Le jour de gloire est arrivé

You have probably all heard the amazing news by now, so I won’t belabor this report. The New York Times has great video of the final moments at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/13/world/europe/climate-change-accord-paris.html?_r=0 . The little sequence of Fabius gavelling the agreement seems trivial out of context, but in the moment it was breathtaking : all of a sudden, almost before anyone in the hall was ready, it was done and there was pandemonium. I count this as one the memorable moments of my life to have been right there in person.

In this regard I would like to thank Diana Liverman and the Institute of the Environment for assembling the UA delegation and making it possible for us to participate in this historic occasion. I also thank my home department, the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, and its Director, Dr Stuart Marsh, for encouragement and support of my attendance.

Now the next phase begins. We have some significant work to do here at home.

Merci à tous,

Don Falk

The penultimate Paris agreement ..which should (or shall?) be agreed on today

Diana Liverman: First Reactions

The UNFCCC has just published the (final) draft of the Paris agreement to be adopted (they hope) later today.  Here is the latest version Paris agreement and some of my initial reactions.  Twitter is going nuts with comments!  I can see the compromises and fingerprints of so many countries, experts and activists throughout.

At first glance there are very positive aspects to the agreement:

  • Recognition of human, indigenous, women’s and other rights (but only in preamble not operative sections of agreement)…proud that Mexico apparently led on this
  • inclusion of a 1.5C target (thanks to many activists, scholars and countries) and need to further reduce emissions from current pledges in order to meet the ’emissions gap’ between current pledges (which take us well above 2C) and a 1.5C long term target
  • $100 billion a year financial help to developing countries – but it isn’t nearly enough and unclear how much for adaptation and damages
  • Loss and damage is included but with no recognition of liability
  • Review and hopefully ramp up of committments starts in 2018, five year reviews
  • IPCC to do special report on world at 1.5C by 2018 (opportunity to encourage countries to increase their reductions) – science needed to have started work on that yesterday, lots we still dont know about a 1.5C world and the emissions pathways that get us there
  • Forests, oceans, ecosystems are mentioned
  • Both market and non market mechanisms
  • A very interesting section which says the agreement “Notes with concern that the estimated aggregate greenhouse gas emission levels in 2025 and 2030 resulting from the intended nationally determined contributions do not fall within least-cost 2 ˚C scenarios but rather lead to a projected level of 55 gigatonnes in 2030, and also notes that much greater emission reduction efforts will be required than those associated with the intended nationally determined contributions in order to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2 ˚C above pre-industrial levels by reducing emissions to 40 gigatonnes or to 1.5 ˚C above pre-industrial levels by reducing to a level to be identified in the special report referred to in paragraph 21 below (another signal to scientists!)

Important to note the differences between use of words ‘shall’ and ‘should’, the former is more binding than the latter.  And between what gets into the preamble and what is in the action and core of the agreement.

More later….

Forests come into their own at COP21

Several of you have asked about the role of forest conservation in the COP21 negotiations. This follows the line of reasoning that trees (and forest soils) sequester huge amounts of carbon. Therefore, preserving existing forests, and restoring degraded ones, would seem to be a natural element of a global strategy.

This is quite correct, although there are some complexities that I will have to write about later on, particularly the question of how to estimate and track the carbon content of early successional and/or restored forests. In the meantime, here is a nice overview of the topic from today’s NYT:


Don Falk




Tipping point?

After last night’s acrimony, it seemed entirely possible that negotiations were about to stall as countries established rigid positions. However, by morning it appeared that progress had been made overnight after all. Several thorny issues were moved off to side agreements, leaving a core set of issues that still required resolution. These included “ambition” (what °C would be the agreement’s target?); finance (who would pay whom and how much?); and “bifurcation” or “discrimination” (depending who is talking, how countries would be divided into haves and have-nots). My colleague Valerie Trouet reported that the alerts during the morning were generally positive, which was a hopeful sign.

Negotiations continued all day, leading up to a planned plenary at 1500h at which the new version was due to be released. However, Laurent Fabius did not appear at this meeting and instead his deputy ran a more technical session taking care of a number of more minor administrative elements. The new agreement was not released after all, and another plenary was scheduled for 2100h. This eventually happened (an hour late), and this time Fabius, looking decidedly fatigued, announced good progress on many fronts. The new draft agreement was released, which you can see here: http://unfccc.int/documentation/documents/advanced_search/items/6911.php?priref=600008822#beg

or here:


Delegations went back into sessions about an hour ago and will be working on those three core issues all night.

