October 28, 2015 Categories: Climate Change

Significant Groundwork Quietly Being Laid Before 2016 Paris Climate Summit

Over the last few weeks the world has seen some very big news, and I’m not talking about finding water on Mars or the Cubs failing to make it to the World Series. Diplomats working on long-term solutions to global problems like extreme poverty and climate change accomplished three significant steps on the path to a more prosperous and sustainable world:

1) The universal adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

2) The submission of emission reduction targets covering the vast majority of global emissions.

3) The release of the first comprehensive draft of a global climate change agreement.

These are wonky, technical milestones on the arcane (and often dull) diplomatic path to international action on poverty, inequality and injustice, and climate change. International negotiating processes rarely garner mainstream media attention and can seem unconnected to our everyday experiences, even for those of us concerned about global issues like climate change. But in fact these negotiations and the resulting agreements mean a lot for our businesses, for our families, for our nation, and for the world.

1) The Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by 193 countries.

The SDGs are a set of 17 goals to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030. One hundred and ninety-three members of the United Nations General Assembly adopted these common goals at the end of September, underscoring the universality of these priorities to the global community.

Irrespective of a country’s current political, economic, and cultural circumstances, these goals apply to domestic political dialogues in concrete ways. Goal 10, “reduced inequalities,” reflects the important conversations here in the United States on income inequalityincome inequality; goal 14, “life below water,” builds on American success stories of managed fisheries in Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf waters and will push us to continue to prioritize conservation of marine resources at home and around the world. Agreeing to global goals will allow the United States to lead in areas where we have seen success and to learn from the global community as we develop policies to address outstanding challenges. One such challenge is climate change.

2) One hundred and fifty countries, responsible for 90 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, submitted emission reduction targets as part of the UN climate change negotiation process.

Ahead of the UN conference in late November-December, every country will have designed and submitted a climate action plan, or Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), that outlines its proposed GHG emission reduction targets. The INDCs submitted as of October 1 covered all developed countries and 106 developing countries, and submissions continue to roll in—over the last two weeks Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bolivia, Malawi, and Afghanistan hit send on their plans. Even countries like Afghanistan—struggling with immediate, tangible crises—, understand the importance of the UN climate negotiation process.

The establishment of national emission reduction plans by countries the world over will have positive impacts on farmers, families, businesses, and national security here in the United States. The 2014 Risky Business report illustrated the painful effects of climate change that we can expect if we continue to rely on polluting energy sources—an increase of up to $7.3 billion annually in coastal property and infrastructure damage from storms, a decline in crop yields of over 10% in some Midwestern and Southern counties, and an up to three-percent reduction in the labor productivity of outdoor workers by the end of the century. Climate watchdogs estimate that the submitted INDCs “lower projected warming to 2.7°C,” which would constitute significant progress toward moderating our exposure to these climatic risks. Still, the current 2.7°C projection is above the globally recognized intention to limit warming to 2°C and well above the limit of 1.5°C warming called for by the most vulnerable countries, so there remains work to be done. This work includes the international diplomatic process to finalize a global climate change agreement.

3) Climate diplomats from the world over released the draft negotiating text for the global climate change agreement.

Five days of hard work in Bonn led to a draft text that “enjoys full ownership by the governments of the world.” Talk about an editing process! The activity involves “professional negotiators from basically every country in the world — rich and poor, big and small. And in their past negotiations on climate change, there hasn’t been a lot of trust.”

While you may notice that the document is still riddled with brackets and “Options” that indicate language yet to be agreed upon, the negotiators have made significant progress. The working group shrank the text from 90 pages last June to a more manageable 31 pages on October 23. Concepts such as “mitigation” and “adaptation” have graduated out of brackets, though details remain in progress. Likewise, a process to ratchet up INDCs towards longer-term emission reduction goals remains in this draft. The progress signified by the release of a manageable negotiating text means that leaders may indeed achieve a global agreement that will take us towards concrete solutions in the decades to come.

In other words, it’s a big deal.

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