Joyeux Noël: We Have a Paris Agreement

They did it. We have a Paris Agreement. The text was released a few minutes ago as the President’s final proposal. The vibes do not suggest any last-minute objections, which would probably be suicidal as everybody else in the room desperately wants to get some sleep and go home.

Update 1750h Paris time: Adopted. Final version here. I don’t know what changes were made at the last minute to get holdouts on board, but they didn’t affect the articles quoted below.(/update)

The key takeaways are unchanged since Thursday.

The temperature goal (Article 2.1.a)

… holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.

Decarbonisation goal (Article 4.1) :

In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.

Review timetable (Article 14(2):

The Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement shall undertake its first global stocktake in 2023 and every five years thereafter unless otherwise decided by the Conference of the Parties …

Opening for signature party in New York on April 22 next year (Decision paragraph 3). Presumably President Obama will invite all the Republican presidential hopefuls still standing, to gnash their teeth in frustrated isolation.

What we have is not the solution but an international framework for benchmarking everybody’s efforts.

The double temperature target is messy but a vital kludge. Up to now INDCs and trends have been set against the 2 degree goal: not there yet by any means, but doable with more of the same. Now they must also be set against the far more difficult 1.5 degree goal. For example, it requires a major effort on sequestration: reforestation, biochar, olivine weathering. The research has to start tomorrow.


  • Saudi Arabia.
  • The oil, coal and natural gas industry. The death sentence is delayed, but it’s in writing.
  • Denialist and delayist ideologues. Their defeat is on such a total scale that surely the movement will start to unravel.
  • ISIS. It’s not clear that the objective of the Paris attacks was to derail COP21, but in any case the agreement shows that the world will not be deflected from its serious business by a small bunch of fanatic throwbacks.
  • Climate diplomats. What do they do now? Go and sulk under a tree like Jonah because Nineveh has, against all reasonable expectation, repented? They have not exactly worked themselves out of a job, but certainly downgraded it. The next high-stakes work is only in the “global stocktake” in 2023. Meanwhile the agreement and decision are full of mechanisms, frameworks, committees, and expert panels. These will be discussing such hot issues as risk pools for offgrid solar in Tanzania, and accounting for emissions from fish farms in Thailand. The process in evolving from diplomacy to a multilateral expert bureaucracy like the WHO or OECD. Diplomatic high-flyers will be looking elsewhere.


  • All of us.
  • The climate scientists.
  • The technologists, entrepreneurs and policy enablers of renewable energy, who have driven down its costs to a level where the energy transition is a free lunch.
  • Christiana Figueres.

I haven’t spotted any rumours about the SG slot at the United Nations, but with a probable woman in the White House, another at the UN would have powerful backing.

  • The small island countries.

Who would have thought that a coalition of the powerless could get their way on 1.5 degrees C? I trust somebody will write the backstory. God knows, these countries were motivated – for many, it’s a matter of physical survival. So they they had persistence and a clear objective on their side, as well as the science. Their interlocutors were informed on the science and did not have good arguments against, just naked self-interest (Saudi Arabia held out to the last minute). There was probably also a dose of cynical realpolitik: we aren’t on track for 2 degrees, so putting in an aspiration for 1.5 degrees doesn’t cost us anything; and anyway it’s a problem for my successors, not me personally. Although small individually, the group was numerous: having 40 tiny countries boycotting the deal as suicidal for them would have looked bad for Hollande and Obama, who needed a spectacular success.

  • Hollande, Fabius and the Quai d’Orsay.

Anybody who has organised an international meeting of any significance knows how much work goes into making the thing run smoothly. This one was huge, extremely complex and for the highest stakes, and complicated by the need for higher security created at the last minute by ISIS’ atrocities. I didn’t catch any major complaints. In a hundred years, Fabius will be remembered only as “the guy who chaired COP21 and got the Paris Climate Agreement”, just as Jacques Chirac will be “the guy who okayed the Millau viaduct”.

  • The activists.

There hasn’t exactly been a tidal wave of protest in the streets of the world, but activists have maintained a consistent and pretty well-judged pressure on policymakers for years, and been highly visible throughout COP21. It all must have helped, even pages by ancient bloggers. It’s not really new ideas or Damascene conversions, but a steady reminder that publics across the world want results. Many activists will be disappointed by the half-baked nature of the best attainable deal. Good. Now keep fighting for better implementation.

  • Obama, Kerry and Todd Stern.

