Towards a New Climate Agreement Based on 2-Degrees Celsius I

The Three-Tiered Structure of Mitigation Commitments

Welcome to theglobal online negotiation will put you at the negotiating table as a delegate to work out with fellow citizens around the world a meaningful climate agreement for 2015, one that I count of us being able to deliver and to say to the world leaders, here it is, here a kind of agreement you should have and if you don’t come up with it, well the world’s citizens have.

So I’m looking forward to participating together with you as delegates to the global online negotiation next semester. And therefore in this tenth and final lecture of this semester, I’d like to talk about the structure of the negotiations at COP21, how they can produce a meaningful agreement, an agreement to achieve the 2-degree Celsius limit on mean global temperature increase. And to do that in this chapter one, I want to talk about a kind of structure, a three-tiered structure for an actual agreement.

Now these three tiers are not the only parts of a climate agreement, indeed, in further chapters of this lecture I’ll talk about some of the other parts of an agreement in terms of financing for instance.

But here I want to talk about the logic of an agreement on mitigation. What would it mean to agree to a 2-degree Celsius limit for the world as a whole? And for that purpose let’s go back to the three kinds of interactions that I discussed in lecture nine.  The poker game, the brainstorming around the table and the conductor-less orchestra, because I think that all three have some role in the negotiations. What’s being discussed now mostly is the poker game. That’s been the tradition of the negotiations up until now. What are we going to agree to? How do I make sure as representing country one that I’m not giving up something relative to country two? And we’re going to have that kind of bargaining no doubt and we’ll have absolutely that spirit to some unavoidable extent, also to some logical extent to make sure that the commitments are shared.

The first tier of any agreement is likely to be some legally binding contributions or commitments of countries in the relatively short-term. Say up to the year 2030, the agreement to be reached next year will only take force most likely by around 2018 and maybe begin its period of implementation around 2020. And perhaps the next phase envisioned within an agreement would be 2030. Governments are saying to others, what are you ready to put on the table that is a firm commitment on emissions levels across the greenhouse gases and that can be monitored, reported, verified and that will be binding for you? Now that’s the poker game. It is not going to deliver a 2-degree Celsius ambition. Why? First, it’s too short-term for that. In order to deep, deeply decarbonizes, we’re going to need decades, not decade, so any real deep decarbonization program needs to have a horizon well beyond 2030 to mid-century and even beyond because we know that if our goal is to reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide by 2050 to say between 10 and 15 billion tons, we’re going to need as a world to reduce net emissions to nearly zero or to zero net emissions perhaps by 2070 to 2080.

So the second tier is going to have to give us a longer-term framework to begin with, 2030 can never do it. The other problem with focusing only on the short-term in that baseline poker game is that it can, it can trick you. It can lead countries to short-term improvements hat are kinds of dead-ends, that are limited progress but have a lock-in effect that don’t allow the countries to go further. This is evident in the United States with some of the sentiment right now to shift from coal fired power plants not to wind or solar or nuclear or zero emitting electricity, but to natural gas. And the argument is, well that’s an improvement. Going from coal to gas, that’s a good thing. And that would be built say into a 2030 scenario. The problem with that however is that while gas burns more cleanly than coal, an economy based natural gas is not an economy consistent with the 2-degree C limit. It would be emitting far, far more than would be permissible under a carbon budget of 2-degree centigrade. So the second tier has to be longer-term. And of course given our experience in the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, we feel quite strongly from our own experience and from the logic of the project itself that every country should put forward a deep decarbonization pathway, at least to the mid-century.

Those DDPPs are a little bit like the score that is on the musician’s stand in the conductor-less orchestra, that is the music that will be played. It’s not music under a contract that says, you play that, that’s legally binding and verified. More, it is the, the theme music that together around the world countries will play in order to make the sounds of, of 2-degrees C. In other words, to make the music that can really change the direction of the, the temperature and the energy system. It is to put it in other terms, part of that thinking through and implementation process, how can we really get to where we need to go?

Now there’s a third part of this puzzle around the table and that’s the fact that we don’t have solutions at hand that are quite good enough for what we’re going to need. Again, in the Deep Decarbonization Pathway Project, many country teams had a very, very difficult time to have their models combine the assumed quite rapid economic growth for the developing countries for example and the deep decarbonization together with that growth.  And when the models were pushed on that, the models said, our technological assumptions are rather cautious, rather static. If we’re going to be able to decarbonizes more deeply, of course we’re going to need breakthroughs on technology.

This should be the third tier of an agreement.  If the first tier is for the short horizon, legally binding, the second tier is the pathways for the middle of the century. The third tier or component of an agreement is a serious worldwide effort to make breakthroughs on technology.

What is called the RDD&D framework. The research development demonstration and diffusion framework. This is not the kind of agreement unfortunately that has been negotiated in the past. When one looks at the Kyoto Protocol or the drafts that were circulated for Copenhagen, or even the discussions that are underway now, the components that I’ve just outlined of short-term, legally binding contributions, intermediate run pathways and a major constructive effort on technology has not really been a framework in place.

And one can see in the tensions that result, the failure to have that integrated frame has made it very difficult to reach agreements on any  particular component. Countries resist being pushed farther in terms of legally binding commitments beyond what they feel is already sure and available technologically. Without the technology building component, we also will not develop those improvements that will open up the space for much deeper action.

And yet without the pathways that guide us and tell us that it’s not enough to go from coal to natural gas, but we have to go from coal to zero carbon electricity, or nearly so, without those pathways, then we don’t even have guidelines on what the technological needs and obstacles that we must overcome really are.

So it’s that integrated framework that is the kind of framework that can carry us forward. In the next chapters, let’s look more deeply at the issues of technology, the issues of finance, and the issues of public mobilization and support of a bold agreement.

Pedro Pereira Leite

Researcher and professor. He had his PhD. on museology in 2011, with the title “Muss-amb-ike Homeland: The commitment on musicological process”, that was published in 2011. In 2012 he finishes a Post-PhD Research on "Biographical Glances: The intersubjectivity poetry on museology, at Lusófona University (Lisbon). Presently he is working in his Post PhD. Research about: “Global Heritages" with the aims to build a network on local cognizance and memory manager has a tool to build the will of action in 3 different communities, linked by past communed heritages.” He works at CES. He participates on different Research network, presented papers in national and international conferences, and had published books on research subjects.

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