Will Paris save the world?

13 November 2015 5:14 pm

Over the next few weeks, the world’s attention will be on Paris and the talks to produce a deal on climate change.

Let’s be clear about this: any deal coming out of Paris will be the third UN climate agreement in 23 years. The first two — a 1992 accord sealed in Rio de Janeiro and the 1997 Kyoto protocol — both failed to meet their chief objective: preventing a rise in the carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels.

So what are the chance of success?

Already there are tensions with US Secretary of State John Kerry warning that the Paris climate change talks will not deliver a “treaty” that legally requires countries to cut their carbon emissions. Mr Kerry told the Financial Times that it’s “definitely not going to be a treaty”.

And that’s a problem because the European Union wants something binding. French President Francois Hollande has come out contradicting Kerry and say it will be binding.

"If the agreement is not legally binding, there will be no agreement," Hollande said.

“The Paris agreement must be an international legally binding agreement,” a spokeswoman for the EU’s climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete , told the Guardian. “The title of the agreement is yet to be decided but it will not affect its legally binding form.”

So what can we expect to come out of Paris?

As the Financial Times tells us, don’t expect a specific global carbon price or a ban on fossil fuel subsidies. Everyone knows it is impossible to force nations to cut their pollution. No gunboat will ever be sent to stop a government building a new coal power plant. And any accord, if reached, will still be based on dozens of widely differing national promises, not one single, internationally agreed policy such as a global carbon price. In other words, the European oil and gas companies that have called for a global carbon pricing framework ahead of the Paris meeting have done so safe in the knowledge this would never emerge from the talks .Also, it is far from clear what sort of compliance system, if any, might emerge.

Still, as the Financial Times points out, we can expect something to come out of Paris.

“It is still broadly expected that next month’s talks will produce some form of new climate agreement. After Copenhagen, many countries are anxious not to be blamed for a repeat of that disaster.

"This time, the talks are not being held in the shadow of a global financial crisis, as they were in 2009. The cost of some types of renewable power equipment, especially solar panels, have also plummeted. The talks will be managed by France, a diplomatic giant compared with Denmark.

“And there are signs that the world’s largest carbon emitter, China, is far more serious about cutting its emissions than it was in 2009. If it were not, it is doubtful Washington would have been able to engineer the groundbreaking deal it announced with Beijing last year, in which each set out the climate pledges that are part of the Paris talks.

“In other words, there is a real chance a deal will be struck, a medium chance it will be very strong — and a small chance it will produce the deep cuts in emissions required to avoid risky global warming.”