Remember Bali 2007 where the US delegate was booed and smacked down by the delegate from Papua-New Guinea: “If you’re not going to lead, get out of the way”? Remember the Copenhagen fiasco of 2009? American diplomacy, leveraging a very minimal national policy commitment, has finally gained all its goals: a universal deal, unlike Kyoto which created no obligations for China, India and other developing countries; a voluntarist, bottom-up structure; and a robust review process.

  • Indabas

I confess I was wrong to snark at this, thinking it an empty relabelling. In fact it’s a specific and interesting technique for conflict resolution, used effectively by Fabius. The Guardian’s John Vidal:

Zulu and Xhosa communities use “indabas” to give everyone equal opportunity to voice their opinions in order to work toward consensus. They were first used in UN climate talks in Durban in 2011 when, with the talks deadlocked and the summit just minutes from collapse, the South African presidency asked the main countries to form a standing circle in the middle of hundreds of delegates and to talk directly to each other. Instead of repeating stated positions, diplomats were encouraged to talk personally and quietly about their “red lines” and to propose solutions to each other.

How does this work? Key factors seem to directly addressing your adversary instead of appealing to undecided third parties, with eye contact, plus silent witnesses expecting the parties to deal. A useful piece of social kit.

  • Hugo Grotius

and the other intellectual fathers of modern international law as the rules of a society of equal sovereign states; and the practical diplomats in Westphalia in the 1640s, Mazarin, Oxenstierna, de Witt and the rest, who embodied it in the Peace of Westphalia treaties in 1648. Their peace worked pretty well for 150 years, and its theory survives today. The non-Westphalian features of the United Nations system like the Security Council played no part in the Rio Convention mechanism. I think Grotius, de Witt and company would have been astonished that the scheme still works for 196 countries, on a really difficult problem. Only just, and it took 23 years since Rio, not counting the Kyoto false start. But Monnet was wrong: there is still life in the old model of international cooperation. We may still be forced by climate disaster into supranationalism but not yet.

Postscript: Santa’s bonus for good behaviour

And while the talks were going on, we had a third study indicating that global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels have peaked or just about. This is so important it’s worth recapping. If the inference is right, the fairly gloomy analyses of the INDCs are obsolete, and we are much closer to the 2 deg pathway – though still a long way from a 1.5 degree one.

  • IEA, March 2015:

    Preliminary data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicate that global emissions of carbon dioxide from the energy sector stalled in 2014, marking the first time in 40 years in which there was a halt or reduction in emissions of the greenhouse gas that was not tied to an economic downturn.

    This good news was later walked back to a 2.2% increase, as China lowered its pre-2014 data on coal and emissions.

  • Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency for the EU, Trends in global CO2 emissions: 2015 Report, pdf section 2.1 : growth in global emissions from fossil fuels and industry of 0.5% 2013-2014, compared to GDP growth of 3%.
  • Tyndall Centre (University of East Anglia) and the Global Carbon Project, November 2015 – peer-reviewed article in Nature Climate Change : emissions from fossil fuels and industry grew 0.6% in 2014, and are projected to fall in 2015 by 0.6% (central estimate, range +0.5% to -1.6%).

These estimates are from people who know what they are doing, and presumably working independently. They are not however truly independent estimates, as they are working off the same national statistics, especially the problematic Chinese ones.

These show a continued and quite rapid fall in Chinese coal consumption: 5% a year (September to September).  Can we trust them?

The revisions for years before 2013 certainly reveal problems in the statistical administration. But they don’t support a conspiracy theory that Chinese statistics are Stalinist lies made up for PR reasons. Who reads corrections to old data but nerds? True, the corrections do not put Xi Jinping in a bad light – they represent the bad habits tolerated by his predecessor, no? Ockham’s razor supports the commonsense interpretation, that the revisions mark a tightening up of reporting standards (consistent with Xi’s disciplinarianism), and make current data somewhat more trustworthy. Scapegoats have no doubt been identified and sent to count chickens in Urumchi.

The main reason for trusting the Chinese coal data is rather that they are consistent with other evidence, on coal imports and stocks, stagnant output in pig iron and much lower growth in other sectors of heavy industry like cement, and declining utilisation in thermal coal plants. Any conspiracy to cook the data would have to be economy-wide. It is far more likely that the Chinese economy is simply being restructured at breakneck speed towards the developed-economy domination of services and consumption. The Party knows that it must cut air pollution soon or risk its monopoly of power.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]