Success in the Paris Climate Negotiations in Broader Context
[Hari Osofsky is a law professor, faculty director of the Energy Transition Lab, and director of the Joint Degree Program in Law, Science & Technology at the University of Minnesota. She is serving as chair of the American Society of International Law’s observer delegation at the 2015 Paris climate change negotiations. Any views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the views of either the University of Minnesota or the American Society of International Law.]
I appreciate the opportunity to guest blog with Opinio Juris while at the Paris climate change negotiations this week. I will aim in my blogs to complement Dan Bodansky’s excellent assessment of the negotiations among state parties by examining the broader context of what would be required to address climate change adequately and the activities by other key stakeholders.
From my observation of the first Comité de Paris and hallway conversations on Monday, December 7, the parties still seem on track to reach some sort of agreement in Paris, though perhaps not by the Friday deadline. While there are certainly some differences yet to be resolved, the tone appears to be unusually cooperative at this stage according to those who have attended many of these negotiations.
However, even if the agreement contains reference to the need to keep warming less than 1.5 degrees, which appears increasingly likely, the state parties are highly unlikely to actually achieve that with their current commitments. As one civil society participant from Latin America remarked to me yesterday, the key question is whether we hold warming at 3 or 4 degrees. While I certainly hope he is wrong, we are not on track, even is these negotiations successfully conclude, to mitigate at the levels that scientists say are needed. And as I have analyzed in forthcoming articles with Jackie Peel and Hannah Wiseman, even if we can find ways to more constructively address energy partisanship in the United States, the Clean Power Plan will involve a complex integration of an environmental cooperative federalist law with a largely state- and regionally-based energy system.
So how do we bridge the gap between what negotiations among nation-states can achieve and what is needed? Two key pieces of that puzzle are subnational governments and the private sector (particularly corporations and investors), and my blogs this week will focus on some of their activities here.
In the process, I will also try to convey, for those who have not attended international negotiations like these, the concentric circles of activity taking place here, with access limitations between each ring. At the core are the nation-states negotiating, and even some of those meetings are only open to subsets of those negotiators. A key concern raised in the Comité de Paris by several state parties on Monday night was the need for more transparency and inclusion in the informal facilitated streams taking place this week to try to bridge differences. Outside of that are official observers, who can gain access to only a very limited set of the negotiations but are able to enter the “Blue Zone,” which contains the negotiating spaces and many of the high-level side events. Outside of the restricted space, a hall in Le Bourget and venues around Paris contain events open to the many people who are here without access passes.
As I move between sessions in the “Blue Zone” space, the people around me exude a sense of being rushed and busy with important tasks as they race among meetings and cluster in small groups in hallways. I am continually reminded of an observation by Sheila Watt-Cloutier, the-chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, when she presented at the climate change negotiations in 2005, the year that the Inuit submitted their petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights claiming that U.S climate change policy violated their rights:
I have attended three COPs. People rush from meeting to meeting arguing about all sorts of narrow technical points. The bigger picture, the cultural picture, the human picture is being lost. Climate change is not about bureaucrats scurrying around. It is about families, parents, children, and the lives we lead in our communities in the broader environment. We have to regain this perspective if climate change is to be stopped.
While many at these negotiations clearly have that bigger-picture focus, I think that continually reminding ourselves of what all these legal conversations are really about is critical. Achieving an agreement that goes farther than anything that preceded it at Paris would certainly be a form of success, but ultimately we only succeed if we limit human suffering and ecosystem damage—and develop new opportunities—through mitigating and adapting adequately.