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Limping To Paris: New Draft Climate Text Is 20 Pages of Hedging

The American Interest

At long last, negotiators have hammered out a condensed draft text for this December’s climate summit in Paris. Members of the UN’s catchily named Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action took a bloated 86 page document and slimmed it down considerably. But a quick reading of the text evinces the fact that brevity and clarity are not the same thing, as plenty of uncertainty remains in the form of bracketed verbiage.

Here’s a sample of the first heading under the Mitigation section of the text, which is sure to be one of the most contentious items under discussion during the conference:

Parties aim to reach by [X date] [a peaking of global greenhouse gas emissions][zero net greenhouse gas emissions][a[n] X per cent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions][global low-carbon transformation][global low-emission transformation][carbon neutrality][climate neutrality]. […]

Each Party’s nationally determined mitigation [contribution][commitment][other] [shall][should][other] reflect a progression beyond its previous efforts, noting that those Parties that have previously communicated economy-wide efforts should continue to do so in a manner that is progressively more ambitious and that all Parties should aim to do so over time. Each mitigation [contribution][commitment][other] [shall][should][other] reflect the Party’s highest possible ambition, in light of its national circumstances, and: (a) [Be quantified or quantifiable;] (b) [Be unconditional, at least in part;] (c) [Other].

To take one example, the difference between the words “shall” and “should” in an international treaty is obviously enormous, the former being presumably binding while the latter describes a suggestion for the involved parties. It’s not surprising that these differences haven’t been ironed out yet—that’s a job for the delegates due to descend on Paris—but this draft text is lousy with these sorts of opportunities for equivocation.

And you can be sure that many countries will be pushing for those less stringent, bracketed options. Take India, which last week outlined its climate pledge, a pledge that essentially amounted to a promise to only triple its carbon emissions by 2030, a reduction from the seven-fold increase unfettered growth might otherwise produce. India has long insisted on its right to grow and as Reuters reports, it’s planning on doing that with the help of cheap, dirty coal: 

India is opening a mine a month as it races to double coal output by 2020, putting the world’s third-largest polluter at the forefront of a pan-Asian dash to burn more of the dirty fossil fuel that environmentalists fear will upend international efforts to contain global warming. […]

If India burns as much coal by 2020 as planned, its emissions could as much as double to 5.2 billion tonnes per annum – about a sixth of all the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere last year – [said  Glen Peters at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research]…He said India could replace the United States as the world’s second largest emitter by 2025. “This is something no one would have expected.” 

India isn’t the only nation keen on choosing development over green goals. Coal-dependent Poland has already staked out a similar position, and that sentiment will be forcefully expressed by many of the world’s poorer countries in Paris.

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