COP 21: The "Non-Paper"

The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, seen through smog pollution.  Photo: Olya Sanakoev

The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, seen through smog pollution.  Photo: Olya Sanakoev

From November 30 to Dec 11 member states of the United Nations will convene in Paris in the hopes of coming away with a meaningful global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stem the tide of climate change.  The 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (known more simply as "COP 21") is shaping up to be a historic event, for better or worse, in part because so much is riding on the agreement.  There are myriad statistics and evidence that climate change impacts will affect virtually everyone on the planet, some at very high cost.  

Recognizing this, most parties have already made commitments to the Paris Agreement in the form of "Intended Nationally Determined Contributions" (INDCs).  The INDCs represent each country's commitment in terms of GHG emissions reductions.  The United States, for example, has pledged to reduce its emissions by 26% by 2025 (using 2005 as the baseline year).  So far 119 countries have submitted their INDCs, including all industrialized nations, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, and South Africa.  There aren't many big players left who haven't made a commitment yet, which is a good sign.  On the other hand, it's unlikely that the combined commitments are enough to meaningfully combat climate change:

It has been calculated that these INDCs would still mean a planetary warming of 3 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, overshooting an international commitment by one degree.
A recent study by Stern and others also shows that the reduction pledges from the US, European Union, and China – who together account for 45% of global emissions – will miss by almost double the 2030 target of 35 gigatons of CO2e emissions.

Last week I attended a Climate Reality workshop with former Vice President Al Gore, who admitted that when he first heard that countries would be able to come up with their own GHG emissions reductions targets, he thought it was a terrible idea.  But he's since reconsidered, in part because it appears that the freedom and ownership countries have to determine their own INDCs has fostered meaningful participation in the COP 21 process.  I tend to agree, though the text of the agreement itself may still play a large role in determining how well these INDCs (and future actions) combat climate change.

This week the Paris Agreement "Non-Paper" (known more colloquially as "the first draft") was released to the public.  It has been reduced from 80 pages to 20, and naturally, some important material has been left out:

“[This] new text has left out a significant piece of the climate change solution puzzle: forests. The land-use sector accounts for about 10 percent of annual global emissions,” said Gustavo Silva-Chávez, Program Manager for the Forest Trends’  Expenditures Tracking Initiative (REDDX).

Another important sector not directly addressed in the non-paper?  Energy.  And an ambitious requirement that 100% of the world's energy be provided by renewable energy by 2050 was also removed.  Of course, since this is the first draft and negotiations have scarcely begun, the key operational elements of the text have not been resolved either.  The difference between "shall" and "should," for example, is fairly significant.  Here's a snippet of the text:

The full text of the non-paper can be viewed here.  I will be following and attending the COP 21 negotiations.  Stay tuned.