In the lead up to Paris we have heard in constant refrain the need for Paris to make “meaningful action on climate change” that Paris “must be a success” and that it has to represent “real progress.” But the agreement is really just a PDF. That’s it. A meaningful, successful, world-saving PDF. So, just to be clear: the future of the world is in a text that is boring as hell, made through a hellish process (to quote Venezuela), in which you must navigate a thick, impenetrable forest of words (to quote Malaysia), that is so allergenic it makes your eye-lids puffy (to quote China). The antidote: as wonkish as it is, if you want to craft your opinions on the Paris outcome, you’ve got to do some Bracketology.
Here are some examples: single words making it out of the bracket-mess can make a real, substantive difference. For example, if a paragraph says that Developed (read rich) countries [shall][should] provide money, [shall] means that they have to do it, while [should] means it’s really just a suggestion. Take your pick. Secondly, the current draft Text includes a section that refers to countries acting [on the basis of respect for human rights and the promotion of gender equality.] This line was a major issue yesterday, with Norway, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Canada expressing opposition, earning condemnation from many sides. Part of the reason for this intense focus is that this is about more than just semantics: If this phrase stays in the final agreement, it would mean that this requirement would follow all actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change, This means that the provisions of billions upon billions of dollars of funds in the future, would have to take into account issues of gender equality and human rights. (And I guess they think that’s a bad thing.)
The point of Bracketology is that text matters. (Don’t text while driving)
1. Review Frequency Right now, all the emissions reduction pledges (called INDCs) in the world do not get us to less than the 2°C warming target (or the 1.5°C warming target if you ask small island states and African states, students, Al Gore, NGOs, sane people who don’t like millions of people dying, and many others). If you add up all that’s on the table right now you get to somewhere between 2.7°C and 3.5°C warming. No matter what, the Paris Outcome alone will not realize the goal of avoiding dangerous climate change. Everyone here knows this. The question is: What rules are going to be written now for how often and under what circumstances countries have to increase their ambition, and make pledges to do more? Collectively these rules are known as the ratcheting mechanism. As numerous observers are suggesting, a strong ratcheting mechanism could take the progress on climate change represented by the pledges received in Paris and ratchet them down (or up?) over time in order to avoid dangerous climate change of the 2°C variety.
If a review of pledges happens every two years, every five years, or every ten years, that would make a big difference on the trajectory of global emissions, because the scientific evidence is quite clear that the next twenty years make all the difference in the world in determining our future. The good news is that most countries are coalescing around a review frequency of five years, which seems to have broad support. The “five years” is even out of the shackles of brackets in the latest text (though technically it is still in an “Option” that could be rejected).
The questions that remain are about when that review cycle starts (2020? 2021? 2024?) and, in particular, whether there is a requirement that each new pledge actually be a pledge to do more, and what drives those requirements. Take a look at the brackets in the text as of today:
Each Party’s successive pledge [shall][should][will] represent a progression beyond the Party’s previous efforts and reflect its highest possible ambition [based on common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities [[and] in light of different national circumstances [and best available science]] [based on provision of finance, technology and capacity-building to developing countries].
2. Long Term Goal. What is the world trying to get to in terms of emissions? Officially and obviously, it’s a world that avoids humans messing with the climate in a way that is “dangerous”. Beyond the disagreements about whether or not we should aim for global average temperature increase [below 1.5°C] [or] [well below 2°C] the goal of all countries in the world will be some combination of the following:
(a) [A peaking of global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible[, recognizing that peaking requires deeper cuts of emissions of developed countries and will be longer for developing countries]]
(b) [Rapid reductions thereafter [in accordance with best available science] to at least a X [-Y] per cent reduction in global [greenhouse gas emissions][CO2[e]] compared to 20XX levels by 2050]]
(c) [Achieving zero global GHG emissions by 2060-2080]
(d) [A long-term low emissions transformation] [toward [climate neutrality] [decarbonization] [over the course of this century] [as soon as possible after mid-century]
(e) [Equitable distribution of a global carbon budget based on historical responsibilities and [climate] justice]
(f) [A long-term low emissions transformation] [toward [climate neutrality] [decarbonization] [over the course of this century] [as soon as possible after mid-century]
That’s quite a menu of pretty impressive ambitious goals. If the COP text matters at all, then each number or place-holder number in the Text above matters a lot to the pathway of global emissions reductions. The words matter, too. If the long-term goal is [climate neutrality] this would allow for the use of carbon offsets of fossil emisisons, whereas [decarbonization] would not.
3. Finance: One of the big dust-ups at Paris earlier this week was the insertion of a new proposal of language on who should have to pay for adapting to climate change and reducing emissions. The proposal came from the United States and allied rich “Developed” countries, known as the “Umbrella Group”:
[Parties in a position to do so, including developed country Parties, should provide support to assist developing country Parties in need of support with respect to both mitigation and adaptation.]
This really raised the hackles of many poorer “developing” countries, who want something more along the lines of:
[Developed country Parties…shall provide new and additional, adequate, predictable, accessible, sustained and scaled-up financial resources to developing countries to enhance actions with respect to both mitigation and adaptation to contribute to achievement of the [objective][purpose] of this Agreement, based on the principles and in accordance with the provisions of the Convention.]
The difference is that in the first option, all countries with financial means are suggested to contribute money, but in the second, all rich countries have to give money.
4. Transparency. COP21 is about how to package together the INDC pledges. The transparency issue is about what the rules are going to be for how countries have to report the progress on their emissions reductions pledges. This has all sorts of implications for the use of carbon markets, offsets, and accountability in general. In particular, the question here is whether or not there is a single standard format of emissions reporting that all countries will and must follow (the U.S. position), or whether there will be different degrees of specificity for different countries (the position of many developing countries). Currently, the rules themselves are not on the table, but the question is whether the yet-to-be-written emissions reporting requirements should take
[into account their common but differentiated responsibilities and their specific national and regional development priorities, objectives, and circumstances]
This is the age-old battle of the UN climate meetings, written out in the latest text that writes the future.
in Environment and Resources.