Instead of discussing the impact the recent shootings in San Bernardino have had on the Syrian refugee issue here in the United States, I want to start the New Year on a more hopeful note by talking about the landmark climate change deal that was struck in Paris at COP21.
Critics both here in America and in other developed countries have been quick to point to the absence of an enforcement mechanism that would force nations to meet their ambitious emissions reduction targets. But the new agreement’s detractors fail to account for the reaction of consumers towards businesses who do not ensure that their goods and services are produced in ways that reduce emissions. In other words, companies who want to protect their reputations will make sure that all members of their global supply chains are also cutting their carbon footprint.
US Secretary of State John Kerry alluded to this in an interview on CBS TV’s Face the Nation, when he noted that even though the agreement was only a set of promises by 195 nations to reduce and ultimately eliminate their use of fossil fuels, it nonetheless sent a clear message to the world’s corporations.“The business community of the entire world is receiving a message of countries now moving toward clean, alternative, renewable energy and trying to reduce their carbon footprint,” he said. “That is going to spur massive investment.”
As some of you may recall, I attended and later wrote about the COP15 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen and why it failed to achieve the long-term climate change agreement that many nations had hoped for. But I also believe that the Paris talks succeeded at least in part due to the lessons we learned from the failures of COP15 and its breakdown in talks between developed and developing nations. This breakdown is what led to the Copenhagen Accord, a side deal negotiated by the United States with Brazil, South Africa, India and China.
While it fell far short of being a comprehensive successor agreement to the 1992 Kyoto Protocol, the eleventh-hour Copenhagen Accord helped set the stage for the recent Paris agreement. Among other things, the accord acknowledged the need for a system that would independently monitor progress by countries towards their respective carbon emission targets, a significant issue that China had been opposed to. It also recognised the necessity of reducing emissions from deforestation and establishing the REDD mechanism to provide billions of euros to developing countries so they could preserve the forests that were absorbing greenhouse gases.
Unfortunately, the Copenhagen Accord was only negotiated by five nations so it was an unsatisfactory outcome for a two-year process that had been designed to produce a comprehensive and enforceable international treaty to reduce carbon emissions. Most EU leaders expressed support for the deal and praised President Obama for the role he played in the resolving the dispute with China over independent monitoring of emissions, but for the G-77 developing nations, the deal was less than they wanted, and was achieved without their involvement.
In addition to the lessons learned from the failure of COP15, several other factors also played key roles in the success of the Paris talks. For starters, global perceptions about President Obama and America’s commitment to reducing its emissions have shifted in the last six years. President Bush’s refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol had seriously harmed America’s reputation on climate change issues and many world leaders simply didn’t believe President Obama’s pledges to reduce America’s carbon emissions.
But after he won re-election in 2012, President Obama began his second term by warning Congressional Republicans that he would act on climate change if they didn’t. One year later, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced new regulations on coal-fired power plants that would lead to the closure of hundreds of generating stations. As a result, the leaders of other developed and developing countries came to the conclusion that the United States and President Obama were indeed serious about doing their part.
The other major factor that aided the Paris negotiations was the November 2014 climate deal that broke the two-decade stalemate between America and China on how to reduce the emissions of the world’s two biggest air polluters. That agreement, in turn, provided the framework for the first draft of the Paris treaty that was developed a month later in Lima, Peru and which included a requirement for every nation to submit its own climate change plan prior to COP21.
In contrast to COP15, the most recent climate change deal was the culmination of two weeks of intense negotiations involving all of the world’s developed and developing countries. The 2015 accord sets an objective of limiting global warming to a 2C increase through a global shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources over the next 50 years. Financial commitments to the €100bn fund to help developing nations and the submission and review of all 195 nations’ emission reduction targets will also be legally binding.
Each of the 195 countries that signed the Paris agreement still need to ratify the treaty before its terms can become law, but at least the world is finally moving in the same direction.
Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas pursuing a career in public service. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011 and pursued a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy.