The Last Day of COP21: Waiting, Watching, Praying

All is quiet here in the blue zone today as negotiations that went all through last night continue behind closed doors. Everyone is waiting to hear news of progress and a new agreement text–this time, the final version that will be adopted by all the nations of the world. As we wait, here is the latest news and analysis:

Book in the Blue ZoneThe Latest

  • The COP 21 President Laurent Fabius released a second draft  of the Paris Agreement last night. It was shorter than the last version with fewer contested sections, but negotiations on the remaining sticking points still went through the night until approximately 5 a.m. Paris time.
  • Negotiations are continuing behind closed doors all day today. It is expected that a final draft text will be released tomorrow morning (Saturday). The national parties will then vote to adopt the Paris Agreement.

The Newest Draft Text

Although a new and final text is currently in the works as negotiations continue, the draft released last night gives us helpful clues as to what a final Paris outcome might look like:

  • Long Term Temperature Goal. The text released last night had a stated temperature goal of “well below 2 °C above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.” This is a middle position between the other two options in the previous draft text, and it represents a significant success for civil society groups and vulnerable nations who have been advocating for a temperature goal of 1.5 C in the draft text since the start of COP 21. To have it included in the draft text means that the world has listened to vulnerable nations and has decided to set an ambitious temperature goal.
  • Scaling Up Ambition. A stated temperature goal of 1.5 C degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels makes a great headline, but it is useless if the agreement does not also include mechanisms to help the world achieve it. The current draft text reflects progress in this regard, but more needs to be included in order to make sure that nations will take the necessary steps to ambitiously curb their emissions and ultimately limit warming to 1.5 C degrees.
  • Five Year Review Cycles. One important piece of scaling up ambition is the inclusion of mandatory five year review cycles when the world will come back together to take stock of the progress being made and to make new commitments to reduce their emissions in order to assure the 1.5 C goal is met. The current draft text states that this “stocktake” process will begin with its first review in 2023 and will recur every five years thereafter. Many civil society groups and vulnerable nations are concerned that this start date is too late and will risk losing the political momentum generated by COP 21 that is needed to continue raising ambition moving forward.
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions Neutrality after 2050. The current draft text states that the nations of the world will strive to reach peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and to achieve “greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century.” This wording was a carefully chosen middle ground among the three options present in the previous text. It is more ambitious than “decarbonization” (cutting out emissions of just carbon dioxide but not working to actively pull carbon out of the atmosphere through reforestation or curb emissions of other greenhouse gases), but not as ambitious as “climate neutrality” (zero net emissions of all greenhouse gases). As such, the choice of “greenhouse gas emissions neutrality” clearly reflects the work of the COP Presidency to achieve a compromise between parties while still maintaining an ambitious agreement. However, the agreement still lacks a clear way forward on how the nations of the world might be able to achieve this goal.

The Sticking Points

Though significant progress has been made between the first and second draft texts, there are still differences between the parties to be overcome. Differences remain between developed and developing countries on how exactly the world will finance mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation of developing countries to the impacts of a changing climate. How exactly the agreement will reflect the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” (i.e. which nations should do how much) is another roadblock. The exact mechanism of transparency (i.e. the monitoring and reporting of emissions) also remains contentious, as does the best way to increase global ambition in order to reach the temperature goal of 1.5 C.

What Can You Do?

While we wait for the final agreement, it’s important to remember that we still have a role to play in this process. Even though we aren’t in the negotiating rooms, we have work to do. Here is what you can do right now to support an ambitious Paris Agreement:

  • Pray. It is clear that God is present here at COP 21 and that his Spirit is moving in powerful ways. One of the clearest ways that we get to join with him in his work here is through prayer. Please pray these next several hours. Pray for physical strength and stamina for negotiators working on very little sleep. Pray for courage and for the political will to do what must be done to reach the compromises needed for the agreement. Pray for poor and vulnerable people around the world whose very survival hangs in the balance. Pray for a just and ambitious Paris Agreement.
  • Speak Up. Being in Paris for the past two weeks, it’s hard to know what media coverage of COP 21 is like back in the U.S. One of the best things you can do to faithfully witness to the importance of COP 21 is to raise your voice. Share your prayer for COP 21 on Facebook or Twitter today. Have a conversation with a friend about why COP 21 matters to you as a Christian. As negotiators use their voices to hammer out an agreement, let’s use ours to raise awareness and support back home!
  • Call Your Legislators. Take a 3 minutes today to call your Representative’s office to leave a message telling him/her that you are eagerly following the Paris process and that you think climate change is an issue that he/she should show leadership on. That’s all! You don’t need to be an expert to make sure your voice is heard.

 Click here for a directory of U.S. Representatives.

A historic global climate agreement is coming. Let’s be ready to do our part to make sure it translates into real action back home.

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