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Paris Climate Summit On The Rocks

The American Interest

After more than a week of talks, UN climate delegates are finding it difficult to make progress in each of the areas of discussion.

With just three working days remaining before Friday’s summit deadline, there’s still a long way to go before any sort of climate consensus is reached in Paris. While greens around the world will be loathe to hear it, a binding deal is off the table (and has been from the very beginning) for a number of reasons, chief among them that the U.S. Senate wouldn’t ratify any such agreement.

If a binding and enforceable Global Climate Treaty isn’t in the cards, what’s left for negotiators to work towards? There are three major items being discussed: first, getting the world’s rich countries to follow through on financial commitments to the developed world that would help them mitigate and adapt to climate change; second, establishing a way to verify the progress of countries in adhering to self-imposed emissions goals; and finally, putting in place a way regularly to update those emissions goals (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs, in UN parlance) in the future.

But after more than a week of talks, climate delegates are finding it difficult to make progress in each of these areas of discussion. With regard to cash payouts to poorer countries, disagreement is cropping up over how to define the group of countries responsible for putting up the money for this climate financing. Reuters reports:

 [T]he breakdown stems from 1992 when countries agreed on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — and much has changed over the past two and a bit decades, including the rapid rise of Asian economies.

Back then, China was one-third its current economic size and it has seen its greenhouse gas emissions grow almost three-fold between 1990 and today, according to the International Energy Agency…And until the past year or so, a prolonged energy boom bolstered exporting nations in the Gulf.

As a result, a re-reckoning is in order, richer nations argue. They want a new climate agreement in Paris to recognize a more diverse pool of climate finance “donor countries” who will contribute to the goal of raising $100 billion a year by 2020 and more in the years beyond to help developing nations grow and cope with the effects of climate change.

Unsurprisingly, Gulf petrostates and China are adamantly refusing to be categorized amongst the world’s richer countries, because in this context that would mean being on the hook for enormous sums of aid for the foreseeable future. But that’s not the only way Beijing is playing spoiler in Paris. As the FT reports, China is also resisting efforts to make INDC reviews transparent, and pushing back on five-year updates of those national commitments:

“It is very frustrating,” said one negotiator from a developed country after a meeting where he said Chinese officials had tried to water down efforts to create a common system for the way countries report to the UN on their carbon dioxide emissions and climate change plans. […]

Another envoy said Chinese delegates were also resisting a measure widely seen as crucial for a successful accord: a requirement for countries to update the pledges they have made to limit their emissions, preferably every five years from around 2020.

China was applauded by greens in the run-up to Paris for its high-profile (and widely reported) eco-friendly overtures, but now that delegates are actually sitting down to hammer out a deal, they’re being reminded that these talks have little to do with morality or some deep abiding love for Gaia.

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