Climate change talks: five reasons to be cheerful or fearful

Reasons to be cheerful

1. The world really wants a strong deal and this time will get it

There is a universal will to limit emissions. Governments understand the science and know that doing nothing is no longer a political or moral option. Evidence of climate change has grown since the Copenhagen meeting in 2009, and 2015 has already been declared the hottest year ever. Climate change is also much better understood by the public to be a grave threat and this gives politicians the legitimacy to be bold in their actions. Non-governmental groups have created a sense of destiny about the Paris meeting, pressing the idea that this is the world’s last chance to act to avoid catastrophic change, and that a deal is certain: “Now is our time,” says Obama’s special climate envoy, Todd Stern, urging all countries to compromise this week.

2. A green economy makes financial sense

A bold new international deal committing all countries to reducing emissions is in everyone’s long-term economic interests. It will signal to business that governments are legally committed to reducing emissions and this in turn will give the private sector and banks the long-term confidence they need to invest in renewable energies and conservation, and should steer financiers, technologists and others away from extracting oil, gas and coal and toward clean energy development. If large carbon markets also emerge, as big business and the UN want, and if rich countries make good on their pledge to mobilise $100bn a year for poor countries to adapt to climate change by 2020, then the long-promised global “green economy” should grow fast, benefiting everyone.

Renewable energy technologies are moving ahead much faster than imagined. The cost of wind power and solar in many countries today is roughly the same as coal or gas, making the switch to green energy and lower emissions much easier for treasuries and ministers to justify to electorates. Within 20 years, it is expected that renewable energy prices will fall further, while fossil fuel energy will grow comparatively more expensive.

3. Nations are ready to commit to real change

Countries have already stated their intentions. Ahead of the Paris talks, more than 180 countries representing 90% of global emissions, have submitted their national plans to cut emissions. This is the first time since climate negotiations started 20 years ago that virtually all the world’s nations have committed to being part of the solution. By comparison, the 1997 Kyoto protocol included pledges for reductions by 37 rich countries which together comprised well under half of global emissions. Kyoto did not include the US, which refused to sign up, or China, the world’s two largest carbon dioxide emitters. With the key players aboard, victory is certain.

4. What can go wrong?

The chances of diplomatic success are much higher than in Copenhagen in 2009, which was billed as the finale of years of talks, but ended in diplomatic chaos. The text that negotiators and politicians from 195 countries will haggle over in Paris is shorter and more focused, and many difficult decisions have already been made. The positions of the major emitting countries – like the US and China – are closer to each other than in the past, so it should be easier for negotiators and politicians to compromise. France, as the host country, is very experienced at international negotiations and has ensured that many of the potentially tough decisions, such as finance and the final target, can be put back to later meetings. This will allow, at the very least, a weak deal to be signed, with a stated guarantee that it can be improved later. 

5. We’re all in it together

The recent terrorist atrocities in Paris will galvanise the 143-plus world leaders due to arrive in the city to make a global statement of solidarity and provide the political impetus to secure a strong deal. No country will want to be identified as the one that stopped a deal. “Paris will soon be known as the place where world leaders stood together on the right side of history,” says the president of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim.

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