The Paris Moment and beyond: John Englart reports back to Climate Action Moreland
Climate Action Moreland member John Englart attended the UN climate conference in Paris, COP21, as an accredited NGO observer delegate for Climate Action Moreland as part of the Climate Action Network Australia delegation. On 18th January he gave a report back to our first monthly meeting of 2016. This article is based on his presentation at our meeting.
We went into Paris knowing there was already a substantial emissions gap /
temperature gap with national climate plans (INDCs) estimated to reduce temperature increase to 2.7C to 3.5C by 2100. This range is valid if all climate plans are implemented fully, many are conditional on finance or other support being met.
The French government and UNFCCC secretariat worked very hard in the lead up to Paris. An agreement seemed possible, but the quality of the agreement was very much up for grabs. Australian diplomats played a largely constructive role in the background of the negotiations, despite the low targets and lack of action contained in the statement by Prime Minister Turnbull and ministers Hunt and Bishop. Julie Bishop’s comments at COP21 on coal even won Australia a Fossil of the Day award.
Some main sticking points going into Paris were around Finance, technology transfer, Loss and Damage, equity provisions and the legal framework of the agreement.
The expectation was that the 2 degree guardrail might be enshrined in an agreement, and the 1.5C target dropped.
The Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) won the moral ground early announcing zero emissions by mid-century and 100 per cent renewable energy decarbonization by 2050. Small Island states and Least Developed nation blocs pushed strongly for inclusion of the 1.5C goal, supported by civil society groups.
Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony De Brum unveiled the Coalition of High Ambition (not a negotiating bloc) midway during the 1st week of the conference. This coalition included African, Caribbean and Pacific countries as well as Europe and the USA, to break the traditional diplomatic voting blocs. Australia joined this coalition in the final hours, with the public announcement made by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to me via twitter.
The Paris Agreement goal was far stronger than expected
The resulting goal, in two parts, was much stronger than most people expected with a goal of well below 2 °C and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C, and achieve a balance between emissions and carbon sinks (effectively describing decarbonisation) in the second half of the century:
Article 2 (1a): “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;”
Article 4 (1): “In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.”
Note that in the last two years Australia has reversed it’s decreasing emissions trend, and Australian emissions are now rising with emissions unlikely to peak before 2030, according to latest projections. Australia is already grossly at variance to Article 4 in not attempting to peak emissions as early as possible.
Prof Kevin Anderson from the UK Tyndall Centre for Climate Research said that including a Carbon budget table/diagram would have greatly improved the goal in the agreement. He also outlined that to achieve the 1.5 degree target, and even the 2 degree target, most pathways include negative emissions Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) technology, which is untried at scale and with costs and efficiency unclear.
My guess is that Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony De Brum calculated that Developed nations would be unlikely to make any major movements on Finance, technology and loss and damage, but the more ambituous target goal post might be able to be achieved. The lower temperature goal gives a lifeline in particular to island nations facing rising sea levels. This was a major win of the conference for us all.
There was little movement on Finance (Article 9) with a $100bn per year commitment from 2020, to be renegotiated for 2025 with $100bn to be a floor commitment.
There are basic commitments on Loss and Damage (Article 8), Technology transfer (Article 10), transparency framework (Article 13), Global Stocktake (Article 14), Compliance mechanism (Article 15), but framework mechanisms and rules for these need development.
Article 6 establishes a framework for international trading in mitigation credits. A carbon trading scheme. Effectively so that developed nations can buy mitigation credits from developing nations.
INDCs and NDCs
Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) become Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). They are detailed voluntary national climate plans which will be reviewed every 5 years with an expectation of progression (no backsliding).
Paragraph 17 of the COP21 decision states:
“Notes with concern that the estimated aggregate greenhouse gas emission levels in 2025 and 2030 resulting from the intended nationally determined contributions do not fall within least-cost 2 ̊C scenarios but rather lead to a projected level of 55 gigatonnes in 2030, and also notes that much greater emission reduction efforts will be required than those associated with the intended nationally determined contributions in order to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2 ̊C above pre-industrial levels by reducing emissions to 40 gigatonnes or to 1.5 ̊C above pre-industrial levels by reducing to a level to be identified in the special report referred to in paragraph 21 below;”
COP decision Para 27 states that each Party when submitting NDC:
“considers that its nationally determined contribution is fair and ambitious, in the light of its national circumstances, and how it contributes towards achieving the objective of the Convention as set out in its Article 2;”
NDCs are plans for carbon reduction from 2020 to 2025 or 2030. Countries are invited to increase the ambition in their plans at any time.
