If you want more than ambition, there is high-ambition: But what does it mean?

From Paris

At her closing speech on December 12, Christiana Figueres, Executive Sectretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, noted that the Paris Agreement was the result of years of work. Focused work started following COP17 in Durban, giving its name to the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. In many respects the Ad Hoc Working Group of the Durban Platform (ADP) carried out the process of working on a new agreement from 2011 to 2015.

As the ADP completed its work at the end of the first week at COP21, the working draft was a patchwork of hundreds of square brackets. A sentence, a phrase, or a word put in square brackets meant that some parties wanted it in while others wanted it out. In parts of the text, not words but entire paragraphs were bracketed. This process was important, for there was a mandate to ensure that draft Agreement be truly “party-owned”.… Continue reading

Why were the COP21 negotiations in Paris so tough?

From Paris

The Paris Agreement (full text here), adopted on December 12, 2015, was negotiated with a fear of failure looming over the delegates throughout the two-week conference. It was a difficult process with many setbacks.

The conference went on extended time until Saturday evening. The final three days were carried out almost entirely in closed meetings. Negotiators, together with the French Presidency and the UNFCCC Secretariat, worked indefatigably round the clock.

As the details of what went on in closed sessions are transpiring, it becomes clear that aspects of the draft text were being disputed until the end. According to sources, some countries were stating that they still had problems with the text as late as ten minutes before all gave their consent.

Why was it so tough?

There were many difficult issues to be resolved at Le Bourget. One of them was the question of differentiation of responsibilities.… Continue reading

Carbon pricing sets the stage for real performance: Cap-and-trade is a start

On April 29, I published an opinion piece in Ottawa Citizen (here).

The piece is a reflection on Ontario’s decision to go ahead with a cap-and-trade system. The decision is a good one, I argue, not because cap-and-trade is the key to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but because of a different purpose it serves. It is but a necessary condition for everything else that is needed for a low carbon economy to develop.

The “everything else” part is yet to be imagined and developed, and now that a decision has been made on cap-and-trade, a new terrain opens up for developing the building blocks of a low carbon economy.

But why is it a necessary condition? It’s because carbon pricing creates an institutional tapestry, upon which a whole range of additional policies and initiatives can be built, linked, and scaled up. Cap-and-trade is a way of achieving this. It is not the only method.… Continue reading

Last note from Lima UNFCCC

Climate negotiations at the UNFCCCC continued in Lima overnight Saturday, December 13. The atmosphere was very tense over seemingly irreconcilable rifts, largely between developed and developing countries over the terms of the proposed architecture of the post-2020 global climate regime. Most of us were starting to worry about the likelihood of any meaningful outcome.

The Co-Chairs of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) and the COP presidency worked into the late hours of Saturday night, in order to prepare a text that meets the contending views somewhere in the middle. Around midnight on Saturday, a penultimate draft was proposed. Agreement was secured later in the night, giving rise to the final text. This is the text that will be taken to Paris in November-December 2015.

The agreement is called the Lima Call for Climate Action. The text can be viewed here: http://unfccc.int

Most will be inclined to think that the end result is not good enough.… Continue reading

Rough guide to finding our way in Paris: Notes from Lima

from Lima, Peru, co-authored with John Kelly

In case this has escaped anyone’s attention, Canada does not enjoy a good reputation at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the multilateral platform for international climate agreements. It is, after all, the only country that has officially withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol, although it was one of the signatories back in 1997.

The country’s reputation at the climate talks was not always this bad. In fact, Canada used to have a fairly respectable standing as a powerful economy and a major player in the negotiations. But the Conservative government’s delegation has increasingly made itself known as one of the obstructionist parties at the climate talks. This is a sorry state of affairs on several accounts, but in particular because the UN climate negotiations are currently at an important juncture. An entirely new global climate agreement is being negotiated.

The new agreement currently being developed has a fundamentally different structure than the previous one.Continue reading