific date) that will drive the energy transformation?

Finance 

Will the developed countries meet their promise of $100 billion in new climate financing by 2020? Can rich countries commit to scale up financing after 2020? And will developing countries accept that new financing after 2020 will depend on their greater transparency?

Loss and Damage

How will the world help poor countries cope with the irreversible damage caused by climate change, including the storms and droughts that set poor countries’ efforts to alleviate poverty back decades?

Transparency

Will there be a robust mechanism to measure, report and verify emissions reductions to build trust in the agreement and to require that all countries, rich and poor, account for the progress they have made toward meeting their emissions reduction pledges?

How to Ratchet-Up Ambitions

Will countries agree to come back to the table every five years to review their progress and strengthen their emissions reduction commitments—known as a ratchet mechanism—as the effects of climate change become clearer and the science advances? 

Cutting across all of these issues is the fundamental question of “differentiation.” How will the agreement reflect the different responsibilities of different countries, developed and developing, rich and poor, and their differing vulnerabilities, stages of development and abilities to pay?

At the end of the day, what happens inside the negotiating halls is meant to accelerate the transition to clean energy and low carbon economies. Solar and wind are increasingly cost competitive with fossil fuels. Even with massive coal and oil subsidies on the books, the price of solar fell 80 percent in the past six years. Renewable energy innovation is happening at a pace never imagined, and nations, states and companies are using carbon pricing and other policies to successfully drive down emissions while growing economies and profits. Nevertheless, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

Decisions made in Paris in the next 48 hours will have a profound impact on the lives of billions of people for generations to come. This is a race against time. The Paris agreement must let our hopes take wing.

The Road to Paris and Beyond is a blog series exploring how Earthjustice’s climate and energy work will help strengthen the goals to be set by the United States and others during the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, and the development of the new global climate agreement. The Paris Climate Change Conference (aka “COP21”) begins on November 30 and runs until December 11, 2015.

 

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