The regular global stocktake, compliance mechanism, transparency and carbon accounting measures all provide an ambition mechanism from Paris.
Long term strategy for decarbonisation by 2050
Parties are also invited to submit mid-century long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies by 2020 (COP decision Para 36) in how to meet the decarbonisation goal set out in Article 4.
So countries have 4 years to formulate detailed climate plans about how we decarbonise out to 2050.
When does the agreement come into force
The idea from the Durban 2011 COP was that the agreement in Paris would come into force in 2020, however the agreement is written so that it comes into legal effect 30 days after a minimum of 55 countries with at least 55% of global emissions formally ratify it. (Article 21).
So the agreement may come into force as early as this year, if the criteria is met, which would make COP22 potentially the first meeting of the Paris Agreement. This is an advance on expectations.
World Leaders have been invited to an official Paris Agreement signing ceremony at the United Nations in New York on Earth Day, April 22.
Items lost from final draft
A couple of things which were dropped from the final text:
- Any mention of civil aviation and shipping emissions. Currently amounts to 5% of global emissions but a fast growing sector. The International Civil Aviation Authority and International Maritime Organisation have been promising action since their sector was excluded from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, with little effect.
- All mention of human rights, gender equality, indigenous rights taken out of operative text but remain in preamble.
- There is no mention of the terms ‘decarbonisation’ or ‘fossil fuels’ in the COP decision or Paris Agreement.
Australia applies to use Kyoto Protocol carryover credits
Environment Minister Greg Hunt on 22nd December moved to apply Kyoto carryover credits for Australia to meet it’s 5 per cent 2020 target. Some of the European countries committed to writing off these credits, and they had much stronger targets to meet. A strong case can be argued that Australia should have done the same.
This action is at variance to COP21 decision at Para 107:
“Encourages Parties to promote the voluntary cancellation by Party and non-Party stakeholders, without double counting of units issued under the Kyoto Protocol, including certified emission reductions that are valid for the second commitment period;”
Can we achieve well below 2 degrees?
There is a range of scientific opinion on this. Technical studies have detailed that there are still pathways to 1.5 degrees, but we need to act rapidly to achieve them.
We need to rapidly phase out our GHG emissions. We need to transition to a 100 per cent renewables based zero carbon economy and society by 2050, and the onus is on us to do this even earlier as a developed nation. There will be some emissions we won’t be able to stop, so we will need carbon sinks and carbon removal technolgies in the second half of the century.
For the 1.5 degrees pathway global greenhouse gas emissions would need to reach net zero between 2060 and 2080, while CO2 emissions would need to be zero between 2045 and 2055. Developed nations should decarbonise faster than the global average.
Some may look at this as a major economic upheaval, and it is. But it is also an amazing economic opportunity to transform and transition to a far cleaner, healthier society to live in.
Considerable momentum beyond COP
Major transitional change is already happening. To a certain extent the Paris moment and Paris agreement simply reflects this wider transition. The Paris Agreement provids a Tipping Point for enhancing this action.
To name some of the transitions in progress:
- Major divestment from fossil fuels has become mainstream. Further divestment needs to continue
- Renewables are continuing to increase, but from a very low base. Action needed to maintain this momentum in Australia and globally. The Guardian reports that Rapid switch to renewable energy can put Paris climate goals within reach
- India ramping up renewables, while also switching from imported to local coal.
- Vietnam announces major review of coal power station development
- Africa set to rapidly expand renewables. African Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI) launched at COP21: 10GW solar by 2020, 300GW by 2030.
- Increase in private consortium finance for renewables
- China 3 year moratorium on new coal mines, closure of 1000 mines
- USA 3 year review of federal public coal leases
- New York Gov. Cuomo calls for closing all coal plants in state by 2020
- 1000 mayors committed for cities to go 100% renewable, 80% GHG reduction by 2050
. According to International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) says increasing renewables to 36% of the global energy mix by 2030 would provide about half emissions reductions needed to hold warming to 2C. Clean energy investment attracted a record $329bn in 2015.
Where does that leave us?
