10 December, 2011

COP17 shows political progress but still fail to meet climate science requirements

Sergio Abranches, from Durban

The documents still circulating at COP17 show notable political progress, but fall short of adequately meeting the risks already pointed out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — IPCC — fourth assessment of climate science. They are still under discussion, and final decision may still be significantly different. It is likely, however, they will keep the general thrust of the documents.

Politics is rarely moved by the science on the issues requiring policy decisions. Politics is moved by interests, interactions, power competition, alliances, and conflicts. All that play a strong role to shape the global politics of climate change. At the political level there are unprecedented moves reflected on documents not yet approved by COP17 plenary.

Perhaps the most important one is the support from the United States, China, India and Brazil of a a “process to develop a Protocol or another legal instrument applicable to all Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change”. This process, says the draft document, shall “begin immediately and be conducted as a matter of urgency”, so that the new working group the plenary should create can “complete its work as early as possible but no later than 2015, in order to adopt this legal instrument” at COP21. It “shall raise levels of ambition and be informed, inter alia, by the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the outcomes of the 2013-2015 review”.

In short this means that by 2020 there should be a common legal regime on climate change encompassing all parties to the climate convention, that this legal instrument could even be a new protocol, thus legally-binding, it would have quantified mitigation targets for all major emitters. The new instrument should be ready to be adopted by 2015, at COP21. The quantitative targets should in line with the new IPCC assessment report, that should be used to guide the review of the commitments made in Copenhagen and reaffirmed on the Cancun Agreement.

The other breakthrough is the formal admission that there is a “significant gap between the aggregated effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emissions pathways consistent with having a likely chance of holding warming below 2°C or 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”

In other words the document formally notes, and with grave concern, that there is a gap between the commitments to reduce GHG emissions and the commitment to keep the chances of warming below 2°C or 1.5°C. The 2°C is the target approved under the Copenhagen Accord, and the Cancun Agreement. The 1.5°C is a demand from the small islands states, the African Group, and the Less Developed Countries, admitted by the Cancun Agreement.

These hard to make political steps forward are a sine qua non for a more ambitious, science-based, rule-based future global climate change policy.

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