As we all know, the Paris Agreement was secured at COP 21, which took place between 30th November and 11th December 2015 in Paris. The Agreement itself was entered into on 12th December 2015, and came into force on 4th November 2016.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the United Nations website thinks the Paris Agreement represents a big deal, and certainly it is much-loved of the climate-concerned, many of whom seem to think that if only we all complied with it, all would be well. The UN website claims that it is a legally binding agreement, though as I pointed out in “A Lot of Hot Air”, enforcing its provisions is practically impossible, given the lack of sanctions and enforcement mechanism. By implication, the commentary on the UN website suggests that the Nationally Determined Contributions (“NDCs”) submitted by the parties to the Agreement are mandatory, even though the contents of the NDCs can be whatever the parties want them to be (and in many cases those contents are pretty uninspiring stuff in terms of the supposed plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions).
The parties were also supposed to formulate and submit by 2020 Long-Term Low greenhouse gas emission Development Strategies (“LT-LEDS”). We’ll take a look at how that’s going shortly, but first let’s look at the developments along the road from Paris to Glasgow. It has been a rather circuitous route, both geographically and in terms of outcomes.
The next meeting took place at Bonn from 16th to 26th May 2016, and a series of mini-conferences actually took place. It was the 44th session of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (“SBI”); and the 44th session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (“SBSTA44”); and the first session of the Ad-hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (“APA1”). The number of meetings held is something to behold, though I’m not sure what was actually achieved. A lot of people must have attended, though. Taking one day at random, 23rd May 2016, between 8am and 10am alone, there was a SIDS Daily Co-ordination meeting; a Youth non-governmental organisation meeting; an African Group daily co-ordination meeting; a G77 and China daily co-ordination meeting; a COMIFAC meeting (no, I didn’t know what it is either, until I looked it up – it’s a French acronym, and it stands, in English, for the Central African Forest Commission); a meeting of the Women and Gender constituency; a meeting of Indigenous Peoples’ Organisations; a meeting of business and industry non-governmental organisations; a meeting of research and independent non-governmental organisations; and a meeting of the Environmental Integrity Group.
If I’d been there, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t know which meeting to attend. Are deniers allowed in Integrity Groups?
Marrakech (COP 22)
COP 22 took place at Marrakech between 7th and 18th November 2016. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the UN website reporting on the end of the COP was gushing with regard to the achievements of the meeting, but in reality it’s difficult to see what of substance was achieved, when this sort of sound-bite was the best they could come up with:
“Countries at UN conference pledge to press ahead with implementation of Paris Agreement.”
They also affirmed their “commitment” to the “full implementation” of the Paris Agreement, and the conference:
“focused on various actions and initiatives taken by Governments and non-state actors to address climate change”
“…developed country [sic] reaffirmed their $100 billion mobilization goal per year by 2020 to support climate action by developing countries.” [We saw how that went in ‘More Hot Air’.]
All countries also called on non-state actors to join them:
“for immediate and ambitious action and mobilization, building on their important achievements”.
That went well, then.
Bonn again (COP 23)
COP 23 took place in Bonn between 6th and 17th November 2017. It doesn’t seem to have achieved anything solid, save for the agreement of “motherhood and apple pie” in the form of Sustainable Development Goals relating to the following:
- No Poverty;
- No Hunger;
- Good Health and well-being;
- Quality education [unfortunately they refer to “climate education” at this point];
- Gender equality;
- Water and sanitation [the point was made that to meet the plans would cost around $295 billion p.a. The European Investment Bank offered $75 million for a project in Fiji – by happy coincidence, Fiji was in the Chair at Bonn – and that was it in terms of financing];
- Affordable clean energy;
- Decent work and economic growth;
- Industry, innovation and infrastructure;
- Reduced inequalities
- Sustainable cities and communities;
- Responsible consumption and production;
- Climate action;
- Life below water;
- Life on land;
- Peace, justice and strong institutions;
- Partnerships for the goals.
A cynic could say that the above list is just a pretext for an international body to oversee all aspects of national level governance. The very thought.
Meanwhile, how was the finance going?
