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Experts: What will stop a COP21 deal?

After a hopeful discussion about the climate change conference experts reckon there are still many challenges ahead

A panel of experts in science and politics is optimistic that an agreement will be reached during this year’s COP21 climate change conference. But whether the agreement will be adequate to stop climate change is doubtful, they said.

The discussion Friday 27 November was organized by the Copenhagen Alumni of the Master’s programme in Climate Change (COPACC) in collaboration with the Sustainability Science Centre, both at University of Copenhagen. The expert panel included Tina Christensen (DMI), John Christensen (UNEP-DTU), Jens Joel (Social Democrats), and Troels Dam Christensen (92Gruppen).

”The world is much more ready than it was [at the COP15 conference in 2009 – ed.] in Copenhagen, and expectations are more realistic,” said Tina Christensen of DMI.

Skeptical about a legally binding agreement

Jens Joel of the Social Democrats is also optimistic that an agreement will be reached: But he is skeptical that it will be legally binding with regards to specific targets. Perhaps a soft agreement with voluntary contributions can be achieved instead.

If no specific targets are set, a process for review will be needed to ensure countries are upholding agreements. It’s unlikely, however, that China will agree to this type of monitoring, believes Joel.

According to John Christensen of UNEP-DTU, there are eight different kinds of targets used by different countries, so monitoring progress towards these goals is difficult.

Possible deal breakers

Whether an agreement is reached could boil down to whether the US and China want to act, Joel reckons. The US and China have already come out with a statement, expressing their commitment to come to a successful agreement on climate change. ”The agreement was good-willing, but had a relatively low ambition level,” he says.

Developed countries not wanting to contribute to developing countries to meet their climate change goals could also be a problem. According to Troels Dam Christensen of 92Gruppen, this issue of financing climate abatement could be a deal breaker. ”Rich countries will wait to compromise on finance, adaptation, and loss and damage. It probably won’t be discussed until the last day of COP21,” he says.

Troels Dam Christensen also expressed concerns about an over-ambitious agreement being reached. Since the ramification of agreement coming from COP21 will occur in 2020, there won’t be sufficient time to correct them if they are unrealistic. ”The most important thing that comes from reaching an agreement will be the signal that it sends,” he says.

The EU could be a blocking party

Dam Christensen believes that one risk could be that the EU, and specifically Denmark, might not play its needed progressive role. John Christensen agrees with him:

”The EU could be a blocking party since its target years are not aligned with the COP21 target year of 2020,”‘ says John Christensen.

The European Council has already agreed upon a climate and energy framework that should be reached by 2030. ”The EU can act as a facilitator, leading by example,” says Joel of the Social Democrats, but ”currently, Denmark is backtracking.”

Positive impact from green technology

According to Christensen of 92Gruppen, 40-50 per cent of what we can do [to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – ed.] can come from increasing energy efficiency, while Joel believes there’s a self-interest in moving toward these greener technologies, which is partly why there is a growing interest in the green technology market from the US.

Beyond the economic appeal of transitioning to greener, more energy-efficient technologies, the risks associated with ignoring climate change will continue to become progressively evident. ”As climate change accelerated, public opinion will change; the question is, when will this happen,” says Dam Christensen.

Political unrest could also have an influence on climate change initiatives. The terror activity in Paris is creating problems for NGOs. ”There was supposed to be a big demonstration in Paris on the 29th, but it was cancelled. This is a huge problem for us, because we need to put pressure on the government,” explains Dam Christensen.

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