The Paris Climate Talks: Anatomy of the Negotiations



As the citizens of France and the world mourned the loss of life in Paris in the wake of the November 13 attacks, it was troubling note the apparent parallels between the inability of the global policy community to combat both religious extremism and climate change in the lead up to the Paris climate talks (COP 21). A global menace, years in the making, largely created by the industrialised nations, reached a point where its catastrophic consequences demanded an international response. Millions of people in the less developed world have been drawn into the conflagration, and hundreds of thousands more displaced. Yet the intergovernmental regime, and the United Nations in particular, seemed powerless to do anything, paralysed by a bizarre set of mutually incompatible interests. Seeing an existential threat to their own way of life, countries that could easily have helped alleviate the suffering of ordinary civilians, squabbled amongst themselves…

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COP 21: Time for a reality check


IMG_8022Photo: Cadman 2015

As the climate talks enter their last few days in the dreary and windswept Parisian suburban town of Le Bourget, a few things are finally coming into focus – despite most of the main negotiating text, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) still being in square brackets [i.e. no consensus].

There will be no legally binding agreement. It would be nice to be proved wrong, but this appears to be the overwhelming conclusion of most negotiators. This is the sadly predictable trend that has been emerging out of all UN sustainability initiatives since the first Rio ‘Earth’ Summit of 1992. The push is all for voluntarism, and if enforced at all, by private certification agencies, governed by self-determined standards. The nationally determined contributions (NDCs)to reducing emissions have to date remained, despite earlier fears, but with no legally binding provisions, and the push for…

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Already sinking? Climate talks hit negotiating iceberg


Iceberg2Photo: Gibbings 2015

The twenty first Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 21) begins its second week today, and the negotiations are foundering.

The sticking points that emerged in the wake of the past few months’ discussions in the lead up to the ‘climate talks that must not fail’ have become entrenched. The developing countries, largely represented by the Brazil and China, and the ‘Like Minded Developing Countries’ (the LMDCs), marshalled by Bolivia, are insisting that the nationally determined contributions to reducing emissions should not be included in the final agreement to come out of Paris. And they appear to have recruited the US to their cause.

The anticipated agreement, previously and somewhat optimistically referred to as the ‘Paris Accord’ or ‘Paris Treaty’ is in serious jeopardy of delivering no binding targets on greenhouse gas emissions. This would be a terrible outcome. Not…

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Paris climate talks: deja vu (again)?


IMG_1583Photo: Cadman 2015

Week one of the climate talks is now in full swing. The world leaders, having made their impassioned pleas around the theme ‘we must take action before it’s too late’ have moved on to the next summit, and the negotiators are back in charge.  At this point, things tend to revert to familiar – but somewhat depressing – COP behaviour. It can only be hoped that the political posturing which usually makes up the rest of week one, will be replaced by a greater sense of urgency, and commitment to new ways of thinking (and acting) next week.

The Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDCs), a somewhat volatile sub-grouping within the G77, represent some of those countries most impacted by climate change, including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Sudan. It is an eclectic assortment, and also incorporates China and Bolivia (who are often the most outspoken) as well as various oil countries, such as Saudi Arabia…

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Lost shoes and teargas highlight mixed messages from Paris


IMG_1546Photo: Cadman 2015

Amidst scenes of chaos and confusion, it is possible to discern the deeply divided nature of the response of Parisians and the world to the climate negotiations taking place in France’s capital city over the next two weeks.

After the November 13 terrorist attacks the French government banned the ‘Marche Climat’, which, it was predicted, would have over one million participants. Instead, those wishing to attend left shoes, and the Place de la Republique quickly filled up with these poignant reminders of the impact on democracy that the latest attacks have had. Four tonnes of shoes, organised by

But today people still came regardless. By midday there were 4,500 attendees, who created a human chain; within half an hour it was 10,000. Then came the teargas and police squads as the area was evacuated, and the subway station shut down. By four in the afternoon it…

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Hot-button issues in the climate talks


Photo: Coral ‘bommie’, Michaelmas Cay, Great Barrier Reef (Cadman 2015)

With the Paris climate conference less than twenty four hours away, sources identify several key issues that have emerged in preliminary talks.

Most governmental Parties to the Convention (155 so far) have now submitted their nationally determined contributions to reducing emissions and keeping global temperatures within the 2 degrees centigrade recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Sources indicate that the aggregate number of contributions now reaches approximately 90% of the target required to prevent dangerous climate change, to be implemented between now and 2020. This is cause for some cautious optimism that countries are beginning to recognise the need for climate action. However, this is also to be tempered by the reality that how these reductions will be implemented will probably be the most significant challenge for negotiators over the next two weeks.

Climate finance has been a historical source of conflict between the developed and less developed countries during the Conferences of the Parties (COPs). Finance for capacity building (including technology) is essential if activities aimed at stoping climate change (mitigation) and coping with it (adaptation) are to be implemented effectively. Given the present reality of climate change for small island developing states (SIDS), increased funding for responding to exisiting and future sea level rise is essential.

