At the end of November, delegates from 195 countries, and the EU, met at Le Bourget Airport outside Paris, for the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC Treaty, and the 11th Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.
On 12 December, the negotiations, which had run on
into the weekend, concluded with an agreement.
For a detailed summary of that Agreement, prepared
by lawyers in our San Francisco, Vienna and Brisbane offices who were closely
involved in monitoring negotiations at the COPMOP,
see our recent client alert. The Agreement, which
will be legally binding in international law once signed
and ratified by at least 55 countries that account for
at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions,
contains an ambitious goal.
It commits the parties to keeping long-term global
warming "well below 2oC above pre-industrial levels
and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase
to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels".
Those targets are ambitious, and many doubt whether
they are realistic, given current and likely future emissions.
However they certainly send a strong political signal that
so many countries are prepared to work towards a low
Agreement on the targets was reached in part because
while the framework Agreement will be legally binding,
the commitments set out in the Intended Nationally
Determined Contributions (INDCs), on which the
meeting of those targets will largely depend, will not be.
The distinction was crucial in obtaining the agreement of
the US Government. President Obama is strongly in
favour of action on climate change, but faces strong
opposition in Congress, and could not risk agreeing to a
treaty that would require ratification by the Senate.
188 countries have already signed up to INDCs.
On at least one estimate, the commitments in those
INDCs currently fall some way short of meeting
even the 2oC target. However it is hoped that the
review process provided for in the Agreement, and
international group pressure, will lead to gradual
raising of 'ambition' as regards the INDCs, so that
the targets can be met.
The COPMOP can be said to have achieved its goal,
to produce an agreement which will be legally
binding and take effect by 2020 when current
commitments under the Kyoto Protocol expire.
Indeed the accompanying decision goes further in
terms of making significant provision for enhanced
action prior to 2020.
COP 21 provided a happy contrast with the 2009
COPMOP in Copenhagen which sought - but failed - to meet a similar goal.
There were significant tensions at the summit but
some time in advance there had been a quiet
confidence that agreement would be achieved. Why the contrast? It is clear that the lessons of 2009 COPMOP had
An important development in advance of the COPMOP
was Chinese American Co-operation, discussed in the
first article of this issue.
That was supplemented by an accord between
China and France in which China agreed to support
five-yearly reviews of the INDCs aimed in particular
at securing that developing countries "progressively
orient themselves towards quantifiable reductions or
limitations in emissions".
One argument which had previously hampered
negotiations is that developed countries should bear all of
the cost and burden because their historic emissions
caused the problem in the first place. That argument is
being undermined by the increasing wealth of many
developing countries and their rapidly increasing share of
global emissions. It is China’s increasing wealth, despite
the recent slowdown, and awareness of the problems
caused by rapid industrialisation, which has effected a
revolution in China’s own approach to the environment.
Astonishingly this includes the recent introduction of a
new role for NGOs in the enforcement of environmental
compliance in that country, and specialist environmental
sections in the courts.
It is also evident that France, whose foreign minister,
Laurent Fabius, travelled extensively to China in the
18 months preceding the COPMOP and who himself
presided at Le Bourget, set considerable store by the
success of the COPMOP.
France was clearly determined to avoid the tactical
errors of the 'top-down' approach adopted by the
Danish presidency and other EU delegations at
Copenhagen. Emphasis was placed instead on a 'bottom up' approach in which agreement would be
sought on the basis of what different states had
indicated they would be prepared to agree to.
France also made special arrangements for a 'civil society village' for NGOs at Le Bourget, in
contrast to the treatment they received at the 2009
COPMOP when they were turned out into the cold
streets of Copenhagen in winter.
Lastly, the COPMOP can be said to have obtained the
support of both God and Mammon. It obtained the
blessing of the Pope, whose encyclical Laudato si’ seems
at least in part to have been issued to encourage
progress at the COPMOP. Furthermore CEOs from
78 global companies signed an open letter in advance of
the summit, calling on governments to take bold action.
The signatories included Sir Nigel Knowles, Global
Co-Chairman of DLA Piper. Read the open letter here
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