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COP21 Daily Blogs - Elizabeth May, MP

Elizabeth May, December 13, 2015

The morning after 13 days- 3 all nighters…

And the Paris Agreement is accepted.  The COP21 decision is agreed.  What does it all mean?

I have been working on climate for the last 29 years.   In that time I have seen lip service from most politicians, courage from a few politicians, venality from some corporations (Exxon come to mind), leadership from others.  I have witnessed opportunity after opportunity squandered for political expediency.  Agreements signed and then ignored.   Overall we have procrastinated and lost decades when we could have averted the climate crisis nearly entirely.

Now we are in it.  With loss of life and devastating droughts and heat waves, extreme weather events, sea level rise and loss of Arctic ice and permafrost.  No longer are we arguing about a future problem.  We have already changed the climate, so the debate of 2015 is “can we avoid the very worst of the climate crisis?  Can we ensure the survival of human civilization?  Can we save millions of species?” To do so requires transitioning off fossil fuels. 

You will undoubtedly hear some denounce the Paris Agreement for what it does not do.  It does not respond with sufficient urgency.  It does not use the levers available to governments to craft a treaty that is enforceable with trade sanctions to add some teeth. Those criticisms are fair.  As trade lawyer Steven Shrybman said more than a decade ago “If governments cared as much about climate as they do about protecting intellectual property rights, we would have laws that require carbon reduction in every country on earth.” 

Nevertheless, the Paris Agreement is an historic and potentially life-saving agreement. It does more than many of us expected when the conference opened on November 30.  It will be legally binding. It sets a long term temperature goal of no more than 1.5 degrees as far safer than the (also hard to achieve) goal of no more than 2 degrees.  In doing so, it may save the lives of millions.  It may lead to the survival of many small nations close to sea level.  It may give our grandchildren a far more stable climate and thus a more prosperous and healthy society. It clearly means the world has accepted that most known reserves of fossil fuels must stay in the ground. 

It is absolutely true that Canada announcing support for 1.5 degrees mid-way through the conference made a huge difference in keeping that target in the treaty.  I heard that from friends and contacts around the world.  

To avoid 1.5 requires immediate action.  Unfortunately, the treaty is only to take effect in 2020 (after it is ratified by 55 countries, collectively representing 55% of world GHG emissions).  We have built into the treaty mandatory global 5 year reviews – what is called the “ratcheting up mechanism.” 

The mechanism to force all governments to assess the adequacy of their own plans only kicks in in 2023.  That gap from 2015 to 2023 could well foreclose any option to hold temperature to less than 1.5 or even 2 degrees. 

So in addition to the Paris Agreement we also passed the Decision of COP21.  It includes some actions before 2020.  The language there is far from perfect but gives us a chance to increase targets before 2020.  In 2018, there will be a “facilitative dialogue” within the UN to assess the adequacy of targets and to prepare for new ones for 2020.  The decision document is actually longer than the treaty itself and includes many actions to be undertaken within the ongoing UNFCCC COP process.  Among them, the IPCC is requested to produce a report to COP spelling out what level of GHG emissions will lead us to holding global average temperatures to no more than 1.5 degrees C above those before the Industrial Revolution.  

Canadians can be rightly proud of what our government did in Paris.  While I did not support our position on every single issue, I cannot be more proud of what we did on most issues, nor can I thank our newly minted (and now totally exhausted) Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, enough for her work.   

What matters now is what we do next.  Canada’s climate target remains the one left behind by the previous government.  We have no time to waste in re-vamping and improving our target.  We should be prepared to improve it again in 2020.  But let’s ensure we get started.  The Liberal platform committed to, within 90 days of COP21, consultations with all provincial and territorial governments.  In his speech at COP21, Trudeau expanded that to engaging with municipal governments and First Nations as well.  That is all excellent.  Ideally this sets in motion a quick-start to identifying a more ambitious target with actions spelled out in the spring 2016 budget.  

