This House believes the outcome of the Paris Climate Conference needs to be an international treaty with binding emission cuts

In December 2015 the leaders of the world, and large numbers of negotiators, gathered in Paris for the 21st Conference of the Parties. The Conference of the Parties (COP) brings together all the countries of the world once a year with a continuing mission to tackle climate change. COP21 is however potentially the most significant since COP15 in Copenhagen due to an agreement being within reach. Because it is an intergovernmental conference every decision needs to be agreed by every country and progress is slow. This also means there is a debate about how binding an agreement can be.

After the relative failure of COP15 the United Nations eventually found a framework that it could work with through the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). These are targets for emissions reductions or a reduction in emissions intensity (the amount of emissions in return for a given amount of GDP) which each nation voluntarily submits to the conference.[1] In other words each country decides for itself what a reasonable contribution to fighting climate change is. The intention is that these proposals from individual governments when all combined will be enough to limit the amount that the planets average global air temperature will rise when compared to preindustrial levels. A limit of 2 degrees Celsius (C) is the generally agreed target the COP is aiming for even if there is little scientific evidence of this being a particularly significant figure.[2]

The agreement that comes out of COP21 will be an international agreement and as such it will be binding. However it is expected that the binding bit will simply be the targets, something no country will object to as those targets have been decided by each individual government. It has been agreed beforehand that the agreement will not be a treaty.[3] And as such it will not bind countries to actually meet those targets, and there will be no mechanism to prevent non-compliance.[4] Whether countries do meet their targets or not is of immense importance to the world as a result of the predicted consequences of higher levels of increase; much more extreme weather, damage to ecosystems, and extinction of large numbers of species estimated to be likely to be around 24% of all earths spieces.[5]

[1] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)’, unfccc.int, http://unfccc.int/focus/indc_portal/items/8766.php

[2] Naik, Gautam, ‘Scientists Dispute 2-Degree Model Guiding Climate Talks’, Wall Street Journal, 29 November 2015, http://www.wsj.com/article_email/scientists-dispute-2-degree-model-guiding-climate-talks-1448829047-lMyQjAxMTI1MjA3MTEwNzE1Wj

[3] Chassany, Anne-Sylvaine, ‘France bows to Obama and backs down on climate ‘treaty’’, CNBC, 28 November 2015, http://www.cnbc.com/2015/11/28/france-bows-to-obama-and-backs-down-on-climate-treaty.html

[4] Fekete, Jason, ‘Paris climate agreement won’t lock countries into emissions reductions’, Ottawa Citizen, 29 November 2015, http://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/a-lot-of-hot-air-paris-climate-agreement-wont-lock-countries-into-emissions-reductions

[5] Thomas, Chris D. et al., ‘Extinction risk from climate change’, nature, Vol. 427, 13 October 2003, pp.145-8, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v427/n6970/full/nature02121.html

 

Title 
The hard part is the cutting of emissions
Point 

The problem with a non-binding agreement, even one where the targets have been submitted by the governments themselves is exactly that it is non-binding. If governments are not bound to cut emissions then there is a good chance that many of them wont.[1] The British government, which has binding targets, has been on course to miss its 2025 targets with reductions of only 23% against targets of 31% due to a decision to reduce subsidies for housing insulation.[2] If countries which have set targets for themselves in the past are missing them what hope do we have for these voluntary targets?

[1] Taylor, Lenore, ‘Paris climate talks: the real test is whether countries will keep their word’, The Guardian, 30 November 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/nov/30/paris-climate-talks-real-test-whether-countries-will-keep-their-word

[2] Harvey, Fiona, ‘UK on track to miss carbon targets, climate change advisers warn’, The Guardian, 15 July 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/15/uk-miss-carbon-targets-climate-change-advisers

Counterpoint 

Each government has put in targets that they believe are realistic and that they are willing to try to reach. The countries involved are therefore much more likely to want to meet the target than if they had been imposed on them by a binding international treaty. Europe has found that binding refugee quotas are almost impossible to agree and equally difficult to implement.[1] Instead it has generally been accepted that only voluntary systems will work when it comes to taking in the majority of refugees with Hungary willing to take legal action to prevent mandatory quotas.[2] The same is the case on greenhouse gas emissions.

[1] Euractive, ‘Commission ready to drop mandatory quotas for refugees’, 17 September 2015, http://www.euractiv.com/sections/justice-home-affairs/commission-ready-drop-mandatory-quotas-refugees-317723

[2] BBC News, ‘Migrant crisis: Hungary challenges EU quota plan in court’, 3 December 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-34998615

Title 
Only an international treaty can create penalties for non-compliance
Point 

A non-binding agreement will not have any penalties for any countries that do not comply with it, this sets the agreement up for failure. Without a binding agreement a government will find it difficult to bind its successors who may back track in the decades that follow. Some states are backtracking even before the agreement is finalised; the UK has been abandoning its green policies – cutting subsidies for renewables, cancelling carbon capture and storage, reducing funding for domestic energy efficiency, and selling the green investment bank.[1] If governments will take such measures before the agreement is even finished then what hope does it have in the future if there is nothing to persuade sovereign governments to comply with their pledges?

