US demands 1.5 degree warming limit in COP21 deal

The United States was officially unveiled on Wednesday (9 December) as the most influential new member of the 'High Ambition Coalition' and immediately threw its weight behind a future 1.5 degree global warming limit in the international climate change agreement negotiations, in Paris.

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US Climate Envoy Todd Stern said at a press conference in the French capital that there must be “recognition” of the goal in the final deal at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21).

The 1.5 degree target has emerged over the past fortnight at COP21, which is aiming to cap global warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Stern was on a platform with members of the coalition from developing countries, Germany, Norway and the EU, represented by Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete. Reports had linked the US to the Coalition, which since Tuesday (7 December) has grown beyond the EU nations, and 79 developing countries from the African, Caribbean and Pacific.

EurActiv asked Cañete on Tuesday if the 1.5 degree goal, also mentioned by Germany, was a dealbreaker for the Coalition, which has said it will only sign a truly ambitious agreement. He refused to answer.

But an EU source later insisted that the goal would be part of the final agreement, alongside the two degrees, to mark out future progress and ambition.

Germany’s Environment Minister, Barbara Hendricks, called for strong recognition of the 1.5 degree target in the final deal. When asked about it, Cañete said the EU was open to it but it was still under discussion.

The Commissioner said, “The draft agreement published today is not bold enough and not yet ambitious enough. I am extremely happy to see the US with us.”

The Coalition of about 100 developed and developing countries could have some influence over nations less willing to sign up to a truly ambitious deal, especially now that the US, one of the world’s largest emitters, is on board.

Together, they are calling for a legally binding, fair, durable agreement in Paris that must set a long-term goal, be reviewed every five years and include a system for tracking progress.

Developments in Paris moved quickly on Wednesday, with Secretary of State John Kerry calling for a legally binding transparent system of monitoring nations’ progress towards their climate commitments. He also announced a doubling of grant-based funding for developing countries.

That was followed by the publication of the latest draft of the deal, which was criticised by NGOs for removing international aviation and shipping from its scope.

Aviation and shipping

Cañete later told reporters that the EU was fighting to get aviation and shipping put back in, after the announcement of the expanded Coalition on Wednesday evening. He described its removal as “a step backwards”.

A previous 5 December draft had included an optional paragraph that would have singled out the two sectors and encouraged nations to curb their carbon output “with a view to agreeing concrete measures addressing these emissions”. The new draft, released on Wednesday, omitted the paragraph.

While the passage would not have necessarily mandated any specific measures or regulations, it could have increased pressure for national efforts that would increase their costs.

Aviation and shipping make up around 5% of global emissions but their contribution is predicted to grow significantly if left unchecked. The European Commission estimates that air and marine transportation could contribute as much as a third of all emissions by 2050.

“The dropping of international aviation and shipping emissions from the draft Paris climate agreement … has fatally undermined the prospects of keeping global warming below 2°C,” green groups Seas At Risk and Transport & Environment (T&E) said in a joint statement. Climate Action Network Europe echoed those fears.

After the new draft was published, civil society organisations, later staged an unofficial sit-in protest in a main hall, chanting “1.5 to stay alive”, and “climate justice”.

NGOs must ask for permission and abide by certain conditions, such as not naming individual countries, for their ‘actions’. Organisers said 500 people were involved.

“The EU came to Paris for a fair, ambitious deal, but there is a real risk that it’s going to be responsible for an unfair, unjust outcome. With critical issues on finance, human rights, and support for the most vulnerable still to be fought over, the EU must step up and do its fair share so that the Paris deal doesn’t turn into a raw deal for the poorest,” said Susann Scherbarth, climate justice and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, one of the organisers. 

Discussing the EU announcement of the ‘high ambition coalition’ of over 100 countries including the US, Mexico and many developing countries, she added, “The EU can’t hide behind alliances – it must commit to its fair share of emissions cuts and finance.”

The protest was sparked by the latest draft of the deal, which still left major sticking points between the almost 200 countries represented at COP21 unresolved.

Foremost among them is who shoulders the cost of moving the world to a low-carbon energy system and how often nations should be prompted to accelerate their efforts.

“On these issues I ask you to scale up your consultations to speedily come to compromise solutions,” Laurent Fabius, president of the COP21, said, addressing the conference.

He said the new draft text was 29 pages long, against 43 on Saturday, and three-quarters of the points of dispute had been settled.

Developing countries are demanding that rich governments be obliged to scale up climate finance from the $100 billion a year already promised beginning in 2020.

Wealthier countries balk at language that would leave them legally bound to do so. They are pressing for an alternative plan that would see financial resources mobilised from private as well as public sources, and drawn from a wider community of donor nations such as China and others that can afford it.

Ian Duncan is the lead member of European Parliament on the EU’s reform of its Emissions Trading System, and a British conservative. He said, “It’s round one to China. The world’s number one emitter and second largest economy has managed to negotiate its way out of having to pay any money to those nations suffering the consequences of Climate Change.

“It may be positive to see that three quarters of the issues in the negotiating text have been solved, but there is still a long way to go and only two more days in which to get there.”

James Crisp

This article first appeared on Euractiv, an edie content partner

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