Thursday, December 10, 2015

Optimism at COP21 Despite Disagreements on the Meaning of Differentiated Responsibilities

Hope for a climate deal is alive and well at COP21 despite different interpretations of common but differentiated responsibilities. As we approach the finish line for COP21 there have been a number of positive developments, however obstacles remain before a final deal is signed.

One of the most promising features of the first week of negotiations is the fact that a majority of those present (106 of 195) indicated their support for an upper warming threshold limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius as opposed to 2 degrees Celsius.

By no means is the signing of a robust deal a fait accompli. There are disagreements on key issues, including financing and the scale and scope of actions from large emerging economies like China and India. We still have no clear pathway for how wealthy countries intend to finance $100-billion (U.S.) a year in climate-change adaptation and mitigation measures by 2020.

The current deal also falls short when it comes to the time frame for the global energy transition. It suggests that ending our use of fossil fuels will take another 85 years before they completely phased out.

By far the most difficult issue involves the debate over historical emissions and each nation's responsibility to deal with these emissions. As yet there is no formula to determine how to differentiate the responsibility of rich and poor countries. This is a longstanding issue and it is a story of two disparate narratives.

Developing nations say that rich nations are the primary cause of global warming and as such they bear the brunt of the responsibility to address it. Wealthier nations say that their efforts will be undermined if developing nations are allowed to keep pouring more carbon into the atmosphere.

The answer is obvious to all but those at the table. It should be clear that both rich and poor nations must each do their part. It should be equally obvious that rich nations bear the larger share of the responsibility to address the climate crisis and they have the means. However, poorer nations must leapfrog over 19th century energy solutions and with the help of the developed world, procure their energy from cleaner sources.

Despite these disagreements there is reason for optimism. “We’re halfway there” said Rhea Suh of the National Resources Defense Council at a news conference on Saturday afternoon. “What a first week this has been. For the first time in history we have tabled serious and systematic action commitments from (at least) 170 countries representing 90 percent of the world’s emitters”

Suh talked about moving in the direction of a “clean energy revolution that is already attracting unprecedented levels of financing and entrepreneurialism around the world”

“I am optimistic that it will provide the momentum needed to cross the finish line with an agreement that puts us on a clear path to a sustainable, low carbon global future,” Mindy Lubber of Ceres told reporters on Saturday. ‘We will have some bickering,” said Lubber, “some hand-wringing over the next several days. But I believe, based on everything we’re seeing here, that the world is ready and the time is now.”

On Sunday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “I am optimistic and confident that we will have a universal and ambitious agreement.”

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