As the 2015 United Nations Summit drew to a close last weekend, optimism was de rigueur among key diplomats and heads of states regarding the outcome of this year’s climate change negotiations. With the twenty-first session of the Conference of Parties (COP21) fast approaching, the issue seemed to be omnipresent in speeches and talks. Pope Francis made an urgent moral environmental appeal to all countries during an address to the UN Friday the 26th; the Global Goals, approved during the summit and set to follow the Millennium Development Goals, place some emphasis on climate change; and Peru (the COP20 host country), France and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon co-organised a high level working lunch Sunday to ‘inject political energy’ into the quest for an agreement in December’s COP21.
Yet this progress is only a limited one and large stumbling blocks lie on the road to a solid agreement on what is proving to be one of the biggest threats of the 21st century. Firstly, the negotiation process is a painfully complex and slow one: one of the many difficulties is that developing nations do not want to compromise their economic development nor do they want to appear to be bowing to Western pressure; thus so far refusing to set legal limits on their emissions. Instead each country has been asked to submit emission reduction targets by October 2015, and this without having to detail how it will meet the target. All major countries have done so throughout the year, yielding a wide range of promises and a seemingly political game in which many countries pledged the bare minimum that would avoid international condemnation at too low of a target. As a new study by MIT Sloan and Climate Interactive shows, even if every country were to meet its pledge the global temperature would still rise by 3.5°C, far from the 2°C limit set at the 2010 Cancun Climate Conference (COP16) and which is widely agreed upon to be a maximum given the drastic environmental effects it would cause.
Secondly, another area of tension is the question of financing climate change adaptation and mitigation. Indeed, a key principle of the climate change regime inscribed in the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) is the notion of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’. That is to say that, while the phenomenon is a concern of all, it has resulted from the development of industrialised nations, making it their responsibility to lead emission cuts and finance adaptation. Relying on this framework, developing countries have not only demanded more stringent regulation from their developed counterparts, but also asked for monetary compensation for climate-related damage which will affect them disproportionately. The (disappointing) 2009 Copenhagen Summit sought to answer this demand by agreeing to the ‘goal’ of raising $100 billion per year by 2020 to help climate change mitigation in developing countries. By June 2015, on the $10.2 billion pledged thus far, only 4 had actually been unblocked by donor states, implying that the issue will certainly represent another obstruction in negotiations towards a ‘successful’ climate deal in December’s COP21.
Climate change, because of its all-encompassing nature and its roots in essential human activities, poses a great test to international cooperation. Let’s hope that world leaders effectively meet this challenge and prove scepticism wrong.