Earth Day 2016 has been chosen in the decision document as the day for formal signatures to the Paris Agreement.  Ban Ki-moon has been requested to organize a signing ceremony in New York at UN headquarters.  Let’s all take a moment to send a thank you note to Prime Minister Trudeau and Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna and urge that Canada’s new target be ready to be tabled at the UN on April 22, 2016 when Canada shows up to encourage all other countries to improve their own targets.

Paris threw us a lifeline.  Don’t let it slip between our fingers. 


For deeper detail, I am adding the brilliant blog of my friend and colleague, Dr. Kennedy Graham, Green Party MP from New Zealand. 

So the Paris Agreement is being adopted ‘in front of me’ as I write, in a room adjacent to the Plenary Hall.  It has just been translated into the six official UN languages and the various groups have met.  Now the Plenary has just adopted it.

The world breathes a sigh of relief.  Copenhagen has been exorcised.  French diplomatic skill has prevailed; the ‘spirit of Paris’ reigns.

There was considerable high rhetoric from the conference leadership and for good reason.  It is an historic moment.  

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, as president of the Conference, urges delegates: “The end is in sight; let us finish the job.”  The UN Secretary-General, Ban ki-Moon, hails the Agreement as ‘flexible, robust, meaningful and effective’.   French President Francois Hollande calls it ‘ambitious yet realistic’ and, in what may become the popular characterisation of the event, he says: “What brings us together is the planet itself.”  

These are not overstatements.  The outcome is historic. The international community is, substantively for the first time, acting as a global community facing a global problem.  All 196 parties are accepting a legally-binding obligation to undertake effective action to avert dangerous climate change.  The ’92 Framework Convention set up the global objective and structure.  The 2015 protocol (otherwise known as the Paris Agreement) is requiring nationally-determined contributions (NDCs) from everybody to deliver on the global objective.  It is a big success.  

Now the hard part begins.  The hard part is because the 196 parties are, currently, under-delivering on the global effort.  And, more critically, it has yet to be shown that the mechanism for remedying that is structurally sound.  

Here are the critical pieces of the text, with commentary in italics.

The purpose of the Agreement is to ‘strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change’ This will be done by holding the global average temperature increase to ‘well below 2°C’ above pre-industrial levels and ‘pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C’ (Article 2). 

Comment:  Aiming for ‘well below 2°C’ is a major advance.  But while the reference to 1.5°C is politically good, there are scientific uncertainties about this.  Some scientific opinion is that we are already locked into 1.5°C; other opinion is that we have a very narrow window of opportunity to remain under it. Given the current rate of increase in global emissions, it is almost certain that we shall breach the 1.5, in which case it will be a matter of returning to that level through net negative global emissions in the course of this century.

Let us be under no illusions as to the magnitude of the task.  Current annual emissions are about 50 Gt. 

  •  According to UNEP, current INDCs will result in 55 Gt. in 2030, a 10% increase.
  • For the 2.0°C threshold, emissions that year need to be 42 Gt, a 16% cut decrease.  
  • For the 1.5°C threshold, they must be 39 Gt, a 22% decrease.  

“We aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions ‘as soon as possible’ (Article 4).  

Comment: The IPCC indicates that we need to reach global peaking of emissions before 2020 to stay under 2°C.  This is not going to happen.  

We aim to achieve ‘a balance between anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions by source and removals by sinks’ (essentially, this is the definition of zero net global emissions).  This will be done ‘in the second half of this century’ (Article 4).

Comment: Scientific opinion is that we need to reach zero net global emissions between 2060 and 2080 to stay under 2°C.  Specifying the ‘second half of this century’ is too vague, and playing roulette with the planet.  

In the accompanying decision (FCCC/CP/2015/L.9, para 17), the Conference notes ‘with concern’ that the estimated global emissions resulting from the current INDCs are not on target: they “do not fall within the least-cost 2°C scenarios but rather lead to a projected level of 55 Gt in 2030”.  Much greater emission reduction efforts will be required than the current INDCs.

Comment: The final text is a major advance; much stronger thaN the 10 Dec. text. 

