A year or two ago I wrote of my scepticism relating to the Paris Agreement on climate change, possibly due to my lack of knowledge on international negotiations. What came out of that meeting seemed to be a hodgepodge of commitments which in the unlikely event of being met were unlikely to be sufficient to restrict temperature rises to the target figure. The South African commitment appeared a case in point of being a figure plucked out of the air on the apparent basis of what will look good and keep everyone happy. Not one, but two, elephants in the room were always present. Advanced countries had already been through the heavily polluting part of their development while emerging economies were still at that stage and not ready to freely abandon this process of catching up to those countries which were were responsible for much of the existing pollution. Closely related to this was the question of who would provide the money required to help the poorer countries continue with their industrialisation and development while simultaneously limiting their pollution (which has tended to concentrate on CO2 emissions). These big issues were basically left unresolved along with exactly how the commitments would be aligned with the target.
Since the Paris meeting there have been developments which alter the picture. Renewable energy has been brought online at a faster pace than was envisaged and the cost reductions of this technology bodes well for continued implementation. On the other hand the US has pulled out of the process, impacting the financial considerations, even while US cities and states have continued with their measures and former US participants in the negotiations have been seen on the sidelines of recent meetings,
The aim of the meeting just concluded in Bonn, pictured above, was to prepare the ground for Cop24 in Katowice, Poland at the end of the year. The way these things apparently work is that countries prepare informal notes or texts, each party contributing its own lines, before these are debated to achieve some final negotiating text. This has not in fact happened with the result that the co-chairs will have to sort through and combine these various contributions into a single text to be debated at the further meeting now required in Bangkok in September. The problem again has been the question of finance and whether there can be different rules for rich and poor countries.
While UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa has described the talks as satisfactory she stressed the amount of work to be done in the months ahead. One is left with the impression that talks will expand to take up the time available before the Katowice meeting and not much will be agreed until they find themselves up against some deadline. Are the delegates capable or sufficiently empowered to come up with a solution or does it require a few politicians to be locked up in a room somewhere with only the occasional pizza slipped under the door until they come up with the answer. All of this before really getting down to actual numbers. When eventually some numbers are agreed are they likely to be met and what will be the consequences of not meeting them. What are the chances of keeping the temperature rise to only 1.5°C when each passing year seems to be reinforcing the upward trend. How good is the science behind all this, especially when it comes to the unknown unknowns as Donald Rumsfeld might describe them.
Sources and references: Climate Home News; International Renewable Energy Agency; Climate Analytics