Op-ed articles

The Paris Agreement

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Amy Dahan Mathematician and science historian, Emeritus Research Director at the French National Institute for Scientific Research (CNRS)

"Emerging economies shifted the focus to their development needs and weighed down negotiations. "

Climate Talks: When Words Disconnect from Reality

The December 2015 Paris AgreementOil contract under which the oil that is produced is shared between the state and the oil company... was hailed as a major step forward in a historic process. However, the road ahead is still long and arduous if the international community is serious about limiting the average increase in global temperatures by the end of the century. In this article, historian Amy Dahan shares her analysis of future perspectives in the light of past events.

Since its emergence 20 years ago with the Kyoto ProtocolInternational agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change... , climate governance has gone through several phases linked to changing global geopolitics.

The first phase characterized the 1990s, when the developed world started heeding scientists warnings about the climate impact of greenhouse gas (ghg) Gas with physical properties that cause the Earth's atmosphere to warm up. There are a number of naturally occurring greenhouse gases... (GHG) emissions from human activities. Industrialized nations responded quite quickly, reaching a first international agreement in 1997 at the third "Conference of the Parties" (COP 3) in Kyoto. But the cracks soon began to show. The United States refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol for fear that it would threaten U.S. consumption habits – the American way of life – and demanded that all countries take part, including emerging economies.

Little by little, the world slipped into a period of what could be termed "disconnected reality". Sound bites repeatedly assured the public that the world was slowly but surely "making progress". But the reality was different: globalization intensified competition among countries, China began to rise, shale gasShale gas is found in deeply buried clayey sedimentary rock that is both the source rock and the reservoir for the gas... was developed in the United States and Fukushima stopped the expansion of nuclear powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... in its tracks. Emerging economies shifted the focus to their development needs and weighed down negotiations. GHG emissions exploded. The tone remained optimistic in the run-up to the 2009 COP 15 in Copenhagen, but the summit, attended by all the major world leaders, ended with a brutal reality check.

After the failure of Copenhagen, the U.N. process was saved by the diplomatic efforts of emerging economies calling for a bottom-up approach (which the U.S. had been pushing for from the start). Instead of rules imposed from above, the emphasis was on universal awareness and action within each country's capacity. A U.S.-China joint announcement made during Barack Obama's November 2014 visit to Beijing got the ball rolling. This new approach reached maturity in December 2015 with the Paris Agreement, the result of COP 21.

So, what happens now? While further progress is possible, care should be taken to avoid lapsing back into the "disconnected reality", or gap between words and acts, that still prevails in some areas. For example, the target of limiting the increase in temperatures to 1.5°C by the end of the century has been implicitly confirmed, but many scientists think that keeping it to even 2°C will be challenging. And promises have been made about balancing global emissions and absorption capacity by the end of the century, but no indications given on how this will be achieved.

In the real world, there are both positive and negative signs. Renewable energies are becoming more efficient and less costly. And China has signaled a desire to make a decisive change, motivated by the deadly pollution caused by its intensive coalCoal is ranked by its degree of transformation or maturity, increasing in carbon content from... use. But this will not be enough as there are still uncertainties surrounding development in India and Africa that will persist until financial aspects such as the price of carbon or the shift in speculative investment to the energy transition have been resolved.

On the other hand, the coal divestment campaign is starting to gain ground. The commitment of non-state actors including major corporations, foundations and NGOs was key to COP 21's success, and this trend may continue to develop. And national pledges, COP 21's other innovation, should be confirmed in the coming years over the course of regular meetings.

Time is of the essence. If the world is to stay within the lower range of global warmingGlobal warming, also called planetary warming or climate change... estimates, this movement will have to pick up pace and act while there is still time.

Amy Dahan is a mathematician and science historian who currently serves as Emeritus Research Director at the French National Institute for Scientific Research (CNRS). Since 2002, she has led an international, multidisciplinary research team studying the scientific, political and epistemological aspects of climate change. Dahan is also the co-author (with Stefan Aykut) of 'Gouverner le climat ? Vingt ans de négociations internationales' (Presses de Sciences Po, 2015).

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Jean-Pascal van Ypersele Ph.D. in physics , Professor of Climatology and Environmental Sciences at Belgium's Catholic University of Louvain

"However, some countries have already made the achievement of their targets contingent on receiving international aid. "

Climate Action: A Long and Winding Road between Summits

The Paris AgreementOil contract under which the oil that is produced is shared between the state and the oil company... adopted at the COP 21 climate conference in December 2015 is scheduled to take effect in 2020, but a number of potentially challenging issues and milestones lay along the way, including ratification, entry into force, international financing and national pledges. Trust will be a key success factor in getting past them. Dr. Jean‑Pascal van Ypersele, Professor at the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL), and Vice‑Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)Body established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988... from 2008 to 2015, offers his analysis in this article.

The Paris Agreement on climate change was made possible by a resurgence of trust between developing and developed nations. Finding tangible ways to bolster this trust will be essential moving forward, as we embark on the long road to achieving the COP 21 target of limiting the average global temperature rise to 2°C – if not 1.5°C – above pre-industrial levels.

The first major step is the ratification of the Agreement by the various signatory states, which will not be completed by the COP 22 summit in Marrakesh, Morocco. While the Kyoto ProtocolInternational agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change... is not comparable in all respects, it is useful to note that nearly eight years passed between its adoption in December 1997 and its entry into force in 2005. And during that period, it lost the backing of the world's biggest greenhouse gas (ghg) Gas with physical properties that cause the Earth's atmosphere to warm up. There are a number of naturally occurring greenhouse gases... (GHG) emitter at the time, the United States.

The reason for the long delay was that several countries waited for all of the protocol's implementation rules and clauses to be crystal clear and precisely determined before making a commitment. Even at the time, trust was an issue... Granted, the Paris Agreement does not lay down any all‑encompassing, internationally negotiated emissions reduction figures, instead opting for voluntary national pledges. However, some countries have already made the achievement of their targets contingent on receiving international aid. To cite one example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has pledged to make ambitious GHG emissions reductions by cutting back on deforestation. But a large percentage of these targets are dependent on the DRC receiving substantial aid in return. Depending on what international rules are adopted for calculating the CO2See Carbon Dioxid absorption capacity of forests and vegetation, this aid could be less (or more) than planned, casting doubt on the DRC's commitment.

Another highly sensitive trust issue between North and South is how industrialized countries will finance the efforts of developing economies. At the 2009 Copenhagen Summit, countries agreed on the principle of allocating $100 billion per year to a special fund by 2020. This figure was confirmed in the Paris Agreement, and even defined as a minimum "floor" for the following years. This is not a large commitment when compared with international financial flows. But developing economies still have justifiable doubts about this "Green Climate Fund", and wonder whether it will be entirely made up of fresh money or merely topped up by "relabeled" development aid. If the promised financing is either not forthcoming or not efficiently spent, it will destroy the fragile trust that the Paris Agreement rebuilt among developing economies.

Trust, however, is a two-way street. Another traditionally sensitive issue is reassuring industrialized nations that their developing counterparts are accurately calculating their GHG emissions. Those who rightly request more details on the financing mechanisms should, in the same interest of trust, allow their emissions to be monitored. The issue of monitoring is, however, likely to change in the future as satellites and algorithms make it possible to measure emissions with increasing accuracy and comprehensively map global emissions.

Jean-Pascal van Ypersele holds a Ph.D. in physics and is currently Professor of Climatology and Environmental Sciences at Belgium's Catholic University of Louvain. He was Vice‑Chair of Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) when it was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Al Gore, and served as the organization's Vice-Chair from 2008 to October 2015. After a narrow defeat in the election for IPCC Chair, Dr. van Ypersele continues to take part at various levels in international initiatives against climate change. In late 2015, he released a book entitled 'Une vie au cœur des turbulences climatiques' (Éditions de Boeck).

(Photo by J. Delorme, UCL)

 

 

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