Only a few weeks remain before a comprehensive climate agreement is on the agenda at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.
Six years after the U.N.’s failed Copenhagen Summit, achieving a compromise hasn’t gotten any easier. That was evident this week in Bonn, Germany, where negotiators are working through the agreement line by line.
Still, the mood hasn’t been this positive for a long time.
How is that possible? Haven’t global carbon emissions continued to increase significantly since 2009? Don’t the climate plans submitted by 150 nations so far assume a rise in temperature that is already above previous threshold goals?
Non-governmental organizations, scientists and vanguards of climate policy such as the European Union already have enough reason to complain. But now, the benchmarks have simply been lowered. That has opened the way for pragmatic progress, though hardly anyone wants to admit that openly.
The 2011 U.N. Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa laid out the task comprehensively. A global treaty is slated to be adopted by 2015 in which all countries participate, and that makes it possible to limit the increase of temperature to two degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to pre-industrial age levels. Scientists say that a further increase would result in irreversible and possibly catastrophic damage to the environment.
Twenty-three years after the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted, we are experiencing a shift of paradigms.
But during the course of negotiations, the E.U. was forced to realize that it couldn’t insist on all of its conditions being fulfilled. Otherwise Paris would be just as spectacular a failure as Copenhagen. Climate diplomacy would lose it legitimacy once and for all.
For that reason, new priorities have been set. The comprehensive integration of all countries into the treaty is now more important than the level of its ambition.
If the parties involved insisted on emission reductions necessary to meet the 2C limit, the Europeans would be left standing alone, as was already the case with the Kyoto Protocol (the first major global climate deal signed back in 1997, but without the participation of the U.S. or China).
While the European Union would once again have demonstrated that it is on the right side of the debate, it would do nothing toward protecting the global climate.
So the opposite path was taken. The main task has been to get the world’s biggest CO2 offenders – the United States, China and India – out of their state of denial and motivated to promote a more dynamic climate policy.
But that had its price. Since the Americans and the emerging nations reject a system of reduction goals that are mandatory under international law, the new approach was based on voluntary action. Every government reports their planned contribution to an international climate agreement to the U.N. and to negotiate it in Paris – nothing more. Although a periodic assessment of the national goals will be agreed upon at the climate summit, no government can be forced to make adjustments in the future.
Nevertheless, 23 years after the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted, we are experiencing a shift of paradigms.
A genuinely political model is establishing itself in climate diplomacy. “Saving” the global climate and being strictly guided by science are no longer the focus. Instead, the options and limitations of the negotiating process come first.
The goal isn’t to achieve what would be most ecologically desirable, but focusing on what is actually politically and economically feasible.
International climate policy is finally growing up.
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