The updated draft of a new climate deal is evidence that concerted action is needed. But Paris and its promises are still meaningless unless greater ambition is shown
The most depressing news in the latest draft text of the text of the deal for Paris was to be found in its paragraphs titled “Window of Opportunity for Parties to develop and demonstrate greater ambition.” The message of these 38 words is that it is far from clear who, if anyone, will be held accountable for the abject failure of last year’s talks and the lack of commitments to bring about a global climate deal by 2020.
“[The negotiators] have twice defied the climate gods,” the Guardian’s lead climate commentator, George Monbiot, said after the last Paris talks in December. The gods they imagine would punish them for wanting climate action through the 2030s: an interim period marked by continued emissions of carbon dioxide, and a divorce from all the pledges and promises made in the run up to the Paris talks.
On the day of their announcement, few believed the gods would be appeased. “They have made a huge promise by the [conference]. They’ve set a target by 2030 and on paper a means of achieving that target. And then they have promised you that you have this period where we will see whether it can be done or not,” said Kevin Anderson, of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
Amid this fine rhetoric and hope, the key thing is not what happens on the day in Katowice, but what happens over the coming months. What will happen is that the pressure will be on negotiators and governments to display a greater sense of ambition – not just towards a global climate deal but towards helping to create the significant reductions needed to prevent all but the most severe climate impacts in the future.
In the last weeks the UK government has showed it is interested in an ambitious ambition, for example by setting a target to cut emissions and seeking to increase the share of renewables in the UK’s electricity mix to 50% by 2025. These targets – if accepted by governments – will be a sign that even the countries with the deepest and longest-running industrial histories and pollution problems – such as the UK – are doing more to meet the emissions pledges they made in Paris.
And that is where the trouble lies. No ambition is great if the whole deal, as it was meant to be, is to mean very little. Even modest ambition will do little unless there is a dramatic loss of ambition in other countries, particularly the United States.
By all accounts, the US is more sceptical than ever about doing enough on climate change, given the reality of the situation. The strength of that scepticism and the fact that Trump – if he even really wants to – can inflict so much damage on the US – whether on international climate talks or in other areas, such as the withdrawal from the Paris agreement – shows that the US’s own political crisis might be the best possible justification for nations to show greater ambition, as the United States is currently attempting to do.
The Climate Change Act passed last month will support a coalition of organisations to campaign and coordinate action internationally to ensure nations make greater commitments at Katowice. Just a few days after the first international summary of the new draft text, it is apparent that the hopes and dreams of those at the heart of the climate talks to see something significant by mid-December, have been largely dashed. Instead we have a meaningful deal, which contains several important voluntary commitments. Yet, for all the good intentions, the picture of negotiators and governments is one of a strong incentive to back away and ignore the commitments they made in Paris, many of which can and should be reversed.
There has never been a secret that the Paris talks – while a landmark agreement in the battle to keep the Earth and its people from falling into climate disaster – was little more than a gesture to buy time. The interim period between 2020 and 2030 promises to be tough. All parties – the politicians and the negotiators and the people – need to stick to their promises and show what they can do – and that will take political will, cash and the ambition to convince others that taking firm action on climate change is for real.