As the Paris Climate Change Conference enters its second and final week, there are grounds for hope and grounds for despair.
“Hope” is grounded in the voluntary commitments made by 185 nations to take actions to address climate change – and to try to limit it. “Despair” is caused by the fact that under these plans, the Earth’s average temperature can be expected to rise nearly 4 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.
The United Nations has long said that temperatures should increase no more than 2 degrees. More recently, scientists have calculated that only by limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees can tragic events be limited significantly.
Environment-People-Law has sent a delegation to the climate negotiations. As head of that delegation, I arrived last week and have been concerned with how we might practically achieve more ambitious targets than 4 degrees or 2 degrees. Part of the answer lies with the government diplomats. But an important part of the answer lies with environmental citizen organizations like EPL that use legal tools to protect the environment.
During the first week of negotiations, which took place among lower-level diplomats, a text of 50 pages for the final international agreement was whittled down to 21 pages. That text contains important features. But some of the most important items are not yet decided. They are contained in “square brackets” in the text, which means that they may or may not appear in the final text.
One of the most important provisions is in Article 2 of the draft text – a commitment that human rights will be part of the picture. This provision at present is in square brackets, so there is no guarantee that it will remain. If it does remain in the final deal, three important things will happen in the coming years.
First, governments may take their obligations more seriously. Few governments want to be known as enemies of human rights. Second, human rights can act as a measuring stick. If climate change is affecting human rights, the only logical response is to work harder against climate change. Third, mention of human rights in the text can serve as in important basis for citizen advocacy – to Presidents, to legislatures, and to judges in the courts.
Fortunately, many countries support the inclusion of a human rights element in the Paris agreement. However, some have been fighting against this concept. These include Saudi Arabia, Norway, and to some extent the United States.
As the second week of the negotiations begin, matters have been elevated to the level of Ministers of Environment and Ministers of Foreign Affairs, who arrived in Paris in the last few days.
What can environmental groups in Ukraine do to help shape a positive outcome in Paris – to tilt the scales more toward hope than toward despair?
Contact the Ukraine ministers and let them know that keeping human rights in Article 2 is crucial to the success of the Paris agreement. Human Rights Day is observed worldwide every year on December 10. Let us work to make it a memorable day this year by including a strong human rights commitment in the Paris agreement.
On the “break day” between Week 1 and Week 2 of the Paris climate negotiations the citizen lobbyists (non-governmental organizations) met to discuss strategy. The people in the room, ranging in age from 20s on upward, are among those whose lives will be shaped by the failures or successes in Paris during the next few days. EPL participated in the all-day meeting.
As Week 2 begins, the environmental ministers and foreign ministers of countries take charge of the negotiations. They will start to make trade-offs on the issues that are still unresolved after a week in which their staffs handled the negotiations.
International negotiations often proceed in this manner. Preparatory discussions are handled at a lower level – sometimes even by rather technical experts – who do not have the ability to make the concessions that are needed in order to strike deals. Then those who are politically accountable within their countries (the ministers) take over.
Understanding this, the non-governmental organizations met in the St. Denis region of Paris on Sunday focused on priorities as well as the need to be politically realistic, by selling ideas that ministers are able to grasp and accept.
There is an “ambition package” that includes long-term goals and regular monitoring and review of the commitments that each country independently determined to make. These aspects are of primary interest to the more-developed countries. There is also a “resilience package” involving adaptation, finance, and compensation for loss and damage. This is of more interest to developing countries.
NGO participants see a strong need for the countries to commit to coming together again in five years, in 2020. Without that and without some method of evaluating what countries are doing with regard to the individual commitments, the game will be over.
One campaigner during Sunday’s NGO meeting put it simply to everyone else: “We cannot accept a ‘pledge and shrug’ world.”
All the NGOs consider the goal of limiting temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius (compared to pre-industrial levels) to be inadequate. They all insist that the goal should be only 1.5 degrees of increase. (The world is already at 1 degree increase.)
Here is a link to the latest negotiating text, as of December 5: http://unfccc.int/meetings/paris_nov_2015/session/9126.php
Here is a video link to statements being made in the plenary session: http://unfccc6.meta-fusion.com/cop21/channels/plenary-1
John Bonine, Chair of EPL’s Executive Board