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Two concerns with UNFCCC COP 21 outcome agreement: time and meaning losses

Nkoa 3

By Sébastien Nkoa, OP
Economist, Banker, Project Developer – Nairobi, Kenya

The 21st UNFCCC (United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change) Conference of the Parties (COP 21) which took place between November and December (30 November – 12 December 2015) left us with a taste of unfinished business. Indeed a number of elements in the overall ‘Paris Outcome’ are not realistic. Those elements can be found in the Paris Agreement, COP 21 decision, and Paris Action Agenda. Weaknesses presented in those three points make us not so proud of what some claim to be the first world deal on climate change.

In the world of international relationships ahead of the signature of an agreement, three scenarios are possible: 1: ‘Le Zombie’ which is a tactical deal with potential for collapse; 2: ‘Comme ci, Comme ca’ which is a modest progress with guarantees on finance; 3: ‘Va Va Voom’ which cements a new enduring regime on climate change.

Logo-COP21I consider the ‘Paris Outcome’ to be scenario ‘Le Zombie’ first of all in ‘time concern’ that the agreement will take before it enters into force by 2020 and once 55 countries covering 55% of global emission of gas have acceded to it. The ‘time concern’ here is very crucial since one of the new concepts brought about by COP 21, INDCs (Intended National Determined Contributions), cannot be trusted. INDCs relegate the implementation of 78% of new power investment to 2030 in major economies. In between nothing can guarantee the success of its implementation by that time. Indeed for this to happen we should not forget that various countries before signing up to a global agreement will need buy-in from a wide range of domestic actors, local economic factors, and geographical factors as well as political and economical ones. If all these elements are to be taken into account our concern is that side effects of climate change will not be waiting and the situation will keep on deteriorating while governments will be using time to avoid fulfilling their promises. Though strengthening of overall temperature goal requires faster short-term cuts, here comes up clearly the fact that the overall idea calls us to move to net zero emission from 2050-60.

The second element of ‘time concern’ is related to the new collective climate finance goal which shifted all finance flows to low carbon resilience investment beyond the current level of $100bn up to 2025. How shall this be achieved? Indeed here the question was neither to postpone the date nor for the UNFCCC to increase the amount of fund to rise. This other ‘time concern’ takes us to an unnecessary debate since the previous debate about funds was not resolved, and this one lacks specificity regarding the question of who will give exactly what? When shall it be given? How shall it be given? Thus by accepting to increase share of finance for adaptation and mechanism to deal with insurance and displaced people UNFCCC misses the goal and misplaces the priority. Here it should remain clear that the previous climate finance was not yet well performed thus the solution should be on how to offer a better mechanism of action and not on leverage of more money.

This element of money takes us to the second concern about Paris agreement outcome: To include talks on climate change in other international processes including G 20 and SDGs  is a huge mistake. Here there is a ‘loss of meaning concern’. It should be clear that including talks on climate change as priority in other international processes sounds good but the risk is to dilute it within those processes. This will have the effect of overshadowing climate change priorities since priorities can’t be the same. Here there is a clear risk to converge towards a common framework with a mandate to firm up modalities in future which might not be modalities and priorities of talks on climate change. No need then to mention that this will imply strong political intent which will induce further granularity in the coming years, waste of time, energy, priorities.

This ‘loss of meaning concern’ can also be seen in the fact that the crucial point of fossil fuel question was left to governments and investors. COP 21 left it up to governments and investors to look for an orderly transition away from fossil fuel-dominated economy. Here comes the question of the meaning of the meeting if such an important question is left to investors who, as we know, are the first users of fossil fuels. Though a task force was set to make sure that the transition is in the process without particular prerogatives, that task force will not be effective while here effectiveness and efficacy should be priorities.

The last point we want to mention about the ‘loss of meaning’ is on the point of 2 C or 1.5 C (maintaining temperature rise below 2 Celsius or 1.5 Celsius). COP 21 missed the mark by not delivering immediately the commitments to deliver 2 C or 1.5 C as expected. Here the ‘loss of meaning concern’ and the ‘time concern’ meet since once again five more years have been given to companies to increase their emission cuts in order to meet the goal of 2 C or 1.5 C. This is very much disappointing when we know that the long term goal of greenhouse gas neutrality in the second half of the century will require a fast response addressing questions of the time.

Regarding these two main concerns – ‘time concern’ and ‘loss of meaning concern’ – we can say that COP21 reached a ‘Le Zombie’ scenario. Good things were announced but in the reality those points elaborated are either unrealistic or so vague that they won’t be helpful to achieve the real objectives that we could have expected from such a conference. Let’s hope that before COP 22 in Morocco a better vision of where we want our planet to be in the nearest future will be defined.