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Paris Climate Deal: Green Victory Or Trainwreck?

The American Interest

They say the hallmark of a good compromise is a result that leaves nobody happy. In reality, all signs point towards an impending trainwreck.

A total of 146 nations have submitted national plans to curb climate change ahead of this December’s summit in France, but the message out of the UN is something of a buzzkill. As the FT reports, the UN doesn’t think those national commitments—called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs for short—go far enough:

[T]he pledges will not be enough alone to keep global temperature rises to less than 2C, an internationally-agreed goal scientists say should be met to avoid risky changes in the climate.

“The INDCs have the capability of limiting the forecast temperature rise to around 2.7C by 2100, by no means enough but a lot lower than the estimated 4C, 5C or more degrees of warming projected by many before the INDCs,” [UN climate chief Christiana Figueres] said.

Delegates seem to have left themselves quite a lot of work in Paris, then. The draft text for the conference, initially some 80 pages of hedging, was pared down to a shorter but heavily bracketed 20-page document earlier this month. That draft didn’t sit well with the developing world, however, and after meetings in Bonn earlier this week and last the document bloated anew to its final pre-Paris form, checking in at 34 pages. Carbon Pulse described this development as a “step backwards” for the Global Climate Treaty process, and it’s hard to read it any other way.

They say the hallmark of a good compromise is a result that leaves nobody happy, and if that’s the metric by which we judge the Paris summit, then perhaps greens might be able to claim some kind of victory this December. In reality though, all signs point towards an impending trainwreck. The developed and developing worlds are still miles apart, the only meaningful policy mechanism meant to bridge that divide—a climate fund paid into by rich countries to help poorer countries mitigate and adapt to climate change—remains woefully underfunded. It’s too early to call, but there are a couple of certainties. First, whatever watered-down agreement negotiators finally agree upon will be derided by the environmental movement (ever incapable of assessing outcomes realistically) as too soft. Second, in order to get everyone to agree to the deal, it will not be binding or enforceable, making it little more than the eco-version of the Kellogg-Briand pact.