Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Germany sticks its neck out again - this time on climate

Germany is pushing for a 1.5 degree warming limit in the global climate agreement, but this goes beyond the EU's mandate of two degrees.

I'm in Paris this week for the big climate change summit, and it's very interesting to be here and compare it to Copenhagen five years ago. That summit, which notoriously collapsed in failure, was an absolute chaotic mess. This one, by contrast, is much calmer.

There are two reasons for this. For one, most of the groundwork has already been done before this summit. Secondly, the ambition level this time around is much lower - most notably because the reduction targets will not be legally binding. 

Also, the decision to have political leaders come at the beginning of this summit rather than at the end like in Copenhagen has given the negotiators the breathing room to get things done this week. Lessons have been learned from the failed summit.

So, things are calmer this time. Nobody I've talked to expects this summit to fail. There will be an agreement, the questions that remain are just around some of the details. For instance, will the agreement cover emissions from aviation and shipping? (It looks like probably not). Another big question is whether the agreement will set the goal of keeping warming to under two degrees, or under 1.5 degrees.

A ‘high ambition coalition’ has formed pushing for a recognition of a 1.5 degree. This coalition includes the United States. It also includes Germany. 

But this puts the EU negotiators in an awkward position, because their mandate, received from member states earlier this year, only mentions a two degree target. Germay is apparently working behind the scenes to try to get the 1.5 degree number incorporated into the EU's position, at least by mentioning it alongside the two degree target.

It is another instance of Germany sticking its neck out and waiting for others to follow. Like with Angela Merkel's position on Syrian refugees, it could backfire if other member states do not follow. If the EU does not officially push for a 1.5 degree figure, Germany will look weakened in the context of these negotiations.

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