Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Paris: The Exposition

"What is immediately clear to everyone is that the sum of all pledges will not meet the budget. "

In symphonic form, the second movement is Exposition. The usual tempo terms are Andante (slow), Adagio (slower), and Lento (slowest). This is where we find ourselves in the first week of the Paris Climate Summit. It is going slow to slower.

The opening was grand and memorable, and although the popular press chalks that off to the French, and the World, standing tall against terrorism, it is really just how all COPs begin, with gala receptions from the host country, speakers congratulating everyone, digital fireworks displays, fine food and live music. If the first theme is grand, the second is slower and lyrical — and in a different key. 

In Haydn, Mozart, and early Beethoven, the entire Exposition is often repeated verbatim, to nail the themes down in the listener's mind. As often as not these days, the conductor will drop those repeats and just hope you buy the CD.

The opening sessions of the COP have the obligatory round of short statements by each member country which is slow, repetitious, and sleep-inducing after all the late-night parties. Tuesday has the official launch of work; resumption of the preparation of drafts for inclusion in the final document; and getting down to the nitty gritty of differences to be ironed out or papered over.

Alden Meyer at COP21 Paris
The opening statements were an interesting prelude to the coming drama for those versed in the “tells” of this kind of poker game. As Alden Meyer alluded to in his blog for the Union of Concerned Scientists after the Lima COP last year, there are many different ideas floating around about who should shoulder responsibility for the cuts in standard of living that are implied by the scientific targets. 
At COP 17 in Durban in 2011, countries agreed that the post-2020 actions to be negotiated by next year’s climate summit in Paris would be “applicable to all.”  To the U.S., other developed countries, and some developing countries as well, this phrase meant that the strict “firewall” between Annex 1 [overdeveloped] and non-Annex 1 [underdeveloping] countries would not continue in the post-2020 agreement; different countries would take on different kinds of actions, but those would be based on their capabilities and their current national circumstances, not by the binary division of the world in the 1992 Framework Convention.   
However, other countries, in particular the Like-Minded Developing Countries group continue to insist that obligations in the post-2020 agreement must be based on the Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 groupings.
Norway calls for all countries to participate in the post-2020 regime, and sees a need to “differentiate according to the actual differences among Parties, and not on the basis of fixed categories of Parties.”  Norway says that it “would expect all Parties with reasonable capacity and significant responsibility for global emissions” to put forward economy-wide emission reduction or emission limitation commitments.
Concentric Differentiation

Global Ecovillage Network strategy meeting at Place 2 Be
In contrast to the Like-Minded group, which includes China and demands that the underdeveloping be permitted to continue underdeveloping as though this were the early 20th century, Brazil, joined by Mexico, has proposed an approach it calls “concentric differentiation,” that would see all countries putting forward “quantified mitigation targets and actions.” 

Under concentric differentiation, overdeveloped countries would be expected to enact “economy-wide” reforms (a sneaky way to include the military) while the adamantly underdeveloping would be allowed sector-by-sector reforms. Naturally the US and UK are keen neither for a sharp line between North and South nor for starting to calculate their militaries' heating tab.

The Association of Independent Latin American and Caribbean countries (AILAC) and the Least-Developed Countries tend to fall into the pro-US position on this. While calling for the overdeveloped to sacrifice most, they ask for all to set ambitious goals. 

Meyer predicted:
Given the opposition of developed countries and of many developing countries to maintaining the Annex 1/non-Annex 1 groupings as the basis for obligations in the post-2020 agreement, it is clear that the position of the Like-Minded Developing Countries group is not viable.  But the notion of purely self-determined obligations is not appealing to the vast majority of countries either; while it may represent the de facto basis for the first round of commitments under the Paris agreement, there will need to be more guidance in the agreement for subsequent mitigation commitments, as well as for the provision of finance, capacity-building, and technology transfer to developing countries, if it is to be acceptable to all. The submissions from Brazil, AILAC, Mexico, the Least-Developed Countries and others have much to offer in this regard.
What is going on now is the tallying of the commitment ledgers, reading through the INDC submissions of those that made their submissions and prodding those that have not. What is immediately clear to everyone is that the sum of all pledges will not meet the budget. Somewhere, somehow, deeper emission cuts in fossil fuels are required.

