Yet another UN climate conference is taking place in Bonn. This week and next week sees the forty-sixth sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice. And the third part of the first session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement.
The talks are overshadowed by President Trump’s threats to pull the United States out of the Paris agreement.
But whether Trump leaves or not is all a bit of a red herring, really. Trump isn’t likely to act on climate change any time soon. The US could stay in the Paris Agreement and fail to reduce its emissions. Or the US could leave the Paris Agreement and fail to reduce its emissions.
Zhang Haibin, a Peking University expert in climate negotiations, told the Guardian that rather than the US leaving the Paris Agreement,
“I think the greater likelihood is that Trump will end up not pulling out of the pact but instead adopting a passive approach towards it [and] meeting none of its commitments. I call it a ‘semi-withdrawal’.”
Under the Paris Agreement, each country can make its own mind up what its climate targets are. Each country will submit a nationally determined contribution (NDC) to the UNFCCC. So far, 145 countries have submitted their NDCs.
The US has a target of 17% emissions reductions by 2020, compared to 2005.
In its NDC, the US states the following:
The United States intends to achieve an economy-wide target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26%-28% below its 2005 level in 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28%.
If the US fails to meet its targets in either 2020 or 2025, nothing will happen. The Paris Agreement is non-binding and voluntary.
The system is called “pledge and review”. Countries pledge to meet their climate targets. Each year different countries are selected for review. The review of the US progress in meeting its targets is currently taking place along with 17 other countries. The review process consists of countries asking each other about progress towards their targets.
The US recently submitted its answers to other countries’ questions, and on 12 and 13 May in Bonn there will be a debate about the US NDC.
Based on the US responses to questions so far, the debate in Bonn should be fun.
As part of the review, the European Union asked, “Could the US provide information regarding the steps taken to ensure targets for 2020 can be met?”
The US replied as follows,
The Administration is reviewing existing policies and regulations in the context of a focus on strengthening U.S. economic growth and promoting jobs for American workers, and will not support policies or regulations that have adverse effects on energy independence and U.S. competitiveness.
No offsets, no plan
In one of its questions, China pointed out that the US will need to take additional measures to meet its 2020 target. China continued,
Given that President Trump is not supportive of President Obama’s Climate Actions plan, it is even more challenging to achieve the 17% emission reduction in 2020 purely through domestic actions. Does the U.S. have any plan or preliminary thoughts on using international market mechanism to accommodate recent changes? If still not, what additional measure will the U.S. consider to take to achieve the 2020 target?
These are reasonable questions, and reflect how the Paris Agreement is supposed to work. Peer pressure from other countries, it is hoped, will encourage countries to meet the targets they set themselves in their NDCs. The US responses show how quickly the Paris Agreement can fall apart, without the US leaving.
The US response to the first question was short. “No.” The response to the second question was identical to the US response to the EU’s question, quoted above.
The US repeated that response five times in its replies to questions.
Better out than in?
Over on Ecosystem Marketplace, Steve Zwick argues that it may be better if Trump did take the US out of the Paris Agreement. “At least he’ll be out of the way,” Zwick writes. His concern is that Trump’s negotiators could sabotage negotiations to create new carbon markets.
Zwick gives the example of George W. Bush’s negotiatiors in Bali in 2007, where the US negotiating team had been “gunking up talks with silly games and doublespeak”.
Predictably though, Zwick didn’t mention US lead negotiator Al Gore’s role in destroying the Kyoto Protocol ten years before Bali. Before Kyoto, the EU wanted cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of 15% by 2010 and a tax on emissions. Gore and his team cut the target to 5.2% by 2012, and insisted on carbon trading as part of the deal.
The big polluters are in Bonn
Meanwhile polluting industry is all over the climate talks in Bonn.
A new report from Corporate Accountability International documents the trade and business organisations from countries that are the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. Corporations continue to have a seat at the UN’s climate negotiating table, despite the fact that the same corporations are responsible for creating the climate crisis.
The report, titled “Inside Job”, points out that,
Despite what major fossil fuel corporations may insist about their support for the Paris Agreement, these corporations have consistently used their presence at the UNFCCC to weaken policy rather than strengthen it.
On the agenda in Bonn is the issue of conflicts of interest: whether organisations representing the interests of fossil fuel corporations should have such a large presence at UN climate talks.
In a press release, Tamar Lawrence-Samuel, the international policy director of Corporate Accountability International, says,
“Right now hundreds of business trade associations have access to the climate talks, and many of them are funded by some of the world’s biggest polluters and climate change deniers.”
The report highlights six business and trade organisations, that have delegates at the UN climate talks. Three are from the US: the US Chamber of Commerce; the National Mining Association; and the Business Roundtable. Two are from Europe: FuelsEurope; and the International Chamber of Commerce. The last is the Business Council of Australia.
These organisations represent polluting corporations. The US Chamber of Commerce is funded by Exxon Mobil. Shell, Chevron and Exxon Mobil are members of the Business Rountable. Lawrence-Samuel sums up the problem:
“With so many arsonists in the fire department it’s no wonder we’ve failed to put the fire out.”