Negotiators from 194 countries signed an agreement on Monday to work together to slow global warming and adapt to its consequences. But it is not yet clear if this will be enough to bring most of the world’s major economies on board.
The ‘Paris Agreement’ was negotiated in 2015, as the world started making its way towards a target of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, an objective set out in the landmark 2015 United Nations climate change agreement.
In addition to UN target of keeping warming to ‘well below 2 degrees’ by limiting carbon dioxide emissions, nations agreed to ‘endeavour to limit’ warming to 1.5C.
Developing countries have said the 1.5C limit was too soon and they wanted to be included in any future agreement on limiting global warming.
Back in Cancun, countries presented a document laying out the work that had to be done to get a signed agreement in order for the Paris Agreement to be enshrined.
In the document, negotiators agreed to “decide on a rule book that will design and implement effective mechanisms for monitoring, reporting and verification”.
Once such a rule book has been drafted, it is due to be set out by a committee of countries with input from regional bodies, NGOs and private sector representatives. It’s then due to be formally adopted at a UN conference in the coming months.
The problem, however, is that these agreed work texts are not written in language that will be accepted by the US and China, the world’s two biggest carbon emitters.
The US pulled out of the Paris Agreement almost immediately after it was agreed, saying there was not enough time to develop the corresponding rules. The UK followed its lead but has now committed to the Paris Agreement, despite strong opposition from the government.
China, meanwhile, has indicated that it will not sign an agreement that did not take account of its unique carbon-intensive development pathway.
Unsurprisingly, given its stake in global markets, China has drawn a very different interpretation of the ‘differentiation’ option, meaning that there is no specific pathway available for China to stay within 1.5C targets and that the 2C threshold is already deemed inapplicable.
The Chinese stance, combined with its strong leadership of the world’s poorest countries in insisting on 1.5C limits, has left the ball in the players’ court.
However, from the start, the US and China have been communicating robustly on climate change and, looking on the broad scale of global carbon emissions, there are grounds for optimism. The fact that the majority of the world’s biggest economies are already on track to meet the UN target of limiting warming to 2C, with only the US and the UK yet to commit themselves to 1.5C targets, indicates just how far the process has progressed.
At the moment, how developed countries will ensure that they remain ‘in line’ with their targets, in that case 1.5C, is still far from clear. At the moment, just a few countries are indicating that they may prefer to employ a ‘flexible’ approach to their commitments.
But everyone is getting better and smarter at keeping track of emissions and the effects that climate change is having on society, and so, in the long run, we should be in a much better position to gauge how far along a pathway towards limiting warming to 1.5C is for which there is already a clear signal.
However, there is some uncertainty at the moment, especially with the US and China the world’s biggest polluters.
Here’s hoping that there is a long, hard look at the work texts, when China and the US get round the table at the UN climate change conference in November, and the EU is not too frustrated by the loss of influence by countries such as the US and China.