What can we expect from Paris climate summit?
A history of failureFrustrating conferences of the past include the Doha conference of 2012 and the infamous Copenhagen conference of 2009. After the Copenhagen conference the New York Times reported that: “President Obama and other world leaders have decided to put off the difficult task of reaching a climate change agreement.” Instead the leaders agreed: “to make it the mission of the Copenhagen conference to reach a less specific ‘politically binding’ agreement that would punt the most difficult issues into the future" That particular future gets nearer every year. Addressing climate sceptic Americans plus a global audience of onlookers, spiritual leader Pope Francis said: “Climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.” Will these sweeping statements be enough to finally get people to take notice – probably not – especially considering the rocky start which pre-negotiations got off to. Energy leaders gathered in Bonn, Germany last month to put the finishing touches to the negotiating text which will form the backbone of proceedings in Paris. A first draft of the text was met with ‘howls of protest’ from the representatives of developing countries who took particular issue with the financing arrangements. To avoid torpedoing the summit before it even began, the draft document swelled from 20 to 63 pages.
What to expectDespite this early set back many are still optimistic that real change is achievable. One of the most exciting policies for climate observers is the possibility of a universal carbon tax. The new negotiating text includes acknowledges that 'putting a price on carbon is an important approach for cost-effectiveness of the cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions'. Nigel Topping, chief executive of We Mean Business welcomed this policy inclusion: “Putting a meaningful price on carbon is one of the most effective policy measures to drive the transformation of global energy systems. “To date 39 countries and 23 cities, states and regions are putting a price on carbon through taxes or cap and trade systems and many more plan to do so in the next few years. At the same time more than 1,000 companies are implementing an internal price on carbon in anticipation of regulation to come, many planning for prices above $40. “We are delighted to see carbon pricing becoming a global norm. The widespread adoption of carbon pricing will reduce competitiveness concerns and rising carbon prices will drive further investment in a clean energy future. The decarbonisation of the economy is inevitable, irreversible and irresistible.” Policies such as the carbon tax certainly have the potential to avert the course of climate change, but such measures could also damage companies and countries if they are implemented unilaterally. If, for example, Britain brings in a (higher) carbon tax but Germany does not, then German manufacturers will have an advantage over British companies because their goods will be cheaper to produce. It’s vital that such measures are introduced on a global scale and it’s vital that there are checks and balances on international competitions. That’s why it was significant when French president François Hollande claimed China and France had taken an “historic” step when the two countries agreed that any deal reached in Paris next month should include checks on whether countries keep to their emissions targets. Minor agreements such as these and the potential for significant policy change are giving sowing seeds of optimism within the climate change community. But we have been in similar positions before only to be disappointed.
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