7 Disputes Being Debated This Week at the UN Climate Conference in Paris
Craig Rucker /
Week one of the U.N. climate conference in Paris (COP21) concluded with the adoption of a draft “outcome.” This was the must-have first step if the U.N. is to have a chance of adopting a full treaty this week.
The draft is riddled with unresolved and divisive issues. For instance, it contains multiple versions of many key provisions within square brackets and placeholders for future text. In addition to this, no one in Paris can say for sure if the U.N. has adopted a draft of a binding treaty or a toothless non-binding agreement.
Resolving these disputes is what the negotiators in Paris will be working on as they reconvene at a ministerial level. It remains to be seen whether the climate conference can bridge all divides and agree to a final text.
The negotiators in Paris want a great deal of money from the U.S. under a new climate regime. With the scientific evidence mounting against the U.N.’s position on global warming, and U.S. elections looming, they are well aware that their best chance is to adopt something now, with President Barack Obama still in office.
With no chance of the U.S. Senate ratifying a climate treaty, the key goal of U.S. negotiators is to attempt to get a non-binding agreement they can try and slip past the Senate without a vote.
Also, with France as host country, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, a Socialist, presides over the climate conference. He is using the host country’s influence over the agenda to push the treaty along with a firmer hand than the UN has seen in the past.
Here are some of the unresolved divisive issues the ministers now face during week two of the climate conference:
- Climate Funding and Finance
“Climate finance” is the major sticking point in the negotiations. Developing nations continue to threaten to walk unless the COP21 outcome guarantees them a huge payout.
The draft outcome includes a $100 billion dollar annual commitment to the U.N. “Green Climate Fund” by 2020 with plans to increase from there. Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have so far been unable to find and deliver the $3 billion they pledged to the fund which leaves other nations uneasy.
Developing nations see a massive redistribution of wealth to their nations not as “aid,” but as an “obligation” by wealthier nations to compensate them for the industrial revolution. This obligation will fall on the “Annex One” developed nations, but not on CO2 emitting giants such as China and India.
The draft outcome includes an option favored by U.S. negotiator Todd Stern for developing nations “in a position to do so” to voluntarily contribute climate funds. This is being strongly resisted by developing nations. The U.S. monthly trade deficit with China recently hit $37.8 billion.
How long will U.S. taxpayers who owe China $1.2 trillion in government debt sit still for a climate regime in which they must pay out still more, while China, India and others get a pass?
The U.S. wants an amendment that would allow it to shake down private industry for U.N. climate funding if Congress refuses to allocate the funds. Developing nations want the funding to come from taxpayers exclusively.
- Binding Treaty or Non-binding Agreement?
The draft agreement is filled with “shalls.” Any lawyer will tell you that “shall” is the word they use when an agreement requires that something must be done, while words such as “may,” or “should” are what they use to make things optional. However, if this text keeps all those “shalls,” yet fails to adopt a mandatory compliance scheme with genuine consequences for non-compliance, how binding or effective the agreement will be remains arguable.
The U.S. is pushing for binding requirements for reporting and transparency, but non-binding emissions commitments. The Obama team hopes to argue that this is enough to avoid submitting the document to the Senate. If COP21 adopts this outcome it will cause substantial legal wrangling in the U.S.
Kerry stated that the COP21 outcome will be non-binding as if that is a foregone conclusion. This came as a surprise to leaders of other nations. It will be interesting to see what other nations want more; a binding treaty, or the U.S. on board.
Considering the money at stake, I suspect the latter.
- Differentiated Responsibility
The COP21 draft outcome calls for nations to accept “differentiated responsibilities.” This means everything from redistribution of wealth from developed to developing nations, to developed nations reducing their emissions while others continue to increase theirs.
China and India are building new coal plants as fast as their economies will allow. China is already the world’s largest emitter of CO2. Developing nations inserted language into the draft outcome stating “that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs.”
Developing nations are more than prepared to replace any emissions reductions by developed countries with new emissions of their own.
- Temperature Target
Although the number is largely arbitrary, for years the U.N. has mainly discussed crafting an agreement designed to hold global temperature increase to two degrees Celsius. That the climate models projecting that rise have been so terribly inaccurate is not up for discussion.
Last week in a speech, French President Francois Hollande suddenly used the far stricter goal of limiting temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celcius. This was hailed by more radical elements as a major victory. The new draft replaces the two degree goal with either the 1.5 degree goal, or “well below 2° C above preindustrial levels.” Others jumped aboard the 1.5 degree bandwagon including Germany and South Africa, and over the weekend, Australia.
Pursuing the two degree goal will lead to tremendous economic costs, a radical reduction of living standards in the developing world, and a major transfer of national sovereignty from nations to the U.N.
Pursuing the 1.5 degree goal is a far more draconian undertaking than that half degree would seem to indicate at first glance. It would require a radical transformation of our economic system and way of life in ways free citizens would never approve if they fully understood.
Developing nations are quite willing to vote for the 1.5 degree target so long as it is clear that their “differentiated responsibilities” mean that the U.S. and other prosperous nations will do all the cutting.
- Zero Emissions
The COP21 draft outcome, which his still under discussion, contains a potential goal of “achieving zero global GHG (green house gas) emission by 2060-2080.” Actually (rather than pretending) to pursue this goal would also require a radical and painful transformation unless major technological breakthroughs are made, in for instance, fusion power.
Inefficient and expensive alternatives such as wind and solar show no signs of ever rising to the task.
- Loss and Damage
At a previous conference (COP19) in Warsaw, developing nations made a major push to require developed nations to accept liability for their weather-related “loss and damage.”
At the time the Philippines had just suffered major damage from Typhoon Haiyan and its lead negotiator, Yeb Sano, staged hunger strike at the conference. Scientific and historical analysis of the typhoon shows no meaningful connection to global warming, however, the emotional appeal was powerful.
The COP21 draft outcome calls for loss and damage in several places and includes an open-ended provision to adopt loss and damage and “risk transfer” schemes after the Warsaw model. Unless developed nations are careful, they could eventually find themselves financially liable for extreme weather losses by poorer nations for which they bear no actual responsibility.
- Climate Tribunal
The draft outcome continues to feature an “International Tribunal of Climate Justice” designed to “address cases of non-compliance with the commitments of developed country Parties.”
Developing nations would sit on the tribunal, but their commitments would not be subject to it. The draft contains the option to substitute the less frightening term compliance “mechanism,” however, that would also amount to developing nations sitting in judgment over developed nations without bringing themselves under the U.N.’s new climate justice jurisdiction.
A Flawed Process In Paris
The tragic flaws in climate science, coupled with a campaign of hype, attempt to suppress any facts that do not fit the warming narrative and will someday be the stuff of legend.
However, even if the inaccurate climate models had proven 100 percent accurate, the COP21 outcome remains deeply flawed. The U.S. negotiating position has always been to resist some of the demands that the U.S. and other prosperous nations take on the full burden and admit some kind of guilt for the prosperity they have brought to the world.
One big issue to watch: To what extent will Obama bow to pressure from other nations and abandon longtime U.S. negotiating positions?
Obama’s recent decision to block the Keystone XL pipeline indicates the value he places on rewarding the green pressure groups that make up a significant part of his party’s coalition. Obama and Kerry badly want to declare a foreign policy victory.
In the end, Obama may be willing to abandon U.S. interests and agree to a very bad deal in Paris, confident that the deal will receive no genuine scrutiny by the media. If the Earth was truly in the predicament hard-line warming campaigners would like us to believe, an expanded U.N. bureaucracy under this flawed agreement would not be an effective way to resolve it.