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Skip to 0 minutes and 14 seconds The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is an international treaty– it’s a legally binding treaty. And the Paris agreement is negotiated underneath the parent treaty. So the agreement is a more specific way of implementing a treaty, which is a framework treaty, which doesn’t have a lot of specifics in it, and then needs these more detailed implementing agreements in order to really take those legal obligations forward. The UNFCCC, this Framework Convention, has 194 parties to date. Those parties are all member states. They’re all nation states. So they’re all countries. And those countries meet regularly to implement the treaty. So they meet regularly in these meetings called conferences of the parties. They meet every year.

Skip to 1 minute and 10 seconds And Paris was one of those important meeting– a much more important meeting– a much more important conference of the parties, because the parties adopted this legal agreement. But the conference of the parties is the main implementation body. In that implementation body, decisions are taken by consensus. So there’s no voting system within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. When parties agree on a big agreement like the Paris agreement, that’s a consensus agreement. When they agree on resolutions, other sort of less legally binding steps that are taken to implement that parent treaty, that’s done by consensus.

Skip to 1 minute and 58 seconds And so because decisions are taken by consensus, it obviously limits the ambition that the group can have and limits it in some really important ways by the biggest players. The smallest players don’t really have a lot of political clout within that space, but the big players like the United States, China, Brazil, the European Union, they definitely have some influence over whether things can go ahead or not. And this is certainly the case in the context of the Paris agreement with regard to its legally binding elements and its not legally binding elements. So I talked a little bit about the Paris agreement with transparency framework and a global stock take and a temperature goal. All of those are legally binding.

Skip to 2 minutes and 54 seconds But the nationally determined contributions– these pledges– they’re not. Those are just pledges. Countries can meet their pledges. There’s no consequences for them if they don’t meet their pledges. And this was most important for the United States. The US had made it clear early on that they would not be able to sign a legally binding agreement which obligated them to reduce emissions to a certain degree. So it shows the weight that the United States has, because the United States really could dictate the legal form– the shape of the final Paris agreement. And so it’s a consensus based space.

Skip to 3 minutes and 41 seconds It’s really important for all countries to agree, but some countries are more important than others in terms of what the outcomes actually are.

Skip to 3 minutes and 58 seconds In December of 2015, there’s a big climate summit in Paris. And it results in an agreement which we call the Paris agreement. There were a few really important outcomes of the Paris agreement. One is that it sets out a temperature goal. And it sets a temperature goal for two degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels. But it also establishes some kind of a commitment to try to reduce to keep temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. That’s going to be rather difficult. But that was a really important outcome of the conference and of that agreement. The centrepiece of the agreement is that countries have made pledges to reduce their emissions in order to stay below that amount of temperature rise.

Skip to 4 minutes and 49 seconds All countries have made pledges. They’re called nationally determined contributions. But it’s important– as a side note or parenthetically– to note that those are voluntary– that they’re pledges, they’re not legally binding commitments. Another important outcome of the Paris conference is what we call a transparency framework. That there will be developed a set of rules for how countries tell each other how much they’re pledging to reduce their emissions, telling each other how they’re going to account, so to make sure that the accounting in one country is similar to the accounting in another country so that they’re comparable. And also a transparency framework for support, so not just for action but also support principally from developed countries to developing countries.

Skip to 5 minutes and 44 seconds And then a final key piece of the agreement is this thing that’s called a global stock take. That is, every five years countries will get together and assess how well they’re doing at staying below that 2 degree temperature rise and what that means in terms of maybe how much ambition and how much they have to increase collectively their efforts to reduce emissions.

Skip to 6 minutes and 12 seconds But there’s been some key things left undone. One of the things that’s not quite finished is the commitments that actually reduce emissions to or keep us below 1.5 or 2 degrees C of warming. So the Paris outcome with all of the pledges that countries made, you add all of those up. And what you get is about 3.5 degrees Celsius of warming. So collectively, we’re really far away from where we need to be in terms of action to keep temperature rise within limits that don’t precipitate dangerous impacts on the climate system. With the action to date, it was a nice thing to agree to get to 1.5 degrees, to keep warming below 1.5.

Skip to 7 minutes and 11 seconds But there’s nothing in the agreement and nothing in climate action that we’re seeing to date that leads anybody to believe that we can do that. Unless of course, we rely on negative emissions.