  • For the first time it specifies a global emissions figure for 2030 (55 Gt.). This is a rare and welcome departure from the norm, in which the diplomatic tendency is to fudge the facts and figures. Note the magnitude of the challenge, as described above.   
  • Secondly, the previous text simply suggested that ‘much greater reductions’ are to be undertaken post-2025.  The final text (para 17) requires such reductions (no time-frame) to a level to be identified by the 2018 IPCC report (para 21) and for the targets to be assessed in a ‘facilitative dialogue’ in 2018 (one year earlier than the previous text).    

Then there is the Global Stocktake, in which the Parties will ‘periodically take stock of the implementation of this Agreement’ (Article 14 of the Agreement). The first such stocktake is in 2023.

Comment: This is fine as long as it is a broad political review of the Agreement, and not the first calculation of the adequacy of the INDCs.  

Overall comment:

It is an extraordinary achievement.  It is as good as, or better than, might have been hoped.  Even in the final 24 hours, what was emerging as a good text has been strengthened into something that is potentially effective.  The political will is there, perhaps for the first time.

Everything depends, however, on the timing of the efforts to ‘increase the ambition’ of all our national contributions.  Two things:

  • It is significant that the ‘Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions (INDCs) have no status.  What will have status is the Nationally-Determined Contributions that are to be communicated by the time of a country’s ratification.  This means for example that in the case of New Zealand, whose current INDC is only 11% (off 1990), it is open to NZ to improve on its target before ratification in, say in late 2016.
  • Much depends on the meaning of the ‘facilitative dialogue’ in 2018.  If that is the start of a genuine exchange over the upgrading of all parties’ INDCs from 2018 on, then there is hope for effective action.  If not, if there is no real action to increase the ‘ambition’ and all we do is review our targets every five years, then we waft into the 2020s with no real national, and therefore global, resolve.  And we shall have left it too late.   

Let’s leave this extraordinary event with a rough factoid or two to get the perspective of the magnitude of our global task:

  • Remember that, on current emissions, the Global Carbon Budget is utilised around 2035.  Stocktaking on inadequate national targets in the 2020s won’t do it.
  • Global emission increases of 5 Gt results in warming of about 0.3°C.  Annual global emissions are increasing at about 0.6 Gt each year.   We therefore cannot afford to delay.  We now have the structure to get the job done.   

So, a great success here in Paris; and now the hard part begins.

COP21 blog update - Day 12

Elizabeth May, December 12, 2015

Yesterday, December 11th, was a day of suspended animation. So forgive me for not writing my daily blog yesterday. To make up for it, you'll likely get two today.

At 5:30 AM Friday the all-night "Indaba for solutions" adjourned with news from Laurent Fabius, COP21 President, that a new text would be released on Saturday.

So now we wait. Rumours are swirling: did the US and China work out a side-deal? Will the new text be even weaker? Is there wide-spread consensus or are the hard-liners (Saudi Arabia, Venezuela) hardening their positions? Take your pick. At this point they are all rumours. I do know that the facilitators continued to help through till late last night - at a distance through email messages. I ran into our minister Catherine McKenna late last night and she told me she was still networking with my friend Asa Romson, Green leader of Sweden and Deputy Prime Minister, on pushing for more ambition pre-2020.

I sure hope so.

The text was initially announced for 9 am. Now for 11:30. And so we wait.


COP21 Blog Update - December 10

Elizabeth May, December 10, 2015

After 5 hours of commentary, complaint and suggested possibilities for compromise, the informal round of talks called an "indaba" broke up at 5 am. If President Fabius (who personally chaired this session) thought we had made progress, it was not evident.

We are circling the drain. Not just those of us in Le Bourget, but the whole of humankind. Our text speaks of funds for "organized migration and planned relocation." So having procrastinated since 1992 and allowed GHG to rise, we now are talking about helping low lying island states pick up and move. 

The so-called leaders spoke in lofty tones. Then the talks are left to negotiate a weak text. But the "leaders" gave to negotiating instructions to their countries' negotiating teams. And we are back to protecting narrow self-interest.

