By Cindy Baxter 09/12/2015


I’ve been in Paris for over a week now, and the speed at which everything goes past, including time, is frightening.   I think the 40,000 expected have now all arrived.  I’m getting worried the only Eiffel Tower I’ll see is the one made of red folding chairs at the end of the “Champs Elysee” at the meeting.

We began last week with the Heads of State arriving and making grand statements about grandchildren, climate impacts, the importance of the issue, etc..

Arnold Schwarzenegger was here today, Richard Branson was here yesterday.  We’ve had Leo Dicaprio, Sean Penn, Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle: a veritable feast of celebrity and wisdom.  Ben & Jerry’s are giving out free ice cream.

There’s been major announcements on progress from climate finance, to cities taking action, and absolutely everything and anything to do with climate change and workers, and indigenous peoples, and everything else under the sun. There’s a lot of noise, everyone trying to get their message heard.  My quote of the day today was a journalist saying “my inbox is my enemy.”

Now we’re into the second week and the French Presidency is doing its best to keep this show on the road.  After a week of officials fighting over the text, we saw the Draft Paris Outcome (note: not “agreement” but “outcome”) posted on the UNFCCC website on Saturday, and government ministers took over from officials on Sunday.

1.5 degree in final agreement?

Now the real negotiations have begun, in four or five different streams, each chaired by two ministers, one each from north and south.  They’ve been locked in negotiating rooms for two days now, and the most commonly heard question heard in the corridors is “what’s going on”?

From the perspective of many, especially vulnerable states, it’s a few key issues.

First, it’s the word “decarbonization.” [it has a z in the text].  That it even appears in the text is pretty big, even though it has a few caveats in square brackets, like [by mid century] and [over the course of the next century].  It’s been there since Lima and has, so far, survived.

The related issue is a number: 1.5.  1.5 degrees of warming: the “goal” – or limit –  to global warming that 120 governments are now supporting the inclusion of in the final agreement.   They want it in the “operational” section of the text, ie in a place where government action can be measured against it.

Back in Copenhagen, the world’s governments agreed to hold warming to 2˚C.  But the IPCC’s AR5 and the report that translated the AR5 back into the climate talks, which has a catchy title of the “SED” or “Structured Expert Dialogue,”  both warned that two degrees of warming is dangerous for many.  Too dangerous.  It would see the loss of the Great Barrier Reef, for one.

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 10.54.43 pm“1.5 to stay alive” has been the catchcry around the conference all week, with protests (as much as you CAN protest inside the UN space) and it’s gained a lot of support – even from  the French and German governments.  Even Obama referred to “well below two degrees.”

Does New Zealand support it?  John Key rejected the idea at this year’s Pacific Island Forum, when he and Tony Abbott had to “agree to disagree” with the rest of our Pacific Island neighbours, who were calling for the Paris Agreement to include reference to it.

To hold warming to 1.5˚C, one thing is clear: you need total decarbonisation of the world’s energy systems by 2050.   So the two are very much linked.   Yet our Government continues to open its doors to the fossil fuel industry, last week ranking 10th “most attractive” country in the world for oil exploration.  For our government, this call is definitely falling on deaf ears.

Whether it’s scientifically feasible is also under discussion.  There’s a whole heap of material on this site, for those who want to dive into it.  But,  as the Washington Post’s Chris Mooney said in a post today, “the more the world seriously considers a target of 1.5 degrees, the more likely it is that it will actually stay under 2.”

With Loss and Damage, another issue in play, the US especially is terrified of entering into any agreement that might mean paying compensation for damage from climate change that cannot be adapted to, or recovered from.

But as the Marshall Islands’ Foreign Minister Tony de Brum, pointed out last Saturday,  “the higher the [climate action] is, the less we will be concerned about loss and damage.”  (The press conference webcast is worth a watch – de Brum, and the St Lucia Minister James Fletcher, were great).

There’s a logic to that – if the rich nations like the US are so hung up on worrying about paying compensation and liability for the loss and damage caused by dangerous climate impacts, you’d think they’d be pushing as hard as they could to minimise warming so they don’t HAVE to pay that damage.

The French Presidency want to get this thing done by Friday. Let’s see how that goes.