Inside the Climate Sausage Factory

We have a sort of draft of the Paris climate agreement, in the form of a “non-paper” (a charming diplomatic oxymoron invented IIRC in Brussels) of Figueres’ two joint vice chairs, Ahmed Djoghlaf of Algeria and US envoy Daniel Reifsnyder.

It’s true that to get a coherent document out of a long discussion, camels and committees don’t hack it. Real drafting is done by one or two people in a quiet room.  The wider forum then negotiates amendments to the reference text. The Paris agreement will follow the two diplomats’ structure.

Unfortunately it’s still unreadable. What we have is still an ordered compendium of all the positions on record, not a true working draft. I’m not familiar with UN procedures, and just how the UN deals with so many optional drafts is a mystery to me. I suspect that in the end, facing a deadline, a strong chair (and France will provide one)  just shuts down discussion, produces a chairman’s draft, and only important amendments are voted on.

Two sample core provisions give the flavour:

2. OBJECTIVE [The objective of this agreement is to further enhance the full, effective and sustained implementation of [the principles and provisions of] the Convention in order to achieve [its objective as set out in its Article 2] [the stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner [and shall also take into account vulnerabilities and the managing of the transition in a sustainable manner ]] by [all Parties] [striving to achieve][achieving] [low greenhouse gas, climate-resilient economies and societies][net zero greenhouse gas emissions and maintaining and increasing resilience to the adverse effects of climate change].] {paras 1, 2, elements of 3, elements of 17.1 opt 3, para 17.2 opt 1 and para 18 from Section D GNT}

3. COLLECTIVE EFFORTS [[All] Parties[, in accordance with [Article 4 of the Convention and their ] common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities [in the light of different national circumstances] and [on the basis of] equity,] [shall][should][other] [enhance mitigation ambition] [make [individual] efforts] and cooperate [to ensure that the aggregate level of mitigation [commitments][contributions][actions] increases over time] [with a view] to [achieving long-term emission reductions, in the context of Article 2 of the Convention][stabilize greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system], [consistent with][including] holding the increase in global average temperature below 2 °C or 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels [[and in the context of [equitable access to] sustainable development] [with [developed country Parties][Parties included in annex X] taking the lead by undertaking ambitious emission reductions and [Parties included in annex Y] providing finance, technology and capacity-building support to [developing country Parties][Parties not included in annex X]] [and the protection of the integrity of Mother Earth] [in accordance with the shared vision resulting from the Bali Action Plan]. {para 17.1 opts 1, 2

The red font is integral – it means additions by the co-vice-chairs.

I defy you to get to the end of the mind-numbing thing. So all I can offer is a few comments from a selective skim.

The agreement itself will be quite short: it’s 18 pages in the working document, with three options for everything, so the final text could be just six or so, not counting any technical annexes and the resolution adopting it.

The architecture of the agreement is now clear. It will:

  1. lay down an objective of massive decarbonisation, pursued by
  2. national mitigation and adaptation plans embodied in
  3. transparent public commitments filed with the UN, to be
  4. reviewed, revised and improved over time, for which purpose
  5. developed countries will promise lots of finance for developing countries.

The plans so far announced as advance versions of 2 will be inadequate to cap warming at 2 degrees, let alone 1.5. Everything depends on the improvement process. So far it does look as if the dynamic of competition in virtue conceived or promoted by Christiana Figueres is working. China, the USA and the EU are on board; Australia, Canada, Japan and India are embarrassed and under considerable pressure to improve their offers (INDCs). It is certainly working much better than the previous attempts to divvy up a global carbon budget.

Much of the horse-trading will be over 5, the money. Attempts led by India to exempt developing countries from emissions reductions will fail, now that China and Brazil have accepted the principle of hard and declining caps. The LDCs will trade stronger commitments for promises of more money. Theirs is not a good bargaining position; treaties, agreements and resolutions don’t open any financial taps by themselves. The promises of aid will be generous but vague, and doomed to be broken. In the end the LDCs will cut emissions because it (a) is in their national interest to keep a liveable climate (b) it costs nothing net in GDP terms, especially if you include the GDP health costs of air pollution. The world capital market will fund the transition to renewable energy unaided, as India is finding out.

The target in 1 is still not settled. Amazingly, the draft above just puts “2°C or 1.5°C”, without any square brackets. Surely this is a choice, and one of the most important ones? If I were the Seychelles, facing disappearance from rising sea-levels, I would accept that the 1.5°C target may be good science but it doesn’t have the votes, yet. So I would go for a text that confirmed the Copenhagen 2°C as the immediate goal, but with language that the target is under review downwards to 1.5°C or below in the light of emerging knowledge and the progress made.

In the draft resolution, a 350 ppm limit on CO2 concentration as proposed by James Hansen (we are already over 400) gets it into the draft. Only in an annex to the resolution and only as an option, but still a remarkable victory for climate realists. On page 52:

[ a stabilization of the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere at or below 350 ppm of CO2 eq]

I found another truffle on page 27:

3. SIGNING CEREMONY [Invites the Secretary-General to consider convening first quarter of 2016 a ceremony at the highest possible level to sign the [Paris Agreement];]

This is in red, so it comes from Djoghlaf and Reifsnyder. President Bouteflika of Algeria is very ill and unlikely to travel, so I bet it’s from Reifsnyder. (The wording is American: Brits would put “in the first quarter”). Obama wants a high-profile media jamboree of heads of state just before the US Presidential campaign gets into gear. He will push for New York, but Paris in the spring would do.

* Footnote
If you didn’t get the reference in the title, it’s to a quip attributed to Bismarck:

Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]