Sunday, October 4, 2015

Road to Paris

Paris is mentioned nowhere in the Pope's encyclical Lautato Si'. Yet it is everywhere. By all accounts the Paris Climate Change Conference in December is the primary reason for the timing of the encyclical's release earlier this year and of the Papal visit to the U.S. and the U.N. last month. The central message is that the world must act decisively and we must do so now to address the environmental and social crises we face, especially that of climate change. We are called to repentance and moral action at all levels from individuals on up. Internationally the Paris talks, just a few weeks away, are front and center. The whole world is watching expectantly.

But why is the Paris conference so critical? It occurred to me that most of us know so little about how we got to this point, and much of what I had been aware in the past I have forgotten, so I decided to dig deeper. In what follows, I use acronyms to save space, but you can see what the acronyms stand for by hovering your cursor over each one.

1972. The Stockholm Declaration was issued by the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNEP).

1988. The IPCC was established by two UN organizations, the WMO and the UNEP to provide an internationally accepted authority on climate change, producing reports which have the agreement of leading climate scientists and the consensus of participating governments.

1990. The IPCC issued FAR which stated with certainty that emissions resulting from human activities are substantially increasing the atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gases, resulting on average in an additional warming of the Earth's surface. This report was the basis of the UNFCCC.

1992. "Earth Summit" (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro negotiated the UNFCCC, an international environmental treaty to "stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system". Pope Francis does mention this conference (167): "Although the summit was a real step forward, and prophetic for its time, its accords have been poorly implemented, due to the lack of suitable mechanisms for oversight, periodic review and penalties in cases of non-compliance. The principles which it proclaimed still await an efficient and flexible means of practical implementation." After 1995, the Parties to the Convention agreed to meet annually (COP).

1997, COP3. The Kyoto Protocol extended the UNFCCC to set emissions targets (in broad outline) for developed countries which are binding under international law, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. The first commitment period was from 2005-2012. The U.S. is a signatory, but has never ratified the Protocol.

2007. The IPCC issued AR4 calling for an initial target of 25 to 40 percent reductions below 1990 levels by the year 2020 and a peak and decline within the next 10-15 years.

2007, COP13. The Bali Roadmap marked a milestone in the process of international consensus building, setting forth a multilateral legal framework to address climate change. The process was acrimonious, however, with the US delegation systematically derailing negotiations throughout. In the end, the US removed its block on the final text, but the US still refused to allow numbers into the Bali Action Plan's nonbinding preamble. As a compromise, the Bali Action Plan's sole footnote refers to the volumes and page numbers where the 25 to 40 percent reductions in emissions appear in the IPCC AR4. A two-year process was outlined to finalize a binding agreement in 2009 in Copenhagen.

2009, COP15, The Copenhagen Summit. According to the Bali Road Map, a framework for climate change mitigation beyond 2012 was to have been agreed here. Expectations were high. On the final day of the conference, international media reported that the climate talks were "in disarray". In lieu of a summit collapse, The Copenhagen Accord was drafted by the United States, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. It was "taken note of", but not "adopted", in a debate of all the participating countries the next day, and it was not passed unanimously. The document recognized that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of the present day and that actions should be taken to keep any temperature increases to below 2 °C. The document is not legally binding and does not contain any legally binding commitments for reducing CO2 emissions. So much for the Bali Roadmap.

2010, COP16. The Cancún agreements were hardly disappointing after the Copenhagen fiasco, but still minimal progress was made. The agreement reiterated that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and that all parties must share a vision for long-term cooperative action in order to achieve the objective of the Convention, including the achievement of a global goal. It included a "Green Climate Fund" to assist poorer countries in financing emission reductions and adaptation, but there was no agreement on how to extend the Kyoto Protocol, or how the funds for the Green Climate Fund will be raised, or whether developing countries should have binding emissions reductions or whether rich countries would have to reduce emissions first. The agreement "fell woefully short of action needed."

Anyone see a pattern yet?

2011, COP17. The Durbin Platform: After two weeks of negotiations and a 60-hour marathon session, on the last day negotiators agreed to be part of a legally binding treaty to address global warming. The terms of the future treaty are to be defined by 2015 (COP21) and become effective in 2020. Considered by many as too little too late, this is our last best hope, which is why the Paris Climate Summit is so extremely crucial. If the world cannot reach such an agreement then, we will have committed the future of our planet to one of horror.

2012, COP18. The Doha Conference agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire at the end of 2012, until 2020, and to affirm the 2011 Durban Platform that a successor to the Protocol is set to be developed by 2015 and implemented by 2020. It also formalized the concept of "loss and damage", a recognition of liability.

2012, "RIO+20". The UNCSD is not officially part of the UNFCCC process, but in marking the twenty-anniversary of the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, it raised high expectations, only to disappoint. Pope Francis (169): "RIO+20 issued a wide-ranging but ineffectual outcome document. International negotiations cannot make significant progress due to positions taken by countries which place their national interests above the global common good. Those who will have to suffer the consequences of what we are trying to hide will not forget this failure of conscience and responsibility."

2013, COP19. Statement by WWF, Oxfam, ActionAid, the International Trade Union Confederation, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace :"Organizations and movements representing people from every corner of the Earth have decided that the best use of our time is to voluntarily withdraw from the Warsaw climate talks. The Warsaw climate conference, which should have been an important step in the just transition to a sustainable future, is on track to deliver virtually nothing."

The pattern continues.

2014. IPCC issued AR5.

  • Warming of the atmosphere and ocean system is unequivocal. Many of the associated impacts such as sea level change (among other metrics) have occurred since 1950 at rates unprecedented in the historical record.
  • There is a clear human influence on the climate.
  • It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of observed warming since 1950, with the level of confidence having increased since the fourth report.
  • The longer we wait to reduce our emissions, the more expensive it will become.

2014 September, Leaders Climate Summit. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited world leaders, from government, finance, business, and civil society to Climate Summit 2014 on 23 September in New York City to galvanize and catalyze climate action. He asked these leaders to bring bold announcements and actions to the Summit that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilize political will for a meaningful legal agreement in 2015.

2014 September, People's Climate March. The day prior to the Leaders Climate Summit, over 300,000 people (maybe 400,000) took to the streets of New York City to demand real climate action. It was endorsed by over 1500 organizations, and it has catalyzed an ongoing and growing grass roots movement around the world ever since, the People's Climate Movement.

2014 December, COP20. Work on the draft agreements for Paris began.

2015 December, COP21. "In 2015, France will be hosting and presiding the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11), otherwise known as 'Paris 2015' from November 30th to December 11th. COP21 will be a crucial conference, as it needs to achieve a new international agreement on the climate, applicable to all countries, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C. France will therefore be playing a leading international role to ensure points of view converge and to facilitate the search for consensus by the United Nations, as well as within the European Union, which has a major role in climate negotiations.".