There are two obstacles at COP21 to achieving its aim of
limiting global warning to less than 2 degrees.
In a break with the usual order, the French Government scheduled
the attendance of world leaders at the start rather than the end of
the conference with the hope of setting the tempo of negotiations
to secure a new climate change agreement from 2020.
While universally pointing to the urgency of securing an
ambitious agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions with
an aim of limiting global warning to less than 2 degrees, the
opening addresses reveal some of the key obstacles to achieving an
ambitious agreement which delivers this objective.
Among the obstacles is one built into the UN Framework
Convention on Climate Change itself back in 1992 which
distinguished between developed and developing countries. This
distinction affects a number of other issues including finance,
reporting and verification, and low emission technology transfer.
India in particular is reluctant to let go of the distinction. This
was the reason why much of the draft text of the agreement, which
had been removed in the pre-negotiations at Bonn, was reinstated at
the request of the G77 group of nations.
The other impediment to achieving the objective is the fact that
emissions reductions targets are not the subject of negotiation at
this conference. More than 180 countries have already submitted
their INDCs which identify a county's emissions reduction
target. This reflects the "bottom up" approach of the
development of the Paris agreement, rather than the "top
down" approach of the Kyoto Protocol and what was attempted at
Copenhagen in 2009. However, the assessment of INDCs submitted
indicates that, at best, they will limit warming to 2.7
Australia's INDC target is a 26-28% reduction by 2030 based
on 2005 levels, which is has been widely criticised as inadequate
by comparison to other developed countries. While Prime Minister
Turnbull has indicated that Australia is willing to review its
emission reduction target, this is part of a universal review
mechanism proposed to be included in the Paris agreement by which
countries will periodically review their target over the term of
that agreement, not as part of these negotiations.
With these fundamental issues still in play, it is instructive
to look at what Australia's goals are going into the conference
a universal mitigation commitment on a common platform,
requiring all countries to contribute to emissions abatement. This
aims directly at ending the differentiation between developed and
ensuring robust monitoring and verification of abatement
commitments. While countries have submitted their INDCs, it is
imperative that they are held to account in delivering on those
commitments in a transparent way; and
establishing an enduring agreement which will operate over
time. Key to this is the proposal for periodic review of
commitments to build ambition over time with a view to achieving
the 2 degree goal.
The biggest risk at the conference is not whether there will be
an agreement (the majority opinion is that there will be an
agreement of sorts) but that the agreement is a minimalist one.
Simply packaging together the INDCs will not build the framework
necessary for their implementation, or establish any process for
future commitments. This was a concern echoed by French President
Hollande in his address to the conference.
In this regard, Paris is not the end point, but an important
recalibration point in the UNFCCC process, one that recognises that
things have changed since 1992 when the UNFCCC was established, in
some respects significantly. This includes the rate of development
of countries formerly considered less developed, the science of
climate change itself and the abatement technologies available to
meet the challenge. Whether there is a sufficient recalibration is
the challenge of this conference.
Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide
commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon
as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular
transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin.
Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and
To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.
Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.
The article is a review of recent developments in compliance, enforcement and prosecutions relating to environmental law.
Some comments from our readers… “The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable” “I often find critical information not available elsewhere” “As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).