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The (Climate) Heart of Paris

August 2, 2015

This December in Paris, governments are expected to come together and agree on a way forward to combat climate change when Kyoto Protocol expires in 2020.url

In order to avoid the mistakes made from before, and in the interest to not step on any pre-existing contentions among countries that has been bred in the past twenty-three years of climate negotiations, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) was created. It is a vehicle that aims to bring countries closer towards achieving a global agreement to combat global warming.

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And like any vehicle, there will be both strength and shortcomings. Therefore, this article hopes to be able to shed light through some of the key points on both sides to provide readers with a more balanced view.

Things to be positive about

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First, the INDC prevents any unrealistic top down driven commitments onto any country, which doesn’t have any implementation ability to support whatever agreements that comes out of it (something that happened in Copenhagen). The INDC allows each government to decide in their own terms, their share of work in this global effort to combat climate change.

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Second, the INDC intends to level the playing field of discussion by sidestepping any unwanted arguments that plagued the negotiations in the past, resulting in several deadlocks for the past 20 years. Hence, the four words were carefully chosen and here’s a quick breakdown:

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“Intended” is used to ease governments the worry of being backlashed for doing too little or locked into committing too early while getting a sense on how each other is doing before firming up any official stance.

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“Nationally Determined” is used to reassure countries that they will decide what is best for them, keeping in good faith each would do their best to combat global warming. Taking away the pressure of historical obligations of developed countries and expectation of developing countries that are pursuing their interest in economic growth for its people.

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And “Contributions” is used as a replacement for “Commitments” because the later has a more forceful nature and tends to focus only on mitigation efforts. This is another negotiation contention whereby developing countries are dissatisfied over the insufficient climate efforts on adaptation work to deal with the impacts of global warming that are already set in motion.

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Third, this is an opportunity to do a global stocktaking. Having the INDC means countries will need to begin a process do baseline study of what it has and can do. These not only allow countries to defend whatever position would eventually want, but also allows them to gather information for long term planning. But ultimately, this is really a chance for countries to learn to understand each other’s different circumstances. The least developed countries (LDC) is also using it as an opportunity to look into what they need for growth, so that the more affluent countries would know how to better help them in their development.

Call for Concern

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First, trust and good faith of a common global interest hasn’t been something that is vividly demonstrated in the negotiation process. Therefore, one of the biggest worry is that the eventual INDC put forward by countries would not aptly addressing the climate challenge, especially those that have consistently show to have weak political motivation. A huge possible disconnect between policies and scientific information.

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Second, while the INDC provides a good opportunity to do stocktaking, many countries lack the capability to do so due to their economic situation. This means that either they quick ram up their ability to do so or just stick to being very conservative in their approach, thus pulling back the good faith that the process hope to establish.

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Third, it is the ability to integrate the potentially diverse contributions within the short time frame to come up with a document that everyone can agree upon, that can fulfil the aim of preventing the average global temperature increase of 2ºC. The nature of the INDC means one can expect a huge range of contributions that the various countries will put forward. And this, by default, would make it very challenging to produce an outcome that would satisfy all negotiating parties adequately, let alone the world. At the moment this article is written, there are 80 pages of text for governments to plough through and agree to by the end of COP21.

Sentiments of INDC as a vehicle

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Mustering all the resources at its disposal, the French government have been actively and diligently pushing to ensure the INDC is being done as it will form the foundation of the negotiation outcome. Both developed and developing countries such as the European Union, the United States, Australia and China further support the efforts to ensure submission of INDCs are done by every country by October this year.

While this is going on, two camps of thought on the existence INDC as a vehicle are formed.

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The first one is more hopeful. They believe that the INDC and the eventual Paris outcome is the starting point and hence, there should not be worldly expectations like that of Copenhagen where the outcome is the silver bullet in solving the climate crisis. Basically, we should get everyone should agree to board on the same train (an agreement of sort), and then we can then adjust the speed (commitments to combating climate change) accordingly.

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The second is more critical. They believe that the science-based evidence is there given that scientists couldn’t have agree more now than they did before, and technological solutions are readily available; the only thing that is lacking is the political will. With that, there is fear that the INDC may end up being used as a distraction from what is actually needed.

Conclusion

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In a nutshell, the INDCs combine the top-down system of a United Nations climate agreement, with bottom-up system-in elements whereby countries put forward their agreements in the context of their own national circumstances, capabilities and priorities.

The great march in Copenhagen attracting up to 100.000 people on the day of Global Action Against Climate Change.

It would be too idealistic to expect the INDCs to facilitate the Paris negotiations this December to deliver what it predecessors – the Kyoto Protocol (KP) – couldn’t, which is a fair and ambitious legally binding agreement. However, this doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t still be some sort of expectation and pressure to be put on governments and negotiators to work towards that as an end goal.

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And for now, perhaps the first step is to make sure everyone pushes for his or her own country to submit their INDCs, and if they have, how can they be improved. All these should be done before having any unrealistic outcome in December this year.

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