Paris: COP21-Decisions and Issues

I am starting to write this blog on Thursday, December 3, four days after the opening of COP21 in Paris, which will conclude on December 11. Expectations are very high for this conference to finally decide upon a global response to anthropogenic climate change. Pope Francis recently shocked the world with his statements about climate change:

“…I am not sure, but I can say to you ‘now or never’,” he told a group of reporters aboard the papal plane, en route home from Africa, according to Reuters. “Every year the problems are getting worse. We are at the limits. If I may use a strong word I would say that we are at the limits of suicide…”

This is directly equivalent to an expression that I have used throughout the last three years, in which I have defined global anthropogenic climate change as “self-inflicted genocide” (as of my very first blog post).

The urgency and expectations for mitigating actions that the conference will require are widespread. Copenhagen’s COP15 in December 2009 established that future global warming should be held to an upper limit of 2oC. That number is used broadly as a reference point for the effectiveness of planned actions. I will warn, however, that these expectations are not likely to be met within COP21.

In my opinion, it is very unlikely that the UNFCCC conference will yield a decision that will limit future warming to 2oC – mainly because any decision requires unanimous agreement by all the delegates.

I was born in Poland but never had the opportunity to go to school there, so my knowledge of Polish history is not much better than that of most of my readers. However, any time I think of a governing body that requires a unanimous decision, I immediately recall a certain methodology of government that the Polish of yore are (in)famous for. In Latin, it was called “Liberum Veto”:

The liberum veto (Latin for “the free veto”) was a parliamentary device in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. It was a form of unanimity voting rule that allowed any member of the Sejm (legislature) to force an immediate end to the current session and nullify any legislation that had already been passed at the session by shouting Sisto activitatem! (Latin: “I stop the activity!”) or Nie pozwalam! (Polish: “I do not allow!”). The rule was in place from the mid-17th to the late 18th century in the Sejm’s parliamentary deliberations. It was based on the premise that since all Polish noblemen were equal, every measure that came before the Sejm had to be passed unanimously. The principle of liberum veto was a key part of the political system of the Commonwealth, strengthening democratic elements and checking royal power, going against the European-wide trend of having a strong executive (absolute monarchy).

Many historians hold that the principle of liberum veto was a major cause of the deterioration of the Commonwealth political system—particularly in the 18th century, when foreign powers bribed Sejm members to paralyze its proceedings—and the Commonwealth’s eventual destruction in the partitions of Poland and foreign occupation, dominance and manipulation of Poland for the next 200 years or so. Piotr Stefan Wandycz wrote that the “liberum veto had become the sinister symbol of old Polish anarchy.” In the period of 1573–1763, about 150 sejms were held, out of which about a third failed to pass any legislation, mostly due to liberum veto. The expression Polish parliament in many European languages originated from this apparent paralysis.

It is very difficult to get any real binding decisions under these conditions.

Indeed, as I was writing this piece, Bloomberg came out with the following bulletin:

Poland just added one more hurdle to the climate talks in Paris by saying it may not endorse a new climate deal unless it guarantees pollution cuts that are truly global.

It seems that the Polish parliamentary woes of history have been resurrected.

COP21 started in a very impressive way. At least 147 heads of states showed up; they gave encouraging speeches. By now, four days after the opening, most of them have returned to their countries, leaving the negotiations to their representatives. If this conference goes as the previous several have, the negotiations will continue past the closing deadline, running late into the last nights. Hopefully, there will not be a repeat of the “Sisto Activitatem” that blocked the Copenhagen meeting from reaching any binding decisions. The Rules and Procedure of the Conference of the Parties maintain that draft resolutions and other documents must be communicated to the Secretariat 150 days before a meeting. Indeed, the draft resolution is already available for public inspection.

At this stage, the working versions of the agreement being presented are rather broad. Eventually, if an agreement is reached, the final draft will be pruned to represent a clear message. Sizeable disagreements persist throughout the process. Most of them focus on the disparities between developed and developing countries. The developing countries, headed by India and China, argue that since the greatest contributions to climate change came from richer, developed countries, those same countries ought to supply a large transfer of resources to help developing countries adapt to its consequences.

As India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “the prosperity and progress of an industrial age powered by fossil fuels” enriched the developed countries. If they want the cooperation of the developing countries, they should share the wealth. While the rich countries continue to make commitments, the money doesn’t flow. The US and Europe want full accountability, transparency and verification of compliance by independent experts. China and India feel that they are being shortchanged.