The Paris agreement is far from perfect and is an easy target for activists to criticise as not nearly going far enough. And much of that criticism I would agree with.
Yet Paris gave us a global unanimous agreement with ambituous aspects and an international framework. We should be prepared to use that in our campaigns on the ground to justify pressure on governments at all levels, as well as the business community, to increase actions commensurate with the goals and framework established under the Paris Agreement.
It provides a measure of international recognition and justification for phasing out fossil fuels rapidly and withdrawal of the social licence for fossil fuel companies to operate.
195 countries made an agreement in Paris, including Australia. We need to hold our federal politicians accountable for delivering policies that meet the goals and framework of that COP decision and agreement. It won’t happen unless we maintain pressure from the grassroots.
All fossil fuels, but coal in particular, needs to be left in the ground. Refer to
Christophe McGlade & Paul Ekins, 2015, The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 °C, Nature 517, 187–190 (08 January 2015) doi:10.1038/nature14016. See my article: 88 percent of Global Fossil Fuel reserves need to remain unburned
This study argues that 82 per cent of global fossil fuel reserves with use of CCS, or 88 per cent without CCS, needs to remain un-burned if we are to limit global warming temperature rise to 2 °C throughout the twenty-first century. If we aim for 1.5C the percentage of fossil fuel left unburnt will be even higher. This has implications for new coal developments and existing extraction.
Jeremy Brecher, an eminent US labour historian, writes of the climate insurgency after Paris. Activists are stepping up campaigns against fossil fuels and in support of renewables.
A few of the active campaigns, some already achieving some success:
- France: campaign against the Notre-Dame-Des-Landes (NDDL) airport near Nantes
- UK: campaigns against fracking, campaign against 3rd Heathrow runway
- Canada: campaign against Tar Sands gaining ground
- US: campaign against Powder river basin coal being exported from West Coast terminals which I reported on in 2013 in Oregon and Washington states.
- US: successful campaign against Shell in the Arctic
- Australia: Campaign to stop BP exploratory drilling in Great Australian Bight (Widerness Society, Sea Shepherd and others)
- Australia: Campaign for Victoria to permanently declare itself CSG free
Australia: Strong VRET for Victoria (Yes to Rennewables)
- Australia: Campaign to close Hazelwood
- Break Free from Fossil Fuels campaign – Global campaign May 2016 against fossil fuel assets
On the local level in Moreland
- Need to continue our campaign to close Hazelwood Power Station and mine and for a just transition for the La Trobe Valley. See David Spratt’s Replace Hazelwood Primer. See my June 2015 story: Latrobe Valley: Finding Hope in Morwell at climate ground zero
- Boosting renewables is linked to phasing out La Trobe Valley coal power. We need to continue to support the Yes to Renewables campaign in Victoria. See David Spratt’s latest article: Climate and renewables strategy In Victoria will not work without a plan to retire coal
- Importance of heatwave health risks, resilience building, acclimatization and adaptation in the urban environment. This provides an opportunity to educate the community on climate change and the impacts of extreme heat events on public health. This entails interacting with Council and State Government on heat safety, better local planning for adapting the urban environment through such measures as increasing urban canopy, and water sensitive urban design, as well as educating individuals and businesses on energy efficiency, surface reflectivity and urban heat. See Climate change and heatwaves in Melbourne – a Review
- Local Transport emissions need to be addressed: local and state authorities can assist in better public transport and cycling facilities and more enjoyable walking experiences to encourage mode shift.
- Build community through farmers markets, food swaps, community houses, community art and projects to emphasis importance of urban agriculture, sustainability, food security and local reliance and resilience building.
- In 2016 there are elections due at the Federal level and at the municipal council level. We need to ensure Climate change action policies promised by candidates are compatible with the goals that Australia agreed to in the UN Climate Conference COP decision and Paris Agreement. Election forums provide a vehicle to engage, debate and educate on necessary climate action and transition.
On December 17 2015, five days after the Paris Agreement, I wrote this assessment: The Paris moment for climate justice and the historic #Parisagreement of #COP21. which I summed up in the last paragraph as “Paris was a tipping point. The UN Climate Conference and the Paris Agreement were the tip of the iceberg. It was the Paris moment for climate justice.”
We need to continue to build the grassroots movement to pressure the institutions to implement the decisions taken around the COP21 negotiating table, to listen to the voices in the streets from Melbourne, Paris, and the world.