Changing Planet

Paris Climate Talks: Second Week Begins with Draft Text

Over the weekend, negotiators at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris produced a draft accord for a global deal to curb climate change, leaving the final week for ministers to address several major issuesin text to be finalized by Dec. 11. Our own Brian Murray will examine those issues in more detail from Paris tomorrow.

Three other items of note came out of the talks:

  • Australia announced plans for a new initiative to slow the loss of rainforests, preventing the release of billions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions (subscription).
  • Despite saying that it is engaging in the talks with “positivity,” India has demanded an exception to carbon dioxide
  • Throughout the talks, delegates have questioned whether there will be an accounting system to ensure nations keep to their pledges. “It seems now there is a growing consensus that (reviews) will be every five years,” said U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres.

Rise of the Subnationals

Brian Murray, director of the Environmental Economics Program, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, writes from the climate talks in Paris.

Ground-level negotiators in Paris sent draft text to delegation heads for final decisions on four key issues: whether to aspire to a 2 degree Celsius or 1.5 C goal, how to differentiate the responsibilities of rich countries and those of poor countries, whether and how often to revisit mitigation targets, and how much finance to commit to help poor countries mitigate and adapt to climate change and possibly to compensate them for residual losses.

One curious development at COP (Conference of the Parties) 21 is the huge presence and active engagement of officials from subnational jurisdictions: states, provinces, and cities. These officials do not have a seat at the negotiating table—only countries are empowered by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to be parties to the agreement. But they come with the hope of directly or indirectly informing what goes on inside the negotiating rooms by announcing new initiatives, providing technical information, or vocally appealing to the moral and ethical principles that they wish the agreement to reflect.

Frustrated at the slow pace of international and national climate policy, many subnational government officials have initiated their own efforts to reduce emissions, often jointly with other subnational jurisdictions. And so we see California Gov. Jerry Brown, Quebec Premiere Philippe Couillard, and Ontario Premiere Kathleen Wynne exemplifying the role that subnational actors can play in advancing climate action. They represent one U.S. state and two Canadian provinces that recently joined forces to develop the world’s second largest greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program.

These subnational government officials come to Paris for two reasons. First, they wish to spur other subnational jurisdictions to act: the Canadian province of Manitoba announced this week that it will join the California-Quebec-Ontario carbon market, and other U.S. states have announced interest in participating. Second, they seek a formal statement in the Paris agreement of support for the role that subnational jurisdictions play in shaping climate solutions. This statement of support in Paris helps validate their climate actions for their constituents at home by demonstrating that, even as relatively small actors on the world stage, they can trigger larger and more meaningful actions globally.

On the climate adaptation front, municipalities are often on the front line. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg hosted a mayoral summit at Paris’ Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) attended by leaders of many of the world’s largest cities. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio (no COP is complete without celebrities) implored the mayors to take serious action on both emissions reductions and adaptation to forestall impending threats to their cities. Many of those mayors, particularly those in developing countries, are no doubt looking to the COP negotiators to create the needed mitigation and adaptation finance.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Tim Profeta is the founding director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. The Nicholas Institute is part of Duke University and focuses on improving environmental policy making worldwide through objective, fact-based research in the areas of climate change, the economics of limiting carbon pollution, oceans governance and coastal management, emerging environmental markets and freshwater concerns at home and abroad. In his role at the Nicholas Institute, Profeta has continued to use his experience on Capitol Hill to engage in climate change debates. His research has focused, specifically, on market-based approaches to environmental regulations—particularly energy and climate change policy. Other projects engage his expertise in environmental law and air pollution regulation under the Clean Air Act.

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