Paris update: End of week one — Ministers need to lead to deliver best possible Paris agreement
If you have ever given up a really bad habit, you know how hard it can be. Negotiating an agreement that seeks to accelerate the transition from our habitual use of fossil fuels to clean energy right across the world is tough. This is not a surprise, and is reflected in the difficult progress counties have made in Paris last week on the new draft global climate change agreement.
Over the first week in Paris we have seen highs and lows.
At the beginning of the week, over 150 leaders from around the world kicked the summit off on a high. Most sent a very clear message – addressing climate change is central to our ability to maintain the health and prosperity of our citizens and economies. Many, including the USA and China, clearly identified that with action comes opportunity. The message was we can and must transition to clean energy because it is central to economic growth and security.
Some may dismiss such statements as rhetorical or just symbolism. This fails to acknowledge the art of politics in the UN process. The clear message from leaders sets the bar their negotiating teams have to meet. It signals the political direction of travel to the public and investors around the world.
Our Prime Minister, amongst others, highlighted the need to achieve net zero emissions. How domestic policies help achieve net zero emissions within a handful of decades is now the bar against which they will need to be judged.
We also saw substance in the leaders’ remarks. USA, China, India, Australia and 16 other countries committed to double investment over the next five years into the research and development of clean energy. India launched an international solar alliance of more than 120 countries. The alliance aims to bring government, industry and research institutions together to rapidly increase investment in solar power generation. The African Union and African Development Bank jointly pledged to double the whole continents energy generation capacity, using only renewables.
Even if these announcements were only implemented in part, they will have real economic impacts. Global power sector investments in clean energy already outstrip investments in fossil fuels, and implementing these commitments will only boost that further. However, in Australia innovation investments will be empty symbolism for decades if there is no modernisation plan to replace existing coal fired stations with clean energy.
After the fanfare of the leaders’ statements, officials got down to work and we quickly came back down to earth. Traditional tensions emerged, particularly around how to scale up financial support for the vulnerable and poor nations. Tensions have been exacerbated by the regressive role Saudi Arabia, in particular, had been playing. The petro state knows that its economy based on the development of oil is not well positioned for a world where investment in clean energy far outstrips investment in fossil fuels. Like a wounded bull, it is attempting to damage progress that would facilitate greater action around the world.
Now, the question is are we on the way back up? We entered the Paris meeting with a draft agreement that was over 50 pages long. The new draft to be considered by Ministers next week is now just over 20.
The new draft agreement includes the ingredients of effective outcome in Paris that can further boost global action. Options exist to update targets every five years towards the agreed less than 2oC global warming goal, define a collective system to ensure the actions countries take are transparent, and support the world’s most vulnerable nations participate in climate change solutions.
An agreement that includes these elements can reinforce the signal to communities, investors and businesses around the world that action to limit pollution and shift to clean energy is an unstoppable force. This can be achieved but it is going to require strong political leadership from ministers when they arrive next week.
So as the negotiations gear up for the engagement of Ministers this week, including Australia’s Foreign Minister, most of the elements that would continue to drive global action are in the draft agreement. Momentum in the real economy continues to grow and it is now up to ministers to find the compromises that will see Paris accelerate the transition to a net zero emissions, climate neutral, global economy.
Assessment of where are we at in Paris – field is still wide open
Before Paris, The Climate Institute released an analysis of the key issues and possible outcome scenarios. This concluded that the Paris agreement won’t fix everything but the best possible agreement will be one that very clearly sets the world on a path to the international goal of avoiding global warming of 2°C above pre-industrial levels and meets three key criteria: Is it bankable? Does it build trust and accountability? Is it fair? The below graphic gives an overview of current negotiations against these criteria.
The graphic below maps the progress that political and real economy actions around the meeting, and the elements of the current draft agreement against the scenarios for Paris that The Climate Institute has outlined. The scenarios are:
- Catalyst: The agreement sets the scene for countries, business and investors to accelerate actions to end emissions through time.
- Momentum: The process to step up action is less defined, but the 2°C goal is kept in sight. Domestic actions develop over time and new targets are set.
- Patchwork: Lack of clarity on key issues, but investment in clean energy and climate solutions continues within those countries and industries, seeing action as part of their own long term prosperity.