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Elliot Diringer (Center for Climate and Energy Solutions) facilitated a forum fielding US, EU, and China climate perspectives on how this December's climate talks are to cap a four-year negotiation toward a new global climate change agreement. He provided context on how the Durban Platform sets forth a process to develop a post-2020 agreement with “legal force” that is “applicable to all.” He further framed the discussion as one struggling to bridge the pros and cons of “bottom-up” and “top-down” climate commitments. The crux of the challenge is to find a ratio of commitments and flexibility that optimizes both broad participation and ambitious follow through on targets. The national flexibility of the “bottom up” approach to climate commitments does not guarantee ambition, while “top down” climate commitments do not guarantee broad participation. The bottom up process that emerged in Copenhagen was formalized in Cancun and has seen the submission of a range of voluntary targets by countries. Both the type and levels of discretion have been left to states, in contrast to the Kyoto Protocol (“top down”) approach. The Kyoto Protocol involved greater rigor but has seen a shrinking participation rate. As “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) are announced, the open question remains whether they will add up to the scientifically required climate response. It remains to be seen whether the Paris climate talks will result in a top down / bottom up hybrid, as has been suggested by New Zealand. Formal framing of this leg of negotiations were set forth in Durban and involve pre and post 2020 commitment submissions by countries. Open issues that remain unclear include: the legal form and elements of implementation, finance, and ambition to reach the 2-degree political target (not to mention the scientific understanding that reducing global greenhouse gas emissions in a manner that lowers global temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius may not be an adequate response). Participants at the Paris climate are tasked with the challenge of ratcheting up ambition to the scientifically needed level of climate commitments.
Sue Biniaz (US Department of State) described the U.S. “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) to the UNFCCC agreement and open issues leading up to the Paris COP 21 conference. These include: the legal character of countries' contributions, how they will be differentiated, adaptation, finance for developing countries, a possible new long-term goal, and ways to raise ambition over time. Key elements include: ambition; accountability; differentiation; fairness; and long lasting broad participation. The earlier countries submit their INDCs, the greater the capacity of the international community to reach scientifically required reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Countries need to have the time to digest the submissions and ask each other for further clarifications. There is an incentive to be the last to submit and a fear of being asked to raise emissions or of being scolded for not having submitted sufficiently ambitious commitments. The United States and China presented a joint statement previewing their official targets. To date, the following countries have submitted INDCs: US, EU, Russia, Mexico, Switzerland, Norway, and Gabon. Paris priorities include establishing advanced features that provide for cycles of commitments (e.g. 5 year plans) or other means of updating climate commitments.
From the U.S. perspective, outcomes need to be:
* Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR): The U.S. position remains that loss and damages or other “ideological” differentiations are unacceptable. Numerical reductions are favored by the United States over historic responsibility accounts, according to Sue Biniaz.
Fabrice Vareille (EU mission to the United States) explained that the EU has a decreasing emissions percentage in part due to its own efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emission and in part due to other countries rising emissions. The EU has provided consistent leadership seeking to raise ambition globally. To date, the EU has set among the most ambitious targets leading up to 2020 with reductions of 20 percent from 1990 levels and has already achieved a 19 percent reduction in greenhouse gases from those levels. There is a high likelihood that the EU will substantially overshoot its own targets. All this has been possible while still achieving 45 percent growth in EU GDP. The EU seeks to reduce by 40 percent by 2030 from 1990 levels and urges the international community to look long-term not just to 2020, but also targets that are consistent with the IPCC call for a 80-95% reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In the context of ambition and fairness, the EU has a solid trajectory for long-term climate mitigation. Paris priorities for the EU include a legally binding agreement that sets forth mitigation targets of a binding nature that are applicable to all parties. Vareille emphasized that emission-reduction contributions should occur according to capabilities – not left to developed countries alone. These emissions reductions and other climate measures should be as robust as possible from the outset and there should be well developed, dynamic regulation consisting of regular reviews and a means by which to strengthen commitments to bridge the gap between aggregate targets and scientifically needed mitigation.
What should be put on table in the Paris climate talks? Key elements include (1) major economy robust mitigation; (2) broad participation (“modernize” the vehicle for applying differentiation); (3) a legal form and force that is legally robust and provides predictability for the public and private sectors tasked with implementation. Rules need to be clear and transparent; (4) Clear finance requires a clear roadmap of how the international community will continue to consistently deliver a $1 billion in climate finance annually. Finance for development need not compete with finance for climate mitigation if sustainability is taken seriously. There needs to be a meaningful assessment of the value of INDCs that does not scare state decision-makers who are currently fearful that they will be publicly called out to raise ambition beyond their internal calculations of capacity. Capacity building can involve sharing resources and best practices.
Xueman Wang (World Bank) considered China’s capacity to mitigate greenhouse gases and play a constructive role in implementing a Paris Agreement. She pointed out that both emissions and GDP have declined in China recently. After the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, China’s nuclear plans are “temporarily” on hold while renewables have slowly increased in the “war on coal and pollution.” She emphasized the challenge of addressing climate change and sustainable development in the context of the rapid urbanization that is playing such a transformative role for development and emissions in China. She emphasized how difficult it is to make accurate projections and assess the viability of targets. Given the lack of empirical information with which to assess the feasibility of targets, setting long-term commitments and a trajectory for the pace of mitigation is substantially more constrained in jurisdictions such as China then in well-resourced locations that have the numbers with which to map the climate mitigation picture. She concluded that at the end of the day climate change is not just numbers – it is also a development pathway. This was reiterated by the Indian ambassador, who emphasized India’s renewables initiative in the Q&A.
Questions in the Q&A also honed in on the degree to which the United States and China can meet their respective commitments and to what degree doing so will involve ramping up natural gas production. A discussion ensued on the role that China/United States hydraulic fracturing coordination to increase China's shale gas extraction capacity played in reaching the China/U.S. joint greenhouse gas emission reductions commitments. Sue Biniaz (U.S. Department of State) explained that the United States picked the 17 percent reduction from 2005 emissions in the context of the Waxman Markey Bill and found that they were still able to reach the same target without passage of the bill. Fabrice Vareille (EU Delegation to the United States) emphasized the need to put a price on carbon, explaining that the EU has taken on the role of explaining to the rest of the international community generally, and the United States in particular, how successful it can be to put a price on carbon. The EU carbon market mechanism is effectively helping the EU reach its international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without simply buying offsets overseas.
Elizabeth Burleson writes reports for the UN and presents on treaty making for the UN Office of Legal Affairs / UNITAR, having participated in the drafting process for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Agenda 21, and the Rio Declaration. She is an expert contributor to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).