China And France Lay Groundwork For More Ambitious Emission Reductions Post Paris


With the key talks fast approaching, there are early signs the meeting could be on track to reverse the shortcomings of Copenhagen and Kyoto. Thom Mitchell reports.

China and France have struck a deal ahead of key international climate negotiations this December, calling for five-yearly reviews of what nations are doing to curb emissions with an eye to ratchet-up the level of ambition over time.

Last week the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change said that after analysing the pledges of 146 countries, covering 86 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, a rise in temperatures of 2.7 degrees is likely.

The main aim of the Paris talks is to strike an agreement that will keep the rise in average global temperatures below two degrees, but the Deputy CEO of the Climate Institute, Erwin Jackson, said that was never really the reality.

“The ratcheting up of ambition is what will make Paris unique from previous agreements — under Kyoto, Copenhagen and Cancun, we basically saw a process of really one-off target setting,” he said.

“The core of the Paris agreement, and what will make it more effective, ultimately, is that countries need to update their positions through time.”

After the failure of the Copenhagen talks in 2009, China was saddled with much of the blame, but it has since emerged as a leading voice in the mounting international push to nail down a legally binding pact.

“Certainly [that shift]started in Copenhagen, and it’s continued since where we’ve seen the traditional G77-China block [of developing nations]not being able to operate with a collective voice,” Jackson said.

“That’s because the various national interests within that group recognise that increasingly strong action is in their interests.”

The joint announcement last night is an important indicator of the nature of French diplomatic work going on behind the scenes. Political constructs around ‘success’ or ‘failure’ at climate negotiations are heavily influenced by the host country, and calls for five-yearly reviews signal the importance being placed on that change in process.

“The political momentum is all heading in that direction, so I think we are going to see probably five yearly cycles of updating actions within the core Paris agreement [but]we still need to define the details of how exactly that will be done,” Jackson said.

The veteran negotiator also said that “it was good to see a clear focus on needing to do a stocktake before 2020” in the statement jointly released by French and Chinese authorities.

The China-France statement called for the “convening [of]a facilitative dialogue in 2017/2018, to take stock of any progress made and explore the possibility of further enhancing pre-2020 action and support”.

“One of the benefits of this [Paris] process is that we’ve seen countries come forward with new targets,” Jackson said. “It’s meant we’re no longer on a four to six degree trajectory, and more a 2.7 to three degree trajectory”.

While that does represent progress, a rise of more than two degrees was recognised to be ‘dangerous’ at the Copenhagen talks by 195 countries, including Australia.

The year before those talks Australia set its current emissions reductions targets, for the period up to 2020, of a five per cent cut to emissions from 2000 levels.

There was a promise of a 15 per cent cut by 2020, too, on the proviso that there was sufficient international action, but this more ambitious commitment quickly dropped out of the public conversation around climate action.

The benefit of these new processes being flagged is that they provide opportunities for nations to adapt their goals as international action gathers pace.

“If we can come back to the table and collectively set up an opportunity [to increase ambitions]before 2020, that will be important,” Jackson said.

“The need for developed countries continuing to take the lead, by undertaking ambitious economy-wide absolute quantified emission reduction targets,” was reiterated in the statement released overnight.

Australia’s current policy, which pays a small group of selected polluters to abate some of their emissions, does not send an economy-wide price signal.

There is deep concern among analysts that this Direct Action policy, unveiled after Tony Abbott seized the leadership amidst unrest over Malcolm Turnbull’s support for an emissions trading scheme, will not achieve even the five per cent emissions reductions the nation has committed to.

The Paris climate negotiations will take place from 30 November to 11 December.


Thom Mitchell is New Matilda's Environment Reporter.