The latest draft version contains 50 pages with about 26 articles and background materials. Here is one section of Article 3 that focuses on mitigation:

Draft agreement and draft decision on workstreams 1 and 2 of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action

Work of the ADP contact group

Version of 3 December 2015@08:00hrs1


{Collective long-term goal}

Article 3 (MITIGATION)

  1. [Parties [collectively][cooperatively] aim to reach the global temperature goal referred to in Article 2 through:

a)   [a peaking of global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible[, recognizing that peaking requires deeper cuts of emissions of developed countries and will be longer for developing countries]]

b)   [rapid reductions thereafter [in accordance with best available science] to at least a X [-Y] per cent reduction in global [greenhouse gas emissions][CO2[e]] compared to 20XX levels by 2050]];

c)   [achieving zero global GHG emissions by 2060-2080]

d)   [a long-term low emissions transformation] [toward [climate neutrality][decarbonization] [over the course of this century] [as soon as possible after mid-century];

e)   [equitable distribution of a global carbon budget based on historical responsibilities and [climate] justice]

[on the basis of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities] [in the context of sustainable development and eradication of poverty][while ensuring that food security, production and distribution is not threatened][informed by the best available science].

1bis. [To achieve this, policies and measures should take into account different socio-economic contexts, be comprehensive, cover all relevant sources, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and adaptation, and comprise all economic sectors [for developed countries]] {Individual efforts}

  1. Each Party shall regularly prepare, communicate   [and maintain] [successive]   [NDMCs*2][INDC] and [shall][should][other] [take appropriate domestic measures] [have in place][identify and] [pursue] [implement] [domestic laws, [nationally determined] policies or other measures] [designed to] [implement][achieve][carry out][that support the implementation of] its [NDMCs*][INDC]].

[Placeholder for article 3.8 and 3.9] [Placeholder for context CBDRCC[, in the light of different national circumstances]] [Placeholder referring to article 4 of the Convention]

[Placeholder for support] {Differentiated efforts}

Option I:

  1. In accordance with Article 4, paragraph 2, of the Convention, developed country Parties and other Parties included in Annex I shall undertake quantified economy-wide absolute emission reduction commitments/targets, which are comparable, measurable, reportable and verifiable, cover all greenhouse gases and are implemented domestically without any conditions.

Option II:

  1. Option a: Each Party that has previously [communicated] [implemented] absolute economy-wide emissions reduction or limitation targets should continue to do so and all Parties should aim to do so over time.

Option b: Developed country Parties [and other Parties [in a position][that determine] to do so] should take the lead in mitigation efforts, including by [communicating] [and implementing] absolute economy-wide emissions reduction [or limitation] targets and all other Parties should aim to do so over time.

3bis   [Developed country Parties should continue to take the lead].


  1. LDCs [and SIDS][and African states] may communicate their [NDMC*][INDC] at their discretion, including information on strategies, plans and actions for low GHG development, reflecting their special circumstances.


  1. Each Party’s successive [NDMC*][INDC] [shall][should][will] represent a progression beyond the Party’s previous efforts and reflect its highest possible ambition [based on common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities [in light of different national circumstances [and best available science]] [based on provision of finance, technology and capacity-building to developing countries]{Information}
  2. In communicating their [proposed] [intended] [NDMC*][INDC], Parties shall provide the information necessary for clarity, transparency and understanding, in accordance with [decision 1/CP.21][decision 1/CP.20 ] [and any subsequent decisions of the CMA.] [Article 12 of the Convention and the relevant arrangement for reporting information adopted by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP) including those resulting from the Bali Action Plan and the information listed in decision 1/CP.20.]{Features5}
  3. Option 1: Each Party’s [NDMC*][INDC] [shall][should] be quantified or quantifiable, [be unconditional, at least in…….

A final draft is expected by next week, at which point we will analyze it along with the rest of the world.

Of course, even with the best case scenario, in which all the parties agree on the steps that will lead to the desired mitigation of climate change, true enforcement is next to impossible unless the agreement acquires the status and weight of a treaty. Here is what the American constitution says about ratification of international treaties: “The President…shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.”

Ratification in the US requires confirmation by two thirds of the Senate. In order to accomplish that at the moment, we would essentially need a political revolution – a fact of which the rest of the world is fully aware.

I believe that the global energy transition is happening and will continue to happen. But, as I have said repeatedly, it is a stuttering global energy transition that is mainly driven by bottom-up, grassroots implementation, not top-down. It will take time.

On another note, here is a wonderful carbon clock based on the Keeling and Whorf curve that I discussed in the last blog. Bloomberg has extrapolated the curve to real time electronically, based on the measurements from the last three years. They have supplemented it with a very thorough and well-put-together explanation. Please wake up every morning and have a look.

About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
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