French envoy assesses prospects for 2015 climate agreement

Climate disruption – Hearing of the Ambassador for Climate Negotiations and Special Representative for the 2015 Paris Climate Conference before the Foreign Affairs, European Affairs and Sustainable Development and Town and Country Planning Committees (excerpts)

Paris, 5 November 2014

2015 Paris Climate Conference/agreement

This hearing comes at an important time, as we prepare to fulfil the mission France has been entrusted with, of preparing and presiding over the Conference of the Parties in December 2015. The parliamentary work is essential, because the agreement we’re going to discuss mainly concerns national policies: the vision of energy, its consumption, its transformation and the technological modernization of economies. The climate debate is less international than national. So French parliamentarians have a role to play in it.

It’s an important time, because everyone remembers Copenhagen. The European Union can’t allow itself to fail.

Some things have improved, but the opposing forces remain. I also observe great weariness with the negotiations. An agreement is essential to show the economic partners the transformation of the economy which is being sought, so that they can resolutely commit themselves to it.

The agreement that could be announced on 12 December 2015 will necessarily be intergovernmental. Unlike with Kyoto, France has the mandate of negotiating a global agreement that commits all the parties, not only the developed countries.

The agreement must be credible. It’s not about setting up a global government or establishing a climate police. The aim is to make the expectations of all the stakeholders – particularly the economic stakeholders – converge, in order to show that the economic and environmental transformation is under way.

The agreement must also be dynamic. It isn’t meant to resolve all the issues until 2050. The IPCC’s fifth report restates that we must, at the very least, halve global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in order to have a 66% chance of remaining below a 2ºC temperature rise. We must both define a framework that will last 30 years and provide for regular meetings to take stock of the transformations, improve the different parties’ proposals and examine the deployment of technologies in line with innovation, cost reductions and international cooperation.

The agreement must also show solidarity. The poorest countries are also the ones most affected by climate change. At the 23 September meeting, all the political leaders spoke of the effects of climate change they’re starting to observe in their countries: not only Bangladesh but also Ethiopia, Morocco, the small island states and the United States.

The agreement must “get on track” a policy of decarbonizing economies capable of limiting – because it’s not possible to eliminate – the effects of climate change.

The agreement is between states but – it’s at least as important – civil society must be persuaded that the future must involve a different economy.

Many stakeholders can get involved alongside governments to support this new vision, including local authorities and companies. Non-governmental actors must be spurred into action to support and implement the agreement. That’s the purpose of the Climate Alliance we’d like to promote.

Whatever form it takes, the agreement will define rules and set dates for meetings to reassess and correct trajectories. At the same time, for the period about to begin – the EU has proposed 2030 as the deadline – countries will present their national contributions. We hope to have gathered them in the first half of 2015, and if possible in the first quarter.

Climate plan for 2025-2030/Green Climate Fund/financial markets

The first signal will come from the conclusion of an agreement. The second signal lies in countries’ commitment to proposing a climate plan for 2025-2030 reflected in various policies: climate policy but also taxation for those who are going to use instruments like carbon taxes, carbon markets, public transport and technological innovation. For each country there are, on the one hand, the commitments made to their peers in the international community in terms of emissions reductions and, on the other hand, the set of policies conducted. That’s very important for the economic stakeholders.

When the countries have announced their targets for clean energy or renewable energy, it will send a powerful signal to the markets. The percentage of electric or clean vehicles, the intensity of the effort on public transport, the share of renewables and the number of Positive Energy Buildings: these are all elements capable of reshaping global markets and informing and reassuring economic stakeholders.

The agreement must be accompanied by a financial aspect. The Green Climate Fund was, it’s true, slow to get up and running in New York. We’re waiting for more positive announcements in Berlin at the end of November. Raising $7 billion out of the total $10 billion we’re counting on would be a positive sign. But we know that certain countries won’t pay their contributions until the beginning of 2015.

