The Paris Agreement Will Not Be Built in a Day

2015-12-08-16-09-25-IMG_1327The phrase “Rome was not built in a day” could fittingly be applied to the Paris negotiations. Obviously, the French government and the United Nations have been planning for COP21 for several years, just as other cities do when hosting large events. What’s more, the rest of the world has been planning too, thanks to the new strategy going into COP21 of having nations arrive at the conference with climate action commitments already in hand. This will hopefully avoid the time crunch problem at many previous COPs, which have run past their end dates. By setting national emissions pledges in advance, countries have had the full two weeks in Paris to devote to negotiations on the details, like the particular language that will be used in the agreement. And there are a lot of those details to be sorted out.

After spending two days in and around the negotiations at Le Bourget, I am convinced that this conference represents just one of many steps that, going forward, will hopefully lead us to a working international framework for climate action, and a sustainable environment for future generations. As the world gains a better understanding of climate change and its impacts, more groups are coming to the table, seeking input in the text of an agreement and offering climate commitments and calls to action of their own. While I cannot begin to describe to describe all of the details of the emerging document, I can tell you that a wide array of people want to be heard at COP21, and attendees are spending significant time discussing the need for precise language in the final text.

For example, a session I attended today entitled, “The Importance of Addressing Oceans and Coasts in an Ambitious Agreement at the UNFCCC,” spent a good deal of time discussing the need to include the word “ocean” or “oceans” in the legally binding document. While some attendees feel that the wording is important to include now, in this agreement, others feel that more critical details, like commitment levels by nations, should be the primary focus at COP21.

There is also a push by a group of Indigenous People to include language on Indigenous rights in the working document. To make negotiations more complicated, from a legal standpoint, Indigenous People are concerned about whether that language is put in the preamble of the COP21 document or in the body of the agreement, where it would actually have legal force.

Another sticking point with regards to language is whether the agreement will adopt a 2 degrees Celsius or 1.5 target for global temperature rise. While this difference might seem insignificant, it could literally be the difference between the survival of island nations or their disappearance under rising seas. Thankfully, there is agreement among the oceans, Indigenous and climate justice groups that the document needs to address rising sea levels.

Finally, another sticking point in the agreement right now is the question of finance. The Green Climate Fund is a start, but much work on the wording and commitment levels of climate finance mechanisms still confronts the negotiators. Indigenous People want to participate, for the most part, in funds with names such as CSDs (central security deposits) or DGMs (dedicated grant mechanisms), both of which are financial tools to help deal with the impacts of climate change in their areas. Unfortunately, the money currently on the table is not nearly enough to deal with these issues. This Paris agreement will not be built in a day, but perhaps, some years from now, we will recognize that Paris did build a solid foundation on which to construct a permanent solution to climate change.

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