So it’s Conference Eve here in Paris at the UN conference on climate change, and a new draft text Agreement has just been released…
Unsurprisingly to all, not many people are happy with it. Let me tell you why. Although I feel I must give a Lemony Snicket-esque warning here, what you are about to read will not make you happy.
I lied, going in order of the text, actually the first point is pretty good, all things considered.
Human Rights and other moral principles
In what is known as the preamble, the following paragraphs are included:
‘Acknowledging that climate change is a common concern to humankind, Parties should, when developing policies and taking action to address climate change, promote, respect and take into account their respective obligations on human rights,
Also acknowledging the importance for Parties, when taking action to address climate change, to promote, respect and consider, in accordance with their respective obligations, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity, ‘
As far as I understand it, intergenerational equity, the rights of future generations, has not been included in international law before, so this sets a good precedent. And it’s great that all of these are in the text, as at one point it was in doubt.
However, that’s about where the good news stops.
Human rights and gender equality used to be in Article 2.2, an ‘operative’ part of the text, which basically means it would be legally binding. Human rights include the basic right for humans to a decent, safe life. Half of the world’s population are female, however climate change affects 4 females for every 1 male. Gender equality is therefore paramount to an equitable deal.
These have now been removed to give just the following:
‘This Agreement [will be implemented on the basis of] [reflects] equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.’
Many countries last night when commenting on progress made on the previous draft text called for human rights to stay in the operative part of the text, and one said that the whole agreement was basically agreeing a human right. It should be a fundamental part of the agreement. There is also no reference to human rights in relation to adaptation (Article 4.5), which was also called for; although this section does mention gender-responsive adaptation which is something.
New text says:
‘Hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C, recognizing that this would significantly reduce risks and impacts of climate change’
This is simply unacceptable to a lot of climate vulnerable countries who are feeling the effects of climate change right now. Many countries called last night for a limit of 1.5 degrees warming, and made it clear this was a red line for them. As the delegate from South Sudan said, ‘climate change is already destroying lives and livelihoods’ and the average temperature is still well under 1.5. The delegate from Nigeria said it was a matter of living a life of dignity, others said it was a matter of life and death.
This has been my personal interest at COP, and now says:
‘In order to achieve the long-term global temperature goal set in Article 2 of this Agreement, Parties aim to reach the peaking of greenhouse house gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter towards reaching greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century on the basis of equity and guided by science in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.’
GHG neutrality is nowhere near strong enough language, and we need zero emissions by 2050. Although it was highly unlikely that anything that ambitious would actually make it into the final text, having no quantitative measurement (like a percentage reduction since industrial levels or a date to do this by) is particularly weak. The word neutrality also allows for countries to use negative emissions technology like Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), a technology which has not yet been proven, or biomass which is a whole other issue in itself!
The mention of peaking emissions ASAP is great, but again does not have any quantitative measurement on it.
Loss and Damage:
This is not my area of expertise, but I know is a very important issue to many, and has been a huge sticking point in the negotiations for several years. Essentially I understand it to be a mechanism to provide support, mainly financial, for those that have suffered from climate change. The main sticking points being developed countries don’t want to have to give out compensation, and that it’s pretty difficult to determine which extreme weather events are actually directly caused by climate change. On the other hand countries who are being affected now by much more extreme storms etc. are suffering loss and damage caused by a problem they did not create.
There are many option and brackets still around L&D, although it does appear that it will get its own Article instead of being lumped together with adaptation, with the very minimum text being:
‘ Parties recognize the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme events and slow onset events, and the role of sustainable development in reducing the risk of loss and damage. ‘
And there’s so much more, but that’s all I’ve been following, and I think that’s enough for one day!
Still, it’s not over yet…