I do not want to paint too bleak a picture. These talks could still give us a workable, useful treaty. But right now, it is a long way from a sure thing.


COP21 Blog Update - Day 9

Elizabeth May, December 09, 2015

A brief blog today.

The talks were mostly off-line – one to one (or rather, one COP president to a larger regional grouping, one after the other).

Claire Martin had a not entirely small tragedy as a security guard assigned to John Kerry knocked a brand new and over-priced coffee out of her hand to make room for the US secretary of state…We have had trouble finding good coffee so maybe that was not a small tragedy after all.

Some of the facilitated dialogues are open to members of party (government) delegations. I attend and seek possible compromise solutions and then suggest those to others.

We had a moving tribute to Maurice Strong carved out from time in other sessions. A number of us who had known him and worked with him gathered to tell stories and share reminiscences. We raised a glass to Maurice and a silent prayer to these negotiations. There will be a new draft from the President by tomorrow at 1 pm.

We can only hope it achieves the right balance between and among the competing interests while ensuring we meet Fabius' goal -- to save life on earth.


COP21 – negotiations move behind closed doors - Day 8

Elizabeth May, December 08, 2015

Monday December 7th was the official opening of the High-Level segment.  In the normal rhythm of the COPs, this would have been a big day with ministers of environment from around the world, and the occasional head of government making statements.  But, as mentioned in other blogs, this time, with over 150 leaders having spoken a week ago, it felt a little anti-climactic.  Still, the call to action from COP President Laurent Fabius and very touching words from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon were motivating. 

The negotiations were all in small groups behind closed doors today.  It seems more will be visible tomorrow.  Canadian minister Catherine McKenna has been asked to co-facilitate (with a minister from Mexico) a cross cutting group called “Cooperative approaches and mechanisms.”  That is code for carbon trading, carbon markets and their possible inclusion in the convention.  They saved the most controversial and sensitive topics for the 7 cross-cutting groups.  As the minister headed out fast from an abbreviated del briefing, we wished her luck.  “Send Red Bull,” she called out over her shoulder.

With negotiations out of view, there was time to attend some discussions of what are called “sub-national” action.  Work by provinces States and cities.  California Governor Jerry Brown joked that he didn’t like the term “sub-national” and argued their work should be described as “super-national.” In any case, the work is impressive in California and Washington and Oakland California, paired with news from Vancouver and BC.

Tomorrow we should be back to more accessible negotiations and news of how the president of COP believes things are shaping up.  Some are actually beginning to believe we will have a treaty by Friday.  I veer between optimism and realism. As ever, I like optimism better.


COP21 moves to new phase - Day 7

Elizabeth May, December 07, 2015

Sunday and COP21 moved to the working groups to review cross-cutting issues.  There were four groups announced by COP President Fabius last night, with another announced today – adaptation.  We also learned that Canadian Minister Catherine McKenna has been asked to be co-facilitator for a group as well.  This is further evidence that Canada is seen as a new actor here.  Not in the last ten years has a COP president asked Canada to do anything,

Today, Canada shifted our position on a key issue. Minister McKenna stated Canada's position was to make the long term goal 1.5 degrees C, or at least to protect 1.5 as a goal in the text. I am so happy about this … it put us in league with the most progressive nations, at least on this.  She also confirmed Canada wants the treaty to be legally binding and ambitious with 5 year reviews to ratchet up the pace of emissions reductions.

Other random thoughts strike me for this blog.  The terrorist attacks hang over our day to day reality, but we  adapt.  We accept that security tells us not to take the subway due to the suspicious packages found now and again.  Delegates speak of having to leave the subway.  Security orders all passengers up to the street, and people grab cabs to get to their destination.  It is so routine it reminds me of the ways we speak of delays due to snow. 

At the COP21 convention facility we could be anywhere – Ottawa, Detroit or Chicago.  Anywhere with a slightly chilly pre-winter grey.  The location, out near the airport, is called Le Bourget.  The whole complex feels oddly temporary. The whole thing could be a set that will be struck and moved to another town.  In a way, that’s what it is.

