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There’s One Issue that Could Make or Break a Climate Deal

Eric Feferberg / Getty

There may be a climate agreement as soon as Thursday, as the French government has insisted on seeing a deal adopted in time for the summit’s end on Friday. The goalposts for a deal have changed almost daily since the start of the conference, however, which means the agreement runs the risk of lowering ambitions for the sake of reaching a consensus just to wrap things up in time. And there’s one area that could make or break a strong agreement: the five-year reviews meant to ramp up domestic climate targets, so the lower ambitions of today aren’t locked in for the next 20 years.

The only problem is if the five-year stocktaking comes too late to be meaningful. “What’s happened over the last two days is we’ve seen that cycle, that idea of coming back every five years, beginning to fall off the table,” World Wildlife Fund Vice President of Climate Change Lou Leonard told the New Republic. The importance of timing and transparency for these five-year reviews can’t be understated.

Here’s our progress report on COP21. Blue bars indicate progress toward the goals, compared to yesterday, red bars indicate backward momentum, and gray bars indicate no change:

Progress Report   December 8, 2015

Commit to cut carbon emissions significantly by 2030.

Center for Climate and Energy Solutions expert Elliot Diringer says Paris will need to set some parameters for the domestic climate targets countries have put forward for 2025 and 2030, and that could include language pushing countries to propose “their highest possible ambition,” and a “progression” on future targets. There are reports that Saudi Arabia is still blocking progress on many fronts.

Establish reporting and transparency requirements.

Transparency isn’t just a buzzword. An effective agreement would set up clear requirements for reporting and review of all countries’ steps to an international body.  That’s if countries can agree. The likelier outcome is that any talk of transparency will be short on details, and if there are specifics, they may only apply to developed countries.

Create a payment system to finance climate adaptation.

Two sentences could make or break the future of oil, coal, and gas investments, if the financial section directs funds to “low emission and climate resilient” economies and less support for “high emission investments.”

Put past disagreements aside.

The European Union has joined with 79 African, Caribbean, and Pacific nations to present a united front in the final days of the conference. The alliance is pushing for a legally binding, regularly reviewed agreement that includes a “transparency and accountability system.”

Agree to return to the negotiating table regularly.

India supports a five-year review to ramp up domestic ambitions before 2020 for developed nations, but not for itself. The remaining disagreement is over when to start the five-year reviews. “We can’t have a climate action holiday for five years,” India’s environment minister said.

Rethink the 2-degree target.

In addition to reaffirming a goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius, there’s been a growing push to include mention of the risks of surpassing 1.5 degrees Celsius (Saudi Arabia and India oppose it). A lot of options still remain for a long-term target that encourages decarbonization or a low-emissions future.

Here’s a roundup of the biggest news from around the conference:

  • Reporting from Paris, Jonathan M. Katz writes that climate deniers from the Heartland Institute could not stay away from COP21, holding a nearby “counter-conference.” (New Republic)
  • Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, explains how climate change is the stuff of nightmares. (New Republic)
  • More countries, including developed nations, look to a potential 1.5 degrees of warming target. (Washington Post)
  • North Korea declares war on deforestation, but the country is still cozy with coal. (New Republic)
  • Global emissions dropped in 2015 due to a reduction in China’s coal burning and a growing global reliance on renewable energy. (Slate)
  • Activist group Avaaz, which organized the Global Climate March, is still making its voice heard in Paris. This time the group is using “WANTED” posters of “climate criminals.” (New Republic)
  • Why “loss and damage” became a buzzword at the climate talks. (Grist)
  • Go down the bracket rabbit hole. (New York Times)
  • Development groups are now considering climate change to be an integrated part of humanitarian goals. (Time)
  • Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, China, and India dispute two key sentences in the draft text that would limit investments in carbon-intensive energy. (Climate Change News)
  • Developed countries come down on Saudi Arabia for the country’s unwillingness to agree to a ratchet mechanism or aim for decarbonization. (The Guardian)

Read our previous progress reports:

Monday, November 30

Tuesday, December 1

Wednesday, December 2

Thursday, December 3

Friday, December 4

Monday, December 7