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The Paris Agreement on Climate Change – What can we expect?

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(This article originally published here)

Earlier this month in Bonn, Germany, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held its last round of talks to prepare the text for the Climate Change Summit to be held in December in Paris, France to finalise a new Paris Agreement at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21). 

The draft of the text going forward to COP21 in December is now ready, and the final round of negotiations will now take place in December in Paris.

Some of the key outstanding issues that need to be resolved in Paris if there is to be a successful outcome:

Legal status of the Paris Agreement
There are going to be two sets of texts negotiated (and hopefully agreed on) in Paris. The first is a shorter document to be called the Paris Agreement which sets in motion the next phase of actions to tackle climate change from 2020 onwards. This document is likely to be a legally binding agreement that may require ratification by national legislatures for it to come into force by 2020.

A second set of decisions will also be agreed for more near term actions before 2020 and these will be in the form of simple COP decisions, which will not require ratification by national parliaments.

Mitigation ambition level
Many countries, including Bangladesh, have prepared and submitted their national climate change plans (called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs in UNFCCC’s jargon). These plans set out the level of mitigation actions that each country is prepared to undertake. In the case of developing countries, they have proposed two sets of actions; one that the country can do on its own and a second more ambitious set of actions which they can undertake if they receive financial and technological assistance.

Over 150 countries have already submitted their plans, which is a very encouraging sign. The less encouraging sign is that the level of global ambition (when all the plans are added up) leads to 3 degrees Celsius temperature rise, which is still too high.

 

Long term goal
The level of ambition is linked to the long term goal for the Paris Agreement which is a contentious topic where vulnerable developing countries, including Bangladesh, are arguing for a long term temperature goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius and others, including China and India want to keep the current goal of 2 degrees Celsius. This will be a critical issue in Paris.

Adaptation
Developing countries, led by the Africa Group have been arguing for an adaptation goal similar to the mitigation goal. This would elevate adaptation, which is of greater concern to the vulnerable developing countries, to the same level as mitigation. This has also not been agreed upon yet and will have to be resolved in Paris.

Loss and damage
This is a highly political issue that is a strong demand from the developing countries and which the rich countries are resisting strongly as well. The Bonn draft text has one option proposed by all the developing countries for recognising and dealing with loss and damage from climate change, and another option – put forward by Switzerland – on behalf of some developed countries to delete all reference to it. This will be one of the more contentious issues to be dealt with in Paris.

Finance
The last and most important issue is always finance. The good news is that developed countries have already agreed that they would provide US$ 100 billion a year from 2020 onwards to developing countries to help them tackle climate change. There has also been an agreement on the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to be the channel for most of these funds. The GCF Board has also made a laudable decision to allocate half their funds for adaptation and half for mitigation and also to prioritise the most vulnerable countries for adaptation support.

However, what is still to be agreed upon is how the $50 billion for adaptation is to be delivered with the GCF being unable to deliver any money yet, and in an even more troubling move, are offering loans instead of grants to vulnerable developing countries for adaptation projects. As far as the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group are concerned, loans are not acceptable and it is also preferred that grants be channeled for now through the existing and fully functioning LDC fund rather than the GCF.

Bangladesh’s role
The Bangladesh delegation at both technical as well as political levels has acquired considerable knowledge and capacity to negotiate over the years and is fully prepared to play its part both within the LDC Group as well as bilaterally.

At the moment, there is a good deal of cautious optimism that the Paris Agreement will be a reality as everyone remembers the failure of Copenhagen six years ago, and no one wants a repetition of that. President Hollande of France, who will host the summit, is going out of his way to consult with all countries (he sent his Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to Bangladesh a few weeks ago), in order to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and incorporated in the Paris Agreement in December.

 

Written by: Dr. Saleemul Huq, Director, ICCCAD

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