It sure isn’t Paris, although a successful treaty will be called the Paris Agreement.   Anyway, we’ll always have Le Bourget.


COP21 Blog at mid-point - Day 6

Elizabeth May, December 06, 2015

I am amazed. The deadline of having ADP wrap by noon Saturday and send a draft text accepted as a sufficient basis for political negotiation was met. The draft text with the addition of “reflections” from the co-chairs (a neat process to take on board and submit the complaints, additions and pleadings that failed to make it to the text) was passed by the ADP in plenary session in the early afternoon.

By 6 PM, the COP re-convened for the formality of conveying the new text to the COP, the President of COP21, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

If you think you have heard of him before, you have. He was once Prime Minister of France (1984-86). Now he is the President of the COP. Socialist, political force, and passionate proponent for an effective treaty, Fabius is facing a week of high stakes negotiations. He will undertake a never-ending revolving door of meetings with the negotiating groups – the G-77 and China (all developing countries, including big polluting ones like China and India, plus bizarrely Saudi Arabia); the EU, the “Umbrella Group” of USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and a few more, the low-lying island states, the Environmental Integrity Group – Mexico, Korea, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and a few others – the best and most progressive for my money; the like-mined Developing Countries, the Africa Group, the Least-developed Countries and so on.

To come to a deal now, Fabius will meet non-stop behind closed doors, trying to bridge the differences. A “president’s text” is likely to emerge early in the week, and then another. It will not be easy. Almost literally, this one man has the world on his shoulders.


COP21 Update: Crunch time - Day 5

Elizabeth May, December 05, 2015

All around us, Paris is abuzz with empowering, high voltage events (run on renewable energy of course!)  Today Al Gore addressed a group of young people, Leonardo de Caprio and Robert Redford met with hundreds of mayors in downtown Paris, Elon Musk (of Tesla) called on the world to leave fossil fuels in our (virtual) dust while Mark Carney and Mike Bloomberg called for managing the carbon risk.

Meanwhile, Claire Martin and I missed all this – and more.  We are keeping on top of the real negotiations.  The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Enhanced Durban Plan of Action… or ADP.

I now think of the ADP working group as the place where fun went to die. We are not even allowed in the room… a first for me at any COP and I am accredited with my government.  There are two overflow rooms set up where negotiators watch their colleagues make the case for this bracket or that shifting date.  It is bizarre but at least through Wi-Fi, they can communicate.  Sometimes it gets testy, as when Claudia, the impressive Venezuelan negotiator, told Ahmed of Algeria (the co-chair of ADP) in diplomatic tone that he could take his paragraph “to hell with you, thank you.”   

Nevertheless, we soldier on.  The key negotiating Canadian delegates (3/country) are making good points in arguing for the inclusion of just transition for displaced workers – or climate justice – and inclusion of the issues related to impacts on indigenous peoples.

The negotiations have hit crunch time.  By noon (Paris time) tomorrow the negotiators must have an all- new text ready to be handed over to the full COP- with ministers arriving soon – for final negotiation and approval.   Do I think they will be done by noon?  I do not….. 

We have a shorter document now – 38 pages instead of 54, but the text is still heavily bracketed.  In one of the more poetic moments, the Brazilian negotiator compared the brackets in the text to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  A form of pollution….

Yet another cause… fight brackets! Deliver a clean text!


COP21 Blog Update - Day 4

Elizabeth May, December 04, 2015

 The cracks hiding behind the diplomatic veneer are rising to the surface.  In ADP developing country negotiators spoke more clearly about why it is unfair for Industrialized countries to ignore their responsibility (our responsibility) for having created the crisis of climate change. Low-lying island states argued more passionately for holding global average temperature to no more than 1.5 degrees C.  On this the European Union agrees.  Saudi Arabia does not. Canada has not spoken our position out loud in the negotiations.

