Nicholas Troja of manufacturers' association EEF argues the Paris Agreement is a step in the right direction, but still falls a long way short of creating the level playing field industries crave
It is probably worth starting by saying that manufacturers wanted nothing more than a strong and robust deal at Paris. The sector is far from fearful of rigorous action to tackle emissions, indeed climate action provides manufacturers with a host of new market opportunities. No, it is simply that when climate targets continue to operate in a unilateral and disproportionate manner, concerns are raised. Of course, no-one believed that Paris in itself could deliver a truly level playing field (that was never on the cards); but there was hope that it would create the framework to achieve this over time. So, from the manufacturing sector's point of view, how did the final agreement matchup to those tentative hopes?
The agreement has received almost universal praise and hailed by some as a turning point for the world. History shows us however, that we must interpret the outcome with caution. Not to dismiss the laudable work of many, including the UK's Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd, because the task is exceptionally difficult, but progress to date has been excruciatingly slow.
Since 1992, the year when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) was signed in Rio de Janeiro to cooperatively and collectively limit and stabilize greenhouse gas emissions, our consumption of fossil fuels has barely taken a dent.
Fossil fuel consumption as a percentage of the world's energy has only fallen by two per cent, from 88 to 86 per cent while absolute volumes have surged. The remainder largely comprises of nuclear and hydroelectricity while other forms of renewables such as wind and solar could almost be considered a rounding error despite significant year-on-year increases over the past decade.
By 1995, at COP 1 in Berlin after the UNFCC entered into force, it quickly became apparent that countries' emission reduction targets were inadequate and a period of negotiation to agree on binding targets was initiated. Twenty years later after numerous agreements, accords, roadmaps and resolutions, as the dust settles on COP 21 we know that once again, what has been collectively pledged is still inadequate and still non-binding.
To look at a couple of specific examples; the US's insistence that article 4.4 must read that developed countries 'should continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets' rather than 'shall continue taking...' essentially ensures that all the pledges made by developed countries, in the absence of domestic legislation, remain largely voluntary with little risk of sanction. Similarly Article 28 provides for any country to withdraw from the agreement simply by writing a letter to Ban Ki-moon informing him of its intent to do so.
It must be said though that political will and momentum is moving in the right direction and the review mechanism occurring every five years covering all countries is a significant step forward, for this reason alone Paris is top of the COPs. However, as noted they don't promise increased ambition in competing economies over time in line with the UK's legally binding target. Furthermore, for many countries their policies to reduce emissions by 2030 do not match their stated ambitions. If Paris sounded the final death knell for internationally binding targets, the UK's climate diplomacy should be pushing countries to do so domestically.
If we do not see sufficient progress, we should reserve the right to use these reviews to re-evaluate our own level of ambition. Certainly any idea that the Paris Agreement was robust enough for the UK and EU to immediately up their own ambition levels, as some have already suggested, is somewhat farcical.
The key to solving the global challenge of climate change is not simply increasing the cost of fossil fuels through a myriad of means, it is also rapidly decreasing the cost of clean energy. We are seeing significant progress in some areas but not in others such as the recent setback to Carbon Capture & Storage development. That's why the announcement of a new clean energy innovation fund in Paris, Mission Innovation, is welcomed, but R&D investment needs to go even further, even faster with the right incentives in place. The mechanics on how Mission Innovation will operate should hopefully shed some light on this.
The UK has demonstrated that we can have both economic growth and reduced emissions and they are not mutually exclusive. However, the jury is still out on whether we can also have strong and internationally competitive energy intensive industries such as steel into the future, whilst continuing to adopt, largely, unilateral action on climate change.
Nicholas Troja is senior climate and energy policy adviser at EEF, the manufacturers' organisation