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We’ll Always Have Paris

The historic climate agreement struck in December has yet to be signed, and already has suffered one setback after another.


On April 22, Earth Day, representatives for the 196 countries that struck a historic deal at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP 21) late last year will meet again in New York to sign on the dotted line. Since then, Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate head; Héla Cheikhrouhou, the UN’s Green Climate Fund head; and Laurent Fabius, the president of this year’s talks, have stepped down. And in the last few weeks, the Paris agreement has suffered three setbacks.

The Supreme Court stops Obama’s climate plan

Last year, President Barack Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency announced the Clean Power Plan, which requires states to cut emissions by 32 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2030. Twenty-seven states challenged the regulations, and in a surprising decision in February the Supreme Court placed a stay on the plan, temporarily halting its implementation. U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern and the Obama administration have insisted the U.S. will keep its promise of cutting emissions between 26 and 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. “It is entirely premature, really premature to assume the Clean Power Plan will be struck down but, even if it were, come what may, we are sticking to our plan to sign, to join,” Stern told Reuters.

Some American utility companies say the stay “doesn’t really change anything” in terms of reducing carbon emissions, because they were already shifting from coal and other fossil fuels toward renewables and natural gas. Anjali Jaiswal, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s India program, insists the Court’s stay “is procedural … not substantive,” but an analysis released last week claims that a CPP overturn could sacrifice up to 50 gigawatts of wind and solar power before 2030. There’s also symbolic impact: The CPP showed the U.S.’s dedication to shift from dirty to clean energy, encouraging other countries to compromise at the Paris talks. Jairam Ramesh, former environment minister for India, told E&E News the Court’s stay “raises fresh doubt” about U.S. commitment to climate action. Jaiswal is more sanguine. “My counterparts, when I talk to them in India, know the United States can be quite litigious,” she said. “On an international stage that commitment is still there.” 

A solar dispute between India and the U.S. heats up

During the Paris talks, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced the global solar alliance, a partnership with 120 countries to boost the development and use of solar energy in developing nations. He called the program “the sunrise of new hope.” Since then, the solar alliance has already met twice. But last week, the World Trade Organization ruled against the country’s own solar program, which requires new projects to source half their project from Indian-produced equipment. In 2013 and again in 2014, the United States argued the Indian program favors domestic producers and was thus a violation of trade agreements. India claims the program was designed to increase the country’s investment in renewables as well as lower the cost of solar.

According to Jaiswal, the recent WTO decision is quite standard and will only affect about ten percent of the Indian solar market, but others argue the ruling implies international trade law may trump commitments to global climate agreements in the future. Anoop Poonia of Climate Action Network in India says current trade agreements may disrupt climate adaption. He wrote in the Huffington Post, “the incompatibility of WTO rules, along with double-speak from big member-states, is geared to delay and derail the whole process” of climate cooperation after Paris.

Europe and Morocco are already fighting over COP 22

This week, the European Commission reaffirmed its commitment to signing and ratifying the Paris agreement, but did not propose that European Union countries cut emissions deeper than had been proposed before Paris. Without lowering emissions further, the 1.5 degree target set out in Paris by the High Ambition Coalition—a group of over 100 countries that aimed to set a high bar for negotiations while in Paris, including a “strong recognition” that 1.5 degrees warming would be safer for the earth than 2 degrees—may not be within reach.

At the same time, the EU is embroiled in a climate summit funding disagreement with Morocco, the country tasked with hosting the next round of climate talks in November, which will focus largely on implementation of Paris’s goals. After the European Court of Justice annulled an agriculture deal between the EU and Morocco—ruling the deal could not encompass the contested land of the Western Sahara—Morocco announced it would suspend contact with the European Union, its number-one trade partner. In turn, the EU said it would appeal the decision, but will withhold $13 million pledged to Morocco for this year’s climate summit until the dispute reaches resolution.

The divisiveness in the case is representative of global climate negotiations today: While countries have committed to the Paris agreement, domestic politics and diplomatic tension will plague progress at every step—and threaten the trust on which the agreement depends. So goes the long slog of saving the planet before it’s too late.