12 Dec 2015 | Kerstine Appunn

Paris climate deal – does Germany get what it hoped for?

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196 parties of the UNFCCC have adopted the new Paris Agreement on climate change / Transparency and the ambition mechanisms that Germany most wanted to get are in the text, but the strong long-term target had to give a little

With a one-day delay, the UNFCCC conference in Paris has reached an agreement to limit climate change by significantly cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the course of the century.

After following the ups and downs of negotiations and the German delegation’s take on it for the past two weeks, CLEW presents a first take on whether the German government got what it has worked for.

Mitigation and the operationalisation of the long-term goal

The text mentions the 1.5°C limit in addition to the temperature goal of holding global average temperature to “well below 2°C”. This marks success for the high ambition coalition of the EU and many small island states. Germany’s environment minister Barbara Hendricks had pushed for a “strong mention” of the 1.5°C limit. The text now includes the pursuit of "efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C".

Meanwhile, Germany did not get its favoured expression on the operationalisation of the temperature limit, e.g. how to make sure that future emissions are curbed so global warming can be limited (Article 4). Originally, Germany lobbied for “decarbonisation”. Later in the talks, the delegation said they could live with the compromise phrase “greenhouse gas emissions neutrality”. Instead, the final draft has settled for achieving “a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century”. Scientists on Friday warned that such a wording would open doors for those who wanted to keep burning fossil fuels and then rely on carbon capture and storage or geo-engineering techniques to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.

Up until Friday, China and India had favoured the phrase "low emission pathways over the course of the century".

Ambition mechanism

Every country has to present their plans for taking climate action (nationally determined contribution or NDC) every five years and these contributions “will present a progression over time” the new agreement states (Article 4).

This chimes largely in with the German delegation’s demand for a “strong mechanism to increase countries’ emissions reduction over time” and “no backsliding” on national targets, which environment minister Barbara Hendricks has argued for in the past two weeks.

The COP will undertake a “global stocktake” in 2023 and then every five years to see how the implementation of the agreement is progressing (Article 14). However, future conferences may change this timeframe.

Before this system of global stocktakes comes into force, a first stocktake through a “facilitative dialogue among parties” will be undertaken in 2018, the decision reads. Also, parties are “urged” to communicate new INDCs by 2020.

Germany and the EU had pushed for a first stock-take in 2018-2019, followed by a 2019 “ambition dialogue” and then re-submission of the parties’ climate action ambitions in 2021.

Finance

Germany, together with the EU and the United States, has been vocal in arguing for (oil) rich nations and emerging economies to contribute to climate finance. They rejected emerging countries’ criticism that they just wanted to shirk their own historic responsibilities, and argued the climate challenge was just too big to be adressed by industrialised countries alone. In addition, they frequently pointed out that emissions in emerging nations were rising fast. However, China and India in particular balked at any reference to developing or emerging nations that would have called on those who “are in a position to do so” to provide climate finance. The compromise (Article 9) now only obliges “developed countries” to provide financial resources to assist developing countries. However, it also states that other parties “are encouraged” to provide support voluntarily. 

Transparency and MRV

“MRV” – Measuring, reporting and verification – is the extremely important backbone of the agreement for the German delegation. Germany would even give up the long-term goal of “decarbonisation” in exchange for a well-constructed, reliable and robust MRV system, a member of the delegation said in November. Germany has promoted a universal system of mandatory reporting by all countries, allowing for flexibility for small island states and the least developed countries but not along the lines of the old division between developed and developing countries. “China and Germany have to report more intensively than Tuvalu,” Germany’s head negotiator said last week.

The MRV system laid out in Article 13 of the agreement generally applies to all countries, but provides “built-in flexibility”, which takes into account parties’ capacities. It also specifically rules out punitive measures and has to be respectful of national sovereignty. The latter had been an issue for Arab States, as they have said in the plenary this week. The parties to the Paris Agreement will decide details on how the measurement and reporting under the new transparency framework will work, in their first meeting (Article 13.13).

Loss and damage

Germany went to Paris saying that the delegation would “do what they could to make sure that loss and damage received a suitable mention in the Paris agreement”. The Warsaw mechanism on loss and damage should be upgraded by being incorporated into the text. The Paris Agreement says that parties “recognize” the importance of minimizing loss and damage associated with adverse effects of climate change and provides for further action under the Warsaw International Mechanism.

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