Paris: a once-in-a-century deal, says EU climate boss

Ambition of carbon-cutting pledges show new UN approach is working, but mechanism to ratchet up actions vital for road ahead

EU climate chief Miguel Arias Canete (Pic: Partido Popular PP/Flickr)

EU climate chief Miguel Arias Canete (Pic: Partido Popular PP/Flickr)

By Alex Pashley

A UN climate conference in December will “build a protocol for the next century” launching a lasting framework to tackle climate change, EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete has said.

Carbon emissions curbs volunteered by nearly 150 countries marked “a major shift from action by a few, to action by all,” he said at the close of an EU-convened summit in Morocco on Tuesday.

Plans, or INDCs, submitted since February now cover 90% of global emissions. That is in sharp contrast to the 35 countries – covering just 14% – who have ratified the prevailing Kyoto protocol, hailed Canete.

A Paris agreement will supersede the ill-fated treaty, which sought to hand down emissions cuts, when it takes effect in 2020.

Report: Top emitters head to Morocco to discuss Paris climate plans

But the environment chief of the 28-member bloc warned the summit must deliver the means to deepen emissions cuts at regular intervals and target global decarbonisation in the next half of the century.

Emissions are set to overshoot a goal to cap warming by 2C by 2100. Canete credited the INDCs with narrowing the gap from at least a 3.6C rise to “around 3C”.

“Paris needs to be just more than an aggregation of INDCs. It needs to deliver an ambitious mechanism to ensure countries step forward regularly until the objective is reached,” Canete told reporters at the Rabat summit, which assessed the adequacy of pledges.

Countries must agree common accounting rules in measuring national pledges moreover, without which an agreement would not be credible.

For its part, the EU has pledged to reduce emissions at least 40% by 2030 within 1990 levels.

Report: Climate pledges overshoot 2C target but emissions gap narrowing 

International negotiations are a different beast to six years earlier when countries last attempted to strike a global warming agreement in Copenhagen.

“There is a sense we have reached a tipping point,” said Monica Araya, former Costa Rican diplomat and director at think tank Nivela. “Countries are engaging in ways that were unthinkable a few years back.”

Much is left to be desired in the December agreement, however.

Countries must give clear signal of support for a long-term goal to decarbonise economies this century, said Alden Meyer, a veteran climate watcher and director at the DC-based Union of Concerned Scientists.

“In addition to the INDCs, it would help give us the confidence we can close the emissions gap in the near future” he said.

Pace of the action?

Double your current carbon-cutting efforts to have a chance of staying within the 2C temperature threshold, delegates were told.

National climate pledges will cut greenhouse gases per unit of GDP by 3% a year, according to analysis by PwC, a consultancy. That rate must rise to 6.3%.

At 6%, China had the fastest decarbonisation rate of any non-EU country.

Five countries intensified their emissions, on the other hand. Turkey and Saudi Arabia recorded the largest increases, of 4.4% and 4.0% respectively1, followed by Brazil, India and South Africa.

“It is quite different from Kyoto, not with compulsory targets or sanctions,” Canete added. “Now it is bottom-up. The first step has been enormously positive.”

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