Why we should be more optimistic about the Paris climate summit than Copenhagen

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PwC's Jonathan Grant outlines why the Paris climate talks are in a better place now that at the same point before the Copenhagen and Kyoto summits

Governments met in Bonn last week for the latest round of climate talks. Many commented that more progress was made than is reflected in the text. At more than 80 pages, the current text is still too long and has too many options for effective negotiation. So the co-chairs agreed to develop a new document which will reflect the feedback given by countries and provide a better basis for actual negotiation and compromise. The co-chairs will also establish a new drafting committee at the next session, starting on 19 October, which should accelerate the development of the Paris agreement.

This is typical of the ebb and flow of the UN climate process and similar to what happened in the lead up to and at both Kyoto and Copenhagen. At this point ahead of Kyoto, the US and Japan had still not proposed emissions targets, the main issues were tackled by separate groups, there was no consolidated negotiating text (although the options were a bit more distinct) and there was limited discussion of the developed countries' emissions targets. Indeed, the first draft of the Kyoto Protocol was only prepared in time for the October session before COP3.

At this point ahead of Kyoto, it was accepted that the EU could propose a single target or bubble. Last week, in Bonn, some asked what happens if a country leaves the EU bubble. Given the voluntary nature of the targets, presumably, any member leaving the EU would simply determine its own 'contribution' and the EU would revise its contribution.

Ahead of Copenhagen the negotiations were complicated by having two negotiating tracks with separate documents, and it wasn't clear how these two tracks would merge. In advance of that COP the emerging economies were more reluctant to take on emissions targets than they are today. So it is notable that there is again very little formal discussion of the national emissions targets. The mitigation group is talking about process and mechanisms not substance. Despite being moderately ambitious it is widely recognised that the targets are inadequate compared to the two degrees goal. There isn't much prospect that they will be increased before Paris.

So are the negotiations on track? The current climate talks appear to have made more progress than those in advance of Copenhagen and are at a point comparable with the Kyoto negotiations. So in that respect, they are making progress. But the one point all countries and commentators seem to agree on is the need to step up the pace. Progress is typically made through large step changes, in new draft documents, rather than through incremental editing of the text. The co-chairs will need to carefully balance the interests of all countries when they draft the new text. So far they have successfully kept all countries on board with the process partly because they haven't made the cuts to countries' positions that are necessary to come up with a concise draft. They will have to do this now.

Jonathan Grant is director of sustainability and climate change at PwC

This article is part of BusinessGreen's Road to Paris hub, hosted in association with PwC

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