COP21: The Three Basic Realities and Possible Solutions

In one week’s time, the eyes and ears of the world will focus on Paris to see whether national governments can reach a deal that will provide a sustainable future for current and future generations.

The proposed negotiation text – over 50 pages long with 1,500 bracketed (i.e. without any guarantee of an agreement) sentences and paragraphs – is already complicated enough for seasoned climate negotiators, let alone for ordinary citizens or experts. (Ed King from Climate Home summarized the basic legal and technical aspects of a possible outcome.)

Climate change generates a wide range of political, diplomatic, economic, ethical and cultural issues, resulting in harsh and longstanding battles between, among and even within countries.

Below are three basic realities that Parties are struggling to acknowledge. These realities are the root causes of the difficulties and challenges in current climate negotiation.

  • The legacy of a fossil-dependent era and the ineffectiveness of piecemeal solutions
  • The unstoppable transformation into a development model that is based on 100% renewable energy and a circular economy
  • The need to develop innovative governance models in the multi-polar, multi-stakeholder, multi-level urban world of the twenty-first century

Let’s not forget that, like many others before, the UN Paris Climate Conference is an intergovernmental negotiation event, the results of which will emerge from legal and diplomatic processes. Therefore, even if all parties agree on all of the above, it may not be realistic to expect to read all of the above language in any outcome document.

However, the current draft negotiation text contains several possible solutions. COP21 may in fact respond to all of the challenges, if the following targets can be included in the agreement (a document to be ratified by parliaments within the next five years) or decisions (a document that will immediately come into effect at the end of COP21):

  1. Committing to a goal of global carbon or climate neutrality or 100% renewable energy by the latest by 2050, so that peaking of global greenhouse gas emissions can be reached much earlier (Art.3 of draft agreement)
  2. A global vision on adaptation and accepting a global framework for loss-and-damage that will allow all communities, in particular those in most vulnerable zones, to feel that they will not be left alone when they face an increasing number of climate-related disasters (Art.4. and Art.5 of draft agreement)
  3. Acknowledging the role of Non-Party stakeholders, including local and subnational governments and Non-State Actors, and ensuring the continuity of their engagement in the consultation, analysis and implementation of global efforts on climate change (preamble 14 of draft agreement and Sections E and F of draft decision)

There is always a risk for any intergovernmental negotiation process concluding without reaching its expected results. This has been the case for climate change negotiations in The Hague in 2000 and in Copenhagen in 2009. And there are even worse cases, like global trade negotiations, where the whole global process have completely collapsed, of which as of today, the respective global community is still trying to sort out alternatives and varying degrees of impacts are still being felt today.

There will of course be life after COP21, both on efforts on climate change and for negotiators, even if the Paris Climate Package does not contain the perfect solution for the basic issues outlined above or concludes without reaching any agreement.

While such a case would result in a vacuum of a global legal framework, the collective wisdom and power of those who are committed to a better world should be maintained.

And it will be left to historians or climate scientists to track and judge whether national governments and their negotiators took the best decisions, in terms of creating the most effective response to the most important crisis of our times.