Will we learn from past mistakes at Paris COP21?

If this will be purely down to rhetoric or not is something that can be figured out only during the coming week, when the glitz of the punchy speeches abates

If there is one reason why I am more than cautiously optimistic about the eventual outcome of COP21 it is that from statements made so far by practically all heads of state and government in Paris last Monday, most seem to have learnt from past mistakes.

If this will be purely down to rhetoric or not is something that can be figured out only during the coming week, when the glitz of the punchy speeches abates, and the respective Ministers for Climate and the respective negotiators and technical teams take over the proceedings.

Having followed actively and also participated in previous COPs I must admit that it is not an everyday occurrence that countries like the USA – through their President, who seems highly interested in securing the best legacy and stated that his country and government share the blame on climate and that not only did he come to Paris to recognise his country’s role in creating the problem but also to embrace their responsibility to do something about it.

The same can be said for the frank and alarming official report that China has just published, which not only set out the major setbacks and big risks that they could be facing unless they address climate issues more pro-actively and dynamically but also that apart from addressing urgently their own environmental hazards they need to respond quicker to their international obligations.

So much so that one specific segment of the report actually sees them urging themselves to be more flexible in negotiations, as well as to engage and address new arrangements in global climate governance that they are now even considering to be unavoidable.

China seems to have recognised publicly that it has a dual status of being a huge developing economy that is now prepared to assist those vulnerable states in need of financial help while shouldering its responsibility to scale down its negative impact as the biggest polluter on the globe.

Even though it is not so on a per capita basis.

This does not mean that China has given up on considering itself a developing country but there is now a new recognition that it simply has to adjust to new demands of changed realities and circumstances.

The rapid expansion of existing clean energy technologies and the higher public awareness of the fact that climate change is not a future threat but is happening now should side step the sluggishness that we had to live with in the past.

I have placed so much emphasis on China and the USA because others are likely to follow in their footsteps given that we are talking of the world’s two largest carbon polluters and historically the biggest stumbling blocks to any past deals that could have led to emissions reduction policies.

One cannot treat lightly the positive development that a bottom-up approach has been adopted rather than through imposition from above that more than 170 countries representing more than 90% of global carbon emissions, have put forward their proposals to actually reduce emissions.

Whether the deal itself will take the legal form of a traditional treaty still needs to be determined. That there is a lot more work to be done in the coming days is another given too.

But with Obama’s legacy in balance at the Paris conference, and even traditionally climate sceptic countries like Russia making very bold statements through their leader as happened last Monday, there is much room for encouragement.

If we can actually slow and then reduce emissions this will be already a major achievement. The fact that for the first time ever since Kyoto there seems to have been fostered a spirit of collective responsibility is equally encouraging.

The bottom line being that this is after all a global problem that calls for a global solution. National pledges must not be allowed to represent the ceiling of ambition.

Without a framework requiring stronger climate commitments at periodic and regular intervals we will have only got there half of the way.

The same can be said for the importance of having plans for monitoring and reporting countries’ individual performances.

But having said all that there seems to have emerged a far stronger sense of commitment and shared sense of urgency that was nowhere to be seen in the past.

So if you allow me – I will opt to be more than cautiously optimistic even though next weekend might prove me wrong.

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