A global climate deal was reached. Next up is pollution monitoring.
04 November 2016 | Mitigation
The Paris climate agreement is, obviously, a very big deal: Last year, nearly 200 nations agreed to take on the challenge of a warming world. Their stated goal was to hold the increases in world temperature since the beginning of the industrial revolution to well below 2 degrees Celsius.
But as important as it was, the agreement was only the beginning. Formally ratifying it, nation by nation, came next, with an announcement in October that enough countries had done so for the agreement to take effect.
But there is much more to come. Now begins the hard work of turning agreements into a real reduction of emissions.
That new phase starts on Monday in Marrakesh, Morocco, where the next major United Nations climate change summit conference will take place. This is where nations start to figure out how to reach the emissions goals they set.
The diplomats attending the global meeting will work toward devising an independent body to monitor levels of pollution in each country with consistent standards that would allow comparisons among countries to see whether they are actually meeting their emissions pledges. That organization’s reporting would, at least in theory, encourage accountability for the voluntary commitments through the power of public scrutiny and even shame.
At the same time, many of the diplomats who will attend the conference expect some countries, especially China and India, to push for a system that depends on self-reporting of emissions levels — a more permissive way of going about the task of measurement.
Marrakesh will also be about money: making good on pledges made by rich nations in Paris to spend $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries make the transition to cleaner energy systems and to adapt to climate change. As every fund-raiser knows too well, there is a big difference between getting pledges and getting donors to pay. Here, too, peer pressure and the potential for public shaming might come into play.
What to do with that money is another focus of the Marrakesh meeting: discussing the ways that developing countries can prepare for the challenges of climate change. Salaheddine Mezouar, Morocco’s minister of foreign affairs and the official who will serve as president of the conference, has called it “an opportunity to make the voices of the most vulnerable countries to climate change heard, in particular African countries and island states” that face disaster from rising seas. Nations will also begin building what are known as national adaptation plans.
The world is more than 20 years into concerted efforts through the United Nations to deal with climate change. In the acronym-filled language of the world body, this will be the 22nd Conference of the Parties, shortened to COP22. Last year’s Paris conference was COP21. COP1, the first of the annual climate change conferences, began with a 1995 meeting in Berlin.
That meeting, in turn, was the continuation of discussions over the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, an environmental treaty that went into effect the year before and that was pulled together in a 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
As this meeting is far from the beginning, it is also very far from the end. Ultimately, the Paris pledges remain vague and to a large extent dependent on the political will — and even the whims — of future world leaders. Still, the conference in Marrakesh builds on a remarkable period of progress on climate issues that goes well beyond the Paris agreement. In October, negotiators from more than 190 governments agreed to reduce the climate impact of air travel, in part by making aircraft more fuel efficient.
Also that month, negotiators from more than 170 countries reached an agreement in Kigali, Rwanda, that will cut the use of planet-warming refrigerants: hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which are used in air-conditioners and refrigerators.
None of these agreements go as far as environmentalists had hoped. The current commitments from the parties to the Paris agreement are not strong enough to keep warming below the 2 degrees Celsius (that’s 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) goal. But that agreement and the others take the world down a path at a distance and pace that might have seemed impossible just a few years ago.
Of course, governments alone won’t stop climate change, even if they have the national will to slash emissions. The best kind of hope for the process is that the policies agreed to by these nations will unleash public and private investment in developing technologies that will bring cleaner power to rich nations and the developing world alike.
Source: The New York Times