We started the day with a new text. Three days of wrangling over clauses, sub-clauses and bracketed text, and we have a new draft text of 50 pages… so 4 pages shorter, but more square brackets…

The President of COP came in last night to ADP to urge a faster pace and remind negotiators of the fact the clock is ticking.  Everybody knows that, but they shrug and say, “It’s only Thursday.”

Climate negotiators are beginning to reflect global political engagement on the issue itself.  They think there is always more time, when there is not.

Canada’s youth have it right here at COP21.  Holding to 1.5 degrees is essential.  In such a weak agreement overall, we should at least set our sigts on a level of climate change that does not cause low-lying island states to disappear with our Arctic summer ice.


COP21 Blog Update – Day 3

Elizabeth May, December 03, 2015

If this blog were a climate text, it would look like this:

[ [Inviting]  [Encouraging] Green party supporters [observers] and [other interested parties] civil society actors to consider the [progress] [results] of climate negotiations within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in which the parties to this [agreement], [legally binding agreement], [agreement having legal force] agree to reduce greenhouse gases to ensure that the global average temperature increase is held to [no more than 2 degrees C above those levels before the Industrial Revolution],[far less than 2 degrees], [1.5 degrees], [as far below 2 degrees as is possible…]. ]

And so on.  Everything within square brackets means we do not agree to this yet  - or maybe ever.  And note that there is a big fat bracket at the beginning and end of this bit… Well, that means the whole text is not agreed.  There are 54 pages that look like this even after two days of negotiation.  And the big fat bracket at the beginning and end of this example bit can also be found at the beginning and end of the whole 54 pages we are negotiating at COP21.  That means the whole draft is not agreed.

The COP presidency (the term that means the host French government) wants all this fixed with a new draft text ready before next week.  Don’t hold your breath.

Still, this is expected.  No country wants to drop its pet square brackets without having it count for something.  Deal-making and horse trading waits until the last minute.  That would be next week.  The good news for Canadians is that our negotiators are no longer waging war on progress.  Canada is often silent when I wish we would join in the calls from the European Union and low-lying island states like Tuvalu to hold global average temperature at no more than 1.5 degrees C

But at least we are no longer engaged in acts of sabotage.  Other delegates and climate activists from around the world smile as they greet me.  They are happy to see “the new Canada.”  Let us expand our reach to be leaders in the tense showdown over language, principles and purpose in this new treaty.  We have the world’s attention.  Let’s jump out from behind the square brackets. 


COP21 Blog Update - Day 2

Elizabeth May, December 01, 2015

This was the second day of COP, but our first day of negotiations.  The leaders of nations from around the world have jetted home.  (My friend New Zealand Green MP Kennedy Graham pointed out in his blog today that we actually do not have “world leaders” – just leaders of various nations.)   

The place felt less frantic, less frenetic, and the negotiations took on the glacial pace for which they are well known.  For the section of text I follow – the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Plan of Action (ADP) – no country was willing to agree to even the smallest change.  With political tensions at a dangerous low boil over Turkey shooting down a Russian jet, the Russian and Turkish negotiators treated each other with courteous diplomacy as they faced off over alternate text in square brackets.

A highpoint today was the proof of new openness as the Environment and Climate Change Minister, Catherine McKenna, exchanged with the many Canadian environmental, educational, labour, church and youth groups here at COP.   They asked clear questions and either the minister or Canada’s lead negotiator tried to answer.  The minister actually apologized for having to go back to Ottawa for the opening of Parliament, but promised briefings from officials in her absence.  Which means that in two days of COP, Catherine McKenna has held exactly a zillion more briefings for civil society than any minister in the last ten years.  (Assuming my math is right and that one meeting in 2 days is a zillion times more than none over ten years.)

But nice vibes only take us so far.  We (opposition MPs and civil society) will be watching these exacting line by line negotiations of the draft text to be certain our new government is pushing for the best possible treaty.

The level of professionalism and detailed knowledge of the draft text demonstrated exactly how prepared Canadian civil society is to demand a strong treaty. 


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