Security corridors from train to hybrid buses at Le Bourget
As if that order were not tall enough, there is a second fault line running through the negotiations that traces back to Hillary Clinton and the closing days of the Copenhagen COP in 2009. To get countries to switch from the binding treaty track to the voluntary pledge system, Secretary Clinton offered a big fat bribe. One hundred billion per year was the number she used. Oh, and a lot of whiz bang new technology thrown in for the first 20 or so customers.

The Like-Minded Developing Countries insist that underdeveloping countries should only take climate mitigation actions if they get the finance and technology Clinton promised. There is a fly in that ointment, and not a surprising one from what we remember of Clinton's days at the Rose law firm. It is in the accounting.

Show me the Money

Last month the OECD issued a report concluding that wealthy countries have already made “significant progress” toward meeting their $100 billion a year promise. The report said that “climate finance” reached $52 billion in 2013 and $62 billion in 2014.

Apparently, we aren't the only ones who can read a balance sheet. As the LMDCs are quick to point out, those numbers of $52b and $62b include market-rate loans that must be repaid with interest. They also include a lot of garden-variety foreign aid that is only marginally connected to climate change. True, everything is connected to climate, but does that mean humanitarian aid for war refugees should count as part of the $100 billion/yr Green Climate Fund? That number will certainly be going up this year. Will that count?

The Merkel Message: Below 2 we'll make it. True or False?
The Green Climate Fund, which came out of the Cancun COP in 2010, has so far received pledges amounting to about $10 billion, but only $1 billion has actually shown up, a penny on the dollar of what was promised. In November the Fund approved its first round — for 8 projects in Africa, Bangladesh, Latin American and Fiji. The total for 2015 was $363 million.

It would be no small wonder if the LMDCs find more like minds during the COP in Paris. It is a bad omen because it sets in motion the selfish gene — “Sure, I will clean up your dirty greenhouse but you have to pay me” — when what is required for survival of the genome is selfless action on an unprecedented scale.

Selfless action on an unprecedented scale was the theme of the 3-minute address by President Obama. “[We want] a declaration that, for all the challenges we face, climate change will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other.”What will happen if we delay? “Abandoned cities; fields that no longer grow; political disruptions; conflicts; desperate peoples seeking sanctuary in nations not their own.”

Obama said the US embraced its responsibility – as the world’s largest economy and second largest emitter [elbow into the ribs of China] – to act, and called for unity among world leaders attending the talks. 

“We must reaffirm our commitment that the resources will be there [in financial assistance for the developing world]. We must make sure these resources [of climate finance] fall to countries that need help … and help vulnerable populations rebuild stronger after climate related disasters.”

Union of Concerned Scientists, 350.org, and Climate Action Network called a press conference to  express restrained support. Alden Meyer, who has attended 20 or the 21 COPs, said Obama's change was representative of a larger shift in the member states. There is much greater awareness of dangers and costs of delay. Leaders of both overdeveloped and underdeveloping countries seem to understand both the existential nature of the threat and the economic challenge of addressing it. The math of the voluntary pledges adds up to less than what is needed but it represents significant progress over the past.

This 2016 election will likely be the last in which the candidate of a major party is a vocal climate denier, Meyer said. The reason, May Boeve of 350.org said, is because until recently Big Oil ran the show. There has been a gargantuan shift in that power balance with the exposure of how fossil money corrupted the political and media processes within the United States. This has happened just in the past half year or so, and one of the two major parties has been slow to recognize how much it has transformed the political landscape at the individual voter level. Polling shows the vast majority of people want fossil subsidies lifted and a rapid shift to renewable energy, and yet all the GOP candidates propose exactly the opposite. There is a disconnect there, that either will be corrected or cost elections until it is.

Meyer said the end of the fossil era was now inevitable. Decarbonization is coming. Whether you get with that program or miss the investment opportunity, you won't be able to stop it.

Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister who is hosting the talks as COP president, said: “Future generations cannot hear us, but in a way they are looking at us now.”

If they are even still there. Maybe we are speaking to an empty planet.

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