“Areas where progress has been less than stellar center on the means of implementation. Developed countries had promised that they would ramp up climate financing to US$100 billion a year by 2020. Developing countries, however, are not seeing many signs that this money will materialize.”
As well as can be expected then.
Katowice (COP 24)
COP 24 took place in Katowice between 2nd and 14th December 2018. The timing was, perhaps, unfortunate, given that the gilets jaunes protests had commenced in France not long before, in opposition to a planned rise in that country in duty rates on petrol and diesel. A relatively modest (by the standards of these things) 14,000 delegates descended on Poland, and failed to agree on much for quite a long time. As the Guardian’s report put it shortly afterwards:
“The mood was more one of relief than triumph on Sunday when the world’s governments eventually found common ground at the UN climate talks in Katowice, Poland. This was not just because exhausted delegates were glad to go home after negotiations that dragged on 30 hours beyond the deadline.”
Delegates eventually managed to agree a rulebook for implementing the Paris Agreement (but with many details left until the following year). Arguments over carbon credits were left unresolved, and that particular can was kicked down the road for another year. Absent was any meaningful discussion of ramping up targets. And the USA (under Trump) joined forces with Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to prevent the Conference endorsing the IPCC’s findings, and merely commending the timing of the report.
The Guardian’s report on Katowice solemnly informed us that we had until 2020 to resolve these issues or it would be too late, which calls into question why we’re bothering in 2021, since that’s three years later.
Madrid (not Santiago) (COP 25)
The Presidency of COP 25 was given to Chile, and the conference should have taken place in Santiago. However, whereas the shadow of the gilets jaunes was cast over Katowice in 2018, by 2019 the Chileans had a bigger problem. Although protests in Ecuador around the same time were about the reduction of fuel subsidies, in Chile the cause of the protests seems complex. It’s generally agreed that they kicked off in protest against the rising price of metro costs in Santiago, and they rapidly spread around the country, with a great deal of violence.
The Spanish government came to the rescue, Greta had to hitch a lift back across the Atlantic, and COP 25 eventually took place in Madrid from 2nd to 13th December 2019, still under the Presidency of Chile. Despite the change of location, 20,000 delegates still managed to find their way.
In many ways it was a repeat of Katowice. At the end of the allotted time, there was still no agreement. Despite extending talks for a further two days, some of the media reported on the end of the talks with reports like “Failure In Madrid As COP25 Climate Summit Ends In Disarray”.
Yet again the final text was watered down, and contained vague promises to enhance emissions reduction targets, but crucially the final details of the rulebook for the Paris Agreement remained outstanding and global carbon market rules were not agreed.
Then a real crisis occurred and COP 26 did not take place at all in 2020. And now we find ourselves bombarded with increasingly shrill media headlines and propaganda ahead of the delayed COP 26 in Glasgow later this year, and we still have six months to go (it’s due to take place between 1st and 12th November 2021). The desperation and panic are palpable. Will crucial agreements finally be reached? Or will it be yet more hot air?
What of those vital LT-LEDS? Well, a meeting took place at Bangkok in July 2018 “to help Parties kick off the discussion on formulating the LT-LEDS”. The UN website page on this still describes the report on the event as “coming soon”, so I can’t tell you much more about it. I’m struggling to find out how many countries have actually submitted LT-LEDS to date, the most up-to-date information I’ve located being on the UN website. The formal obligation is set out thus:
“The COP, by its decision 1/CP 21, paragraph 35, invited Parties to communicate, by 2020, to the secretariat mid-century, long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies in accordance with Article 4, paragraph 19, of the Agreement.”
So, as we stand here in May 2021, they should all have been delivered by now. Instead the website tells us that 29 have been delivered to date. The vast majority are from European countries (and one is from the EU, despite the fact that many of the 29 were delivered by EU countries). If the EU is considered a single entity, so that the LT-LEDS of EU member countries are ignored (after all, only the EU submitted an NDC on behalf of all its member states), then the number falls to 16. The non-European countries (there are non-EU submissions from Norway, Switzerland, UK and Ukraine) who have complied are: Republic of Korea, South Africa, Singapore, Costa Rica, Japan, Fiji, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Benin, USA, Mexico and Canada. And that’s it!