On the basis of this I put down $5 at 10:1 odds with a colleague for an agreement by Friday.


Climate negotiations enter round-the-clock final push

During the afternoon of Wed 9 Dec the “Comite de Paris”, which is shepherding the final negotiation process, released the latest draft agreement. Last night was culminated by a nearly four hour open plenary session to review this draft. Starting ~8 PM, approximately 50 of the ~190 nations represented at the COP made 3-5 minute statements, generally praising the Comite’s transparent process and the leadership of Laurent Fabius. However, nearly all of the remarks then went on to list, often in mind-numbing detail, the points large and small about which delegate countries were unhappy with the current draft. Presentations were made both by individual country delegations, and also on behalf of larger coalitions including the G77+China (a large voting bloc of less developed nations), SIDS (Small Island Developing States, especially Pacific and Caribbean), a large coalition of Less-Developed Nations (LDCs), Coalition for Rainforest Nations, Arab Nations, African Nations, and others. Just from this list it’s not hard to see that the non-G7 nations are banding together to speak with one voice, at least to some extent.

Among the issues raised (too many to discuss in detail here) were:

  1. Confirming that the COP agreement will be legally binding under existing conventions
  2. Establishing 1.5° C as the stated “ambition”, leaving 2° C as an outer limit. This point was raised by nearly all nations considered more vulnerable to climate change effects, although the result may be more rhetorical than real.
  3. Deciding who will pay, and who will receive payments, for climate mitigation and technology transfer. This is a huge issue, hinging on the original “bifurcation” of all nations in to one of two groups based on national economic capacity and need. Broadly speaking, the LDCs want to keep the bifurcation in place while the more affluent potential donor nations would like a more gradient approach. This reflects the hybrid status of many states like China and Brazil which are not in the top tier of affluence but nonetheless have huge and globally powerful economies (for a discussion of this point with respect to China see http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/10/world/asia/as-us-and-europe-pass-the-hat-at-climate-talks-china-clings-to-developing-nation-status.html ).
  4. Establishing more frequent (proposed 5 year) reporting and evaluation points, rather than the original plan to wait until 2030 for an overall evaluation.
  5. “Loss and damage” compensation to countries being affected now by climate change, and the basis on which such determinations would be made.
  6. Inclusion of REDD+ as a listed component of the agreement (REDD+ was only bracketed in yesterday’s version). Needless to say, many countries with extensive forests (including the Coalition of Rainforest Nations) are very keen to see REDD enshrined in the climate agreement.

These are just some of the issues that were aired at length last night. The session ran nearly until midnight, and the negotiations on these individual points were then scheduled to begin immediately and run until 6 AM. The negotiations are being divided into these main topics so they can focus on finding language, with each nation allowed to send a delegate to each section.

I don’t know if this sort of frenetic last-minute scramble is typical of high-level negotiations of major new agreements. It seemed to me that a large number of very significant issues were being raised with a lot of lines drawn in the sand with uncompromising language (“deal killer”, “red line for us”, “unacceptable”). Perhaps this is just posturing, or perhaps it reflects real divisions that have not been resolved. Given that there are at most 36 hours left to conclude the COP, it seems fair to say that today (Thursday 10 December) will most likely be the critical day.

Don Falk

US joins the “High Ambition Coalition”

A few hours ago Todd Stern, lead US negotiator at the COP, confirmed that the US is joining the “High Ambition Coalition” which also includes the EU; African, Caribbean, and Pacific Island nations; Mexico, Columbia; and a number of other less-developed countries. The HAC is pushing for final language in the agreement that will reflect (1) the more ambitious 1.5 deg C as the actual goal, not 2 deg which is seen as an outer limit or a “guard rail” target; (2) 5-year updates and monitoring of national progress toward meeting the INDC commitments (in some earlier versions the next check-in date was 2030); and (3) an international fund, on the order of $100 billion, put up by affluent nations to support less-developed countries make the transition away from fossil fuels. All this is still being negotiated, and the absence of some large polluters (notably India and China, as well as Brazil) from this group is still being noted.

More later,

Don Falk