Concurrently, we must send various economic signals to the financial markets. By enabling the markets to better identify investments in energy infrastructure, energy efficiency and public transport, we can hope to reduce the risk premium that increases borrowing costs for countries wishing to embark on the energy transition.

The government subsidy outlay must be backed up by a gradual reform of the signals sent to the financial markets so that investments will be transferred to a low-carbon economy as early as next year. France intends to press for this at the G20 and with the multilateral banks.

Non-governmental actors’ role

As for the contribution of non-governmental actors, the major innovation of these climate negotiations lies in the idea that they have an input. Hitherto there has been no room for those on the ground.

From Lima onwards, we hope to ensure a platform is created to give a voice, after 2020, to local authorities, innovative businesses and international institutions. This platform would enable them to gear their efforts towards the transition. It will be a place of both demonstration and commitment.

The governments will make commitments and see each other regularly – every five years, we hope – to take stock and examine solutions in order to improve the various proposals, because there is still a long way to go to limit the rise in temperatures. Local authorities and businesses will also take stock of their action every five years and plan for the future.

The agreement must promote a shared vision of the future and a method to make expectations converge. It can be likened to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As for the agenda of solutions, an unprecedented galvanization of economic stakeholders can be seen.

Major countries’ approaches

I’d like to conclude by showing that we have a lot more chance of succeeding than in Copenhagen, despite many risks.

Most of the countries are infinitely better prepared than in 2009. I’m thinking in particular of the emerging countries, especially China. There’s considerable parliamentary work to do with China. 2009 was a shock, a political shock from the clash of the old world of developed countries with the emerging countries, but also a shock for the emerging countries, whose increased power coincided with new global responsibilities: China is the main emitter of greenhouse gases. (…)

No political solutions were provided to this shock. But since 2009, many countries have thought about the transformation of their economies. Significant preparations are under way in the emerging countries, and change is afoot in the United States.

Even though the elections weren’t favourable for the administration, which is making efforts today, many US states have gone down the path of decarbonizing the economy, not just California: renewable energies, improved networks, intelligent networks and Positive Energy Buildings are becoming widespread along with a growing concern about the impact of climate change.

So there is an unprecedented degree of preparation.

Countries which, in the past, found themselves adopting a defensive policy, such as India, China, Brazil and South Africa, are starting to take different views: South Africa and Brazil are in favour of a good solution in 2015, India is wondering what approach to take and China is determined to get an agreement in Paris. The political landscape has changed a great deal, which makes me think that the major countries would like to reach an agreement in December 2015. The whole challenge is to conclude an agreement, not a cut-price one, but one which points the way.

We know that this agreement won’t provide the solution for keeping to the 2ºC limit in 2015 because, as things currently stand, countries’ contributions won’t match what needs to be done. Global emissions should have already begun to fall. On the other hand, we must agree on a disciplinary framework for countries, solutions and a road map. At the close of the Paris conference, there must be a plan drawn up to get back to 2ºC, a plan shared by governments, local authorities and businesses, even if this plan sets out a trajectory which is the subject of meetings every five years to ensure it is respected.

EU pledge

Europe’s announcement, which we could have wished more ambitious, had a very positive effect on our partners. We’re the first to set out an ambitious figure for cutting emissions. Despite the recession affecting it, Europe is asserting its belief in a low-carbon economy. (…) Europe is showing that it unilaterally believes that the ecological transition is good for it and, at the same time, is sending a very positive signal to all the countries which still have doubts.

Two doubts must be overcome. The first: can it be done? Are our societies willing to do it? In this respect, the more one observes the countries preparing for it, the less doubt there is. The second doubt: are the others going to do it? This doubt, precisely, is more easily dispelled today because many countries are hoping for success in December [2015] faced with a climate risk which has never been more fully grasped – as we saw on 23 September [UN Climate Summit]. (…)./.

Published on 22/05/2015

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