Skip to 7 minutes and 26 seconds There’s also another really big gap in what was agreed. And that is on finance. It’s clear that it’s going to take huge sums of money. And developing countries have estimated that that’s about $4 trillion a year for them to reduce emissions, to transform their energy systems– a lot of reliance still globally on coal for energy production. But also, there’s a need for finance for adaptation. Even if we limit temperature rise to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius, there’s going to be massive impacts. And those impacts are principally going to be felt in the developing world. And those impacts are costly.

Skip to 8 minutes and 12 seconds And so both the finance for adapting, but then also the finance for addressing damages once they happen when the– damages that you can’t adapt to, but still are going to be damages– damages to coastal infrastructure from sea level rise, damages to infrastructure from extreme events, damages to agricultural systems as temperatures increase, and farmers are unable to adapt– all of that costs money. And this is a really gaping hole in what we got out of the Paris agreement.

Skip to 8 minutes and 54 seconds So the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change– this UNFCCC, this space, this place of 194 countries– is a really important– it’s a really important setting globally to address climate change. It is all of the countries of the world coming together to address climate change. But it’s only really– it’s just the sum of its parts, what it can accomplish. Because it’s just all of those member states and what they bring to it and what they agreed to by consensus. Climate change leadership in that space comes from the member states. But the leadership of member states comes from people in those member states. Right? And you see this as you see changes in governments.

Skip to 9 minutes and 47 seconds Canada before the election of Trudeau was one of the biggest barriers to climate change action globally. It was one of the biggest climate denier states globally– biggest bad actors. But with the change in government, now Canada is poised to become one of the leaders of the developed world in terms of climate change action. And so it’s really important to recognise that what happens at the national level helps to determine what can happen at the international level. So it’s really, really, really important. Any kind of action in that space– it’s really important for us to engage with our national governments, to make our national governments, to hold our national governments accountable to what they do in that space.

Skip to 10 minutes and 42 seconds The global level of commitment is essential. Right? It’s essential to preserve that global space, because it’s at the global level where we can assess whether we’ve got to 2 degrees or 1.5 degrees. And right now, we have action at the global level just to reduce warming to below 3.5 degrees Celsius. So that space is really important for countries of the world to come together and to tell each other what they think about that. It’s really important for developing countries to be able to have a space like that to engage and to challenge developed countries on action, because it really is developed countries that have to be the leaders in climate action. And unfortunately, at this point, developed countries aren’t leaders.

Skip to 11 minutes and 33 seconds It’s principally the developed world, which is keeping us on a trajectory towards 3.5 degrees Celsius. So leadership at the UNFCCC has been principally from developing countries, has been principally developing countries pushing developed countries. But then I would also say leadership at the UNFCCC in that space is also dependent on us. It’s dependent on us pulling our governments to account and making them act differently at the international level.

The UNFCCC and the outcomes of the Paris Agreement

In this video Doreen Stabinsky, visiting professor in climate change leadership at Uppsala University gives an insight into the outcomes of the Paris Agreement.

But first off, she explains what the UNFCCC is:

The UNFCCC, The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is a legally binding treaty the Paris Agreement is negotiated under.

The UNFCCC is composed of 194 parties which are all nation states. They meet on a yearly basis and the meetings are called Conferences of the Parties (COP) of which the meeting in Paris was the 21st (COP21).

What made the meeting in Paris so special is that it lead to the adoption of legal agreement between all parties

In that implementation body decisions are taken by consensus, so there is no voting system within the UNFCCC. This obviously limits the ambition the group can have.

She explains that there is a power imbalance and that the influence big players (like China, USA; EU) have in comparison to smaller players often dictates which elements of the agreement are legally binding and which ones are not.

She then goes into the outcomes of the Agreement:

  • temperature goal of 2 degrees above Industrial levels and ambition to keep temperature below 1.5 degrees
  • transparency framework for support and action
  • global stocktake to assess how well countries are doing

But she also mentions key things that are left undone:

  • concrete commitments to reduce emissions to be able to reach 2 degrees of warming
  • finance for adaptation and loss and damages

When asked about the role of the UNFCCC as a climate change leader she says that it is a really important space for all countries of the world to come together to combat climate change. She says

Climate Change Leadership comes from the member states and the leadership form member states comes from the people in those member states…what happens at the national level determines what can happen at the international level

Read more about the The Paris Agreement and the parties (countries) that have ratified the agreement at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change web page.

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Climate Change Leadership

Uppsala University