A new draft agreement was released this morning, with delegates given only two and a half hours to read it before they had to be on form and ready to debate its contents. Options are being whittled away, pages are being dropped, and the all-important language feels as impenetrable as ever.
So, beyond the high-level talk of degrees and obligations, what does this agreement actually mean?
Picture the Paris Agreement as a large house, due to be built in 2020. The diplomats and governments are the architects, the agreement text is the blueprint, and ‘pre-2020 ambition’ is the plan we’ll use to actually physically build the house over the next five years.
The debates taking place are about everything from the type of wood, to the shape of the bathroom, to which country will do the most physical building – and if we don’t figure out how to build this house, we will have nowhere to live.
Each draft that gets presented is another, more refined blueprint – but, while some bits of the blueprint are agreed upon enough to be drawn on in pen, the majority is still in pencil (bracketed); and often, there is more than one option for how each room will look.
President of COP21 Laurent Fabius, when presenting the text, considered differentiation, finance, and ambition to be the main unresolved options. Let’s break that down.
Differentiation is the debate that underpins who will be responsible for doing the bulk of the leg work for solving the climate crisis. It’s largely a question of how much responsibility wealthy developed countries should take, versus developing countries.
Its resolution will determine who is responsible for financing the world’s transition away from fossil fuels, funding adaptation initiatives to prepare countries for climate change, and assisting countries who are already feeling the effects. Determining who should take responsibility isn’t easy – as it relies on a messy combination of past grievances, historical responsibility, and development potential.
When we take it back to the house, differentiation alludes to how we decide who is going to do the hard labour of building the house – will the job be equally distributed amongst countries? Or should developed countries, for whom it is considerably easier to build, bear the most burden? Developing countries maintain that it is more difficult for them to labour over the house, while developed countries believe everyone has the same part to play.
Finance is fairly obvious – who will pay to fix the world.
This includes how we pay for various aspects of the agreement, including adaptation and loss and damage. The Green Climate Fund is the most obvious example, and countries have a goal committing a total of USD$100b every year from 2020.
When we look at our COP21 house, finance asks who will pay for the building materials. If we want a house that is stable and long-lasting, developed countries (i.e. the ones who can afford it) need to not skimp on the materials.
Finally, there’s ambition – how big, how large, and how grand will our house be? Will it be a feat of architecture, spanning acres, with solid foundations and the ability to renovate every five years (in climate-speak, that’s the ‘ratchet up mechanism’, referring to countries increasing their climate target)? Or will it be small, dingy, unstable, and stuck with the plans we’ve got now (meaning our climate targets will be set in stone)?
New Zealand, unfortunately, is pushing for the smallest, structurally weakest house we can possibly get – in fact, it’s proposing that countries don’t even have to build a house (they’re pushing for a non-binding agreement), and has absolutely no plan for how New Zealand will build their part of it. While we’ve finally conceded that the agreement must have a goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, we’re doing absolutely nothing to help keep the world below this limit.
Often, there’s the perception that any house is a good house – but that simply isn’t true, and the same can be said of the agreement. We don’t just want an agreement, with the same failures and inadequacies that we saw at Copenhagen, we want an agreement that is strong, binding, and truly reflective of the disparities between who has caused climate change and who will feel its effects.
As we move into the final days of the negotiations, the Green Party is asking the Government to step up from rhetoric to real action. Commit to a domestic plan, advocate for an early review of climate targets, and stop kicking domestic emission cuts down the road by trading on dodgy carbon credits.
Want more info? Take a look at this overview from Carbon Brief, this outline of the 6 White-Haired men deciding our future, this Buzzfeed look at Fossil of the Day, this update-filled Twitter account, and this graph-filled website that analyses the text.