This leads on to another contentious discussion, that of climate change-related loss and damage. This is a separate negotiating stream, and one that has been pushed by the SIDS (especially Tuvalu) for several years, and while it is good to see that it has been a formal Convention mechanism since Warsaw COP 19, discussions are still not especially advanced, and developed countries, who are afraid they will will end up paying for their own emissions legacy have been reluctant to fund any formal arrangements for redress.

However, on the mitigation front, sources also indicate that it is unlikely that any final decision will be arranged over the fate of the Clean development Mechanism, the one (relatively) successful market mechanism aimed at reducing emissions. However, strong emissions reduction targets will make it more likely that the CDM will continue, as methods for trading ‘offsets’ have so far proven to work – methodologically, at least, even if the current value of carbon is not especially high.

But the hand of negotiators will only be strengthened if there is sufficient external pressure on their political overlords from civil society and business. So far, there has been strong engagement from these stakeholders. It is hoped that this will maintain the dynamism of the discussions, and push the transformation of the global economy away from fossil fuel dependence and towards a deeply ‘decarbonised’ future.

One unifying ‘meta issue’ connected to all these negotiating elements is the extent to which anything that comes out of Paris will be subject to good governance. At the moment exiting compliance and enforcement under the Kyoto Protocol is something of a toothless tiger. Without it, everything may go up in smoke.

Visit to navigate your way through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

Taking (carbon) stock of the Paris climate negotiations in the wake of November 13


As the citizens of France and the world mourn the loss of life in Paris earlier this month at the hands of misguided fanatics, it is troubling note the parallels between the inability of the global policy community to combat both religious extremism and climate change. Consider the following scenario. A global menace, that has been years in the making, largely created by the industrialised nations, has reached a point where its catastrophic consequences demand an international response. Millions of people in the less developed world are drawn into the conflagration, and hundreds of thousands more are displaced. Yet the intergovernmental regime, and the United Nations in particular, seems powerless to do anything, paralysed by a bizarre set of mutually incompatible interests. Seeing an existential threat to their own way of life, countries that could easily help alleviate the suffering of ordinary civilians squabble amongst themselves, and hide behind their own increasingly militarised borders. This in turn only serves to exacerbate regional tensions as affected populations become ever more desperate to flee the escalating situation, angered and embittered by the lack of action. The inevitable consequences: more conflict, and more people on the move. Spot the difference?

As the twenty-first Conference and Meeting of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change approaches, the scenario outlined above seems ever more likely. The endless round of pre-negotiations referred to as the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), and the two work streams, focusing on the 2015 agreement, and the post 2020 ambition have not yet brought anything substantive to the table. There is still no indication as to whether the now-expired Kyoto Protocol will be replaced by a ‘protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force’. In addition, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions do not look as if they will be enough to limit global temperatures to the 1.5 degrees centigrade increase above pre-industrial levels recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Given the results of the 2013 national assessments of greenhouse gas emissions by sources and removals prepared for the Bonn mid-year negotiations, this does not come as a surprise. But it does come as a bitter disappointment. It is hardly unexpected that Australia, which negotiated an emissions increase for itself above the 1990 base year, delivered on its promise. Given the current Federal Government’s love affair with coal-fired power, it should also be no surprise that the increase should come from the energy sector. But it is none the less alarming when it is taken into consideration that over 1.4 million small-scale solar systems are now installed in homes and business across the country, accounting for 2% of electricity generated. More disappointing, is a comparison with Austria, conveniently located next to Australia in the reporting tables, which despite a previous commitment to reducing them by 19%, exceeded its emissions target by 22% (OECD Economic Survey 2013: 130), despite actively participating in the European Union Emissions Trading System.

Is there any light at the end of the tunnel? The Clean Development Mechanism, one of the Kyoto Protocol’s ‘flexible’ mechanisms, has registered over 7,000 projects in developing countries, which it claims have led to over 1.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide being ‘offset’ from activities in developed countries, and purchased by companies to meet national carbon reduction targets. However, the fate of the CDM is caught up in the negotiations to take place in Paris. Despite some initial teething problems, its robust project design methodologies, and accounting procedures have injected some rigour into emissions trading. But it is not well loved by NGOs, who claim abuses of human rights in some projects, and it might be argued, by some developing countries, which favour non-market mechanisms (Cadman 2014).

This good news is overshadowed by industrialised country posturing over who pays for the damage inflicted on low-lying countries by sea-level rise from historical emissions of greenhouse gasses. The Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage has been another of the negotiating streams that seeks to address issues associated with the impacts of climate change, but the idea of compensation was blocked by Australia and Britain in 2013. There seems to be no progress in the wake of this year’s negotiations in Bonn, despite a further meeting in September, and without it, the legitimacy of the climate deal has been questioned. Given that the Syrian crisis has been partly linked to drought induced by global warming, the need for an equitable solution to both the mass movement of people and climate change is all the more pressing.

But it is also easier to blame the climate negotiators for lack of action, than it is to confront the massive complexity that finding a solution poses. With 196 signatories, including the EU as a region, and over 300 institutional elements, agreements, organisations, bodies, and formal and informal groupings it is amazing anything gets done at all. Perhaps a global convention to combat religious extremism is not such a bad idea.