The Politics of Climate Change

With only a week until the 21st UN climate change conference in Paris, you would be forgiven for thinking that the agenda has merely been copy and pasted from the last one in Lima. And the one before that in Warsaw. So what makes this one any more special?

To negotiate a treaty that maintains the effect of global warming to less than 2 C is still the main aim, and the public pressure on world leaders has been present since the failure of the 2009 meeting in Copenhagen. But it is now 18 years since Kyoto, and even longer since the Montreal protocol, neither of which really made huge inroads into controlling CO2 emissions. Short lived climate pollutants, which also influence climate, but are

Will world leaders finally come to an agreement this time round?

One of the major issues is, as always, money. No country wants to go alone and take an economic hit that they would suffer by reducing cheap, dirty energy production, and replacing it with clean infrastructure that takes a lot of money to implement, especially if other countries aren’t going to do the same. Along the same lines, previous meetings have seen newly developing countries wanting those countries that are already developed, and have been responsible for large amounts of historic CO2 emissions, to help financially. This would ensure that those countries could continue to develop and compete globally in the financial markets. In 2009, $100 billion was promised to some of the developing nations by 2020, but more nations want this to be extended.

A compromise between development and climate has always been a stumbling block in previous conferences

A second major issue is the legality and binding commitment required. Some countries want tougher decreases on carbon emissions, others are relying on cheap and plentiful coal-powered energy to fuel their growth out of poverty, and so are unwilling to give definitive dates for the phasing out of coal and gas power. How to legally bind countries to any new deal is also an issue. The EU wants a UN-led binding contract, whilst the USA and China would prefer a treaty that was binding only in domestic laws, and in the Japanese submission for the process, there is no mention of it being legally binding at all.

So how come, despite all these sticking point, there is a quiet optimism about Paris that hasn’t been seen since Copenhagen?

A poster parodying Mobil reads:
The funding of fossil fuels based industries by governments is also likely to be under scrutiny in developed nations

Well firstly, Copenhagen caused a lot of governments a great deal of embarrassment, as did previous failures. The public backlash from another failed  meeting would not go down well in many countries, particularly the USA, China and UK. This is also the last chance that Barrack Obama has to attempt to make a difference, especially given the fear that the next occupant of his office may be much less amiable to the climate change community. Secondly, the number of small deals done between countries outside of the UN framework has increased pressure on this meeting to work. It also means that several nations now have a better idea at what each others needs and wants are. Most importantly though, it seems that the big players (China, USA, EU and Japan) are now at a stage where some compromises to national interests may be made in order to reach an agreement, whereas previous meetings have seen national interests come first at all times.

Whilst there is hope that a legally binding deal can be found in Paris, it remains prudent to say that whatever is done, it will only be the beginning of a long process to attempting to rebuild a cleaner atmosphere.

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