The four elements of success in Paris

#CriticalThinking

Climate, Energy & Sustainability

Picture of Miguel Arias Cañete
Miguel Arias Cañete

European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy

The world will agree a global climate deal in Paris this year; of that, I have no doubt. The question is whether that deal will be enough.

Let us imagine a deal with a commitment to reduce global warming to below 2ºC, emissions targets for all major economies, and a system for reporting progress against those targets. At first sight, this might sound like the comprehensive deal we need. Yet in reality we already have an agreement on did all of this – the Copenhagen Accord that leaders approved back in 2009.

All countries will need to show more flexibility in their positions, rather than keeping their cards close to their chest ahead of a final showdown in Paris

This shows how important the substance of the final deal in Paris will be. It’s what we agree to, rather than whether we agree to anything at all that will be important.

To get a deal that has real substance, we need four things. First, countries need to start making compromises sooner rather than later. I have been to three COPs (the annual climate change conferences organised by the UN) – two of them as Spanish Minister for Agriculture and Environment and one as the EU Commissioner for energy and climate change. The most important lesson I learnt is that you get the best results when you don’t leave all the negotiating until the last minute.

As we say in Spanish, ‘No dejes para mañana lo que puedas hacer hoy’ – don’t leave for tomorrow, what you can do today. That’s why the EU submitted our contribution to the final deal back in March, including a legally binding commitment to reduce our emissions by at least 40% by 2030, well ahead of the deadline. We are now providing support to other countries preparing their own contributions.

All countries will need to show more flexibility in their positions, rather than keeping their cards close to their chest ahead of a final showdown in Paris. We cannot leave all the difficult decisions in Paris to the EU’s heads of state and government. Paris should be the icing on the cake, not the meat of the negotiations.

It’s what we agree to, rather than whether we agree to anything at all that will be important

Second, the final deal has to be worth the paper it’s printed on. It needs to be binding – a legal commitment and not just a loose aspiration. There are island nations whose very future depends on this. Without an ambitious deal they could literally disappear underwater by the end of this century. We owe it to them, and to industries whose companies are waiting to invest in our low carbon future, to give them long-term certainty.

The EU announced in March that we would be aiming for a binding protocol. It is no secret that like the United States a number of countries are reluctant to agree to some forms of binding deal. We have been working with our partners to search for a solution that works for everyone. We are absolutely clear, though, that Paris cannot just produce another set of vague voluntary goals.

Third, Paris cannot be the final word in climate negotiations. We need to be realistic. At the Paris Conference, countries might not be ready to make the commitments that would put us on track to keep global warming below 2ºC. If this proves to be the case we must agree a process for reassessing ambition, and increasing commitments at regular intervals in the years that follow.

It needs to be binding – a legal commitment and not just a loose aspiration

The eventual deal can only be considered a success if it is truly universal – that means if it works for every country, not just a few. Throughout the years of climate negotiations different countries and regions have had different priorities. The EU is trying to build bridges to other countries and take on their concerns. We delivered more than €9.5bn in climate finance to other countries in 2013, and we are clear that their priorities and concerns should be reflected in the final deal agreed in Paris.

The current co-chairs of the negotiations have done an excellent job of making sure all views are included in the final negotiating text. This spirit must be taken forward right to the end. No backroom deals, no secret pacts, no private texts. If we have all these things – early compromise, legal certainty, scope for raising ambition at later date, and a deal that’s truly universal – then Paris will be a success.

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