After two weeks of negotiations, the UN climate conference delegates have finally drafted an international agreement to fight climate change — and it’s really disappointing.
A weak agreement is especially disappointing because just the month before, the US and China (the world’s two biggest carbon emitters) had reached a climate agreement of their own.
This gave everyone hope that the tide was turning and governments would start acting responsibly to curb emissions and defend the world from climate change.
How would they go about doing that? Well, the goal of the conference was to frame an internationally binding agreement between UN countries. The agreement is set to be finalised and signed at next year’s conference in Paris.
While the participating countries did reach an agreement, the draft has two big problems:
The document does not require any international oversight.
One big issue the countries were arguing over was how to make sure everyone was actually doing their part — would everyone’s climate plans and actions be judged by an outsider? How else would other UN countries know someone’s keeping up their end of the bargain?
Sadly for future humans, several countries were vehemently opposed to the idea of an outside judge, so the delegates ultimately had to soften the language in the final draft. This is a big problem because it doesn’t hold these countries accountable.
Currently, the draft reads that each country may (not shall) provide a detailed account of the plan and the way they intend to fulfil it. That means they don’t have to.
The Guardian quotes Tony deBrum, foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, as saying, “We are shocked that some of our colleagues would want to avoid a process to hold their proposed targets up to the light. There should be nothing to hide.” But the wording in the document would allow them to do just that.
In other words, participating countries don’t actually have to submit all (or any of) the details of their plan. These details include: “time frames and/or periods for implementation, scope and coverage, planning processes, assumptions and methodological approaches.”
The document will probably not be legally binding.
Even though member countries have come to this agreement, negotiations in Paris next year probably won’t be able to force them to hold up their end of the bargain. The US is a prime example of why this is true.
Eric Holthaus from Slate writes that “any global deal almost certainly won’t have legal force (because the US Congress would never ratify a legally-binding climate treaty).” He has a point — the US did the same with the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the first international climate agreement.
The Kyoto Protocol set emissions reduction targets, but while the US signed the agreement in 1998, it never ratified it, and dropped out of the treaty in 2001.
Ratification of a UN agreement would require a 2/3 vote in the Senate — something that would almost certainly never happen, according to The New York Times.
And since ratification is just about the only way to bind a country to the agreement, and that would have to happen in each of the individual countries, there is no way to ensure anyone will actually follow it.
There is no global legislature that can use a majority vote to pass treaties that are legally binding on all countries. Countries are generally not bound by the treaties they don’t sign or ratify. It is nigh impossible to negotiate a treaty that sets meaningful numerical targets and that all or the most important carbon-emitting states are willing to sign.
So, whatever final agreement that comes out of Paris, it’s unlikely that everybody will sign it, and the United States — one of the biggest players in the game — almost certainly won’t.
That, added to the fact that there’s no requirement to report they are actually even meeting their goals, means this climate meeting was pretty much just a waste of time — and a major disappointment for Earth’s climate future.
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