[1] Monbiot, George, ‘On climate change this government is indifferent to life, in love with death’, The Guardian, 2 December 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/02/climate-change-david-cameron-bomb-syria-global-warming  

Counterpoint 

While there are sure to be some countries that won’t live up to their pledges this is also the case with binding agreements even if they have built in penalties. This has been shown by the European Union where Germany and France both flouted budget rules that allowed a maximum deficit of 3% at the start of the millennium despite the threat of fines.[1]

[1] Osborn, Andrew, ‘France and Germany to flout budget rules until 2006’, The Guardian, 30 October 2003, http://www.theguardian.com/business/2003/oct/30/theeuro.europeanunion

Title 
It is too late for half measures
Point 

Two degrees Celsius has generally been regarded as that safe level which agreements should be aiming for. This agreement does not go so far with it expected to keep the temperature increase to around 2.7 degrees if everyone sticks to their commitments and makes deeper ones after 2030.[1] Unfortunately however the world will still most likely be heading towards a 3.5 degrees rise if no further cuts are made later.[2] Now is the time to be much more ambitious and part of that means binding cuts to prevent backsliding or those agreeing carrying on as usual.

[1] Nuttall, Nick, ‘Global Response to Climate Change Keeps Door Open to 2 Degree C Temperature Limit’, UNFCCC Press Office, 30 October 2015, http://newsroom.unfccc.int/unfccc-newsroom/indc-synthesis-report-press-release/

[2] Romm, Joe, ‘Misleading U.N. Report Confuses Media on Paris Climate Talks’, thinkprogress.org, 3 November 2015, http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/11/03/3718146/misleading-un-report-confuses-media-paris-climate-talks/

Counterpoint 

Voluntary measures have got much further than previous attempts to get a binding agreement – at least there is going to be a good working agreement to build on in future this time. The changes that could mean countries ultimately targeting 2C or even 1.5C are technological; if solar becomes the cheapest form of electricity generation, if electric cars become competitive with petrol, and biofuels taken up for aviation fuel.[1]

[1] Mathiesen, Karl, ‘Should we be aiming to keep global warming to 1.5C, not 2C?’, The Guardian,. 2 December 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/02/global-warming-climate-change-2c

Title 
Sovereign states should be allowed to set their own targets and be trusted to meet them
Point 

States are sovereign entities meaning that only they have power within their borders and climate change should not be a cause for groups of countries meddling in the business of others. Each state making its own commitment and then doing its own monitoring and enforcement is the right way to go about preventing climate change. By doing it this way no countries will feel unduly burdened or persecuted. 

Counterpoint 

Sovereignty is often taken to mean that states can do what they like without interference. This is not the kind of mentality that will help solve climate change or ensure that this deal sticks. Unfortunately climate change is a global issue where what happens in one country affects everyone else just as much as the miscreant. The atmosphere is a global commons, currently free for everyone to use, and more often abuse. As such the principles of sovereignty and non-interference can have no place.

Title 
Only a non-binding agreement would get the targets necessary
Point 

Fully binding treaties with mechanisms for compliance are the gold standard for agreements between nations. But because they are onerous they are the most difficult kind of treaties to get agreed to start with. If the aim were such an agreement it would unfortunately never happen. This has been demonstrated by the years of successive failures in crafting climate agreements. COP 15 is the most notable; expectations were immensely high for a binding international treaty but there was a failure to deliver, largely because governments did not want a binding international solution which is what was being negotiated at Copenhagen.[1]

[1] BBC News, ‘Why did Copenhagen fail to deliver a climate deal?’, 22 December 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8426835.stm

Counterpoint 

There is little reason why countries can’t voluntarily come up with their quotas and then be bound to them by treaty. Being willing to be bound by a treaty would show that the targets submitted are really the targets that countries are setting for themselves rather than a public relations exercise. 

Title 
A more informal agreement avoids the US congress
Point 

The United States Congress is a potential hurdle for any climate agreement. While President Barack Obama is keen to make tackling climate change a legacy of his Presidency the Republican dominated Congress is both likely to try to block the President for that very reason and is sceptical of climate change. It is therefore a major benefit to have an agreement that will not need to be submitted to Congress for approval as any treaty needs to be confirmed by the Senate.

The Secretary of State Kerry argues that it is “definitely not going to be a treaty,” and “not going to be legally binding reduction targets like Kyoto”. It won’t need to be passed to the Senate because the President already has the power to implement the agreement through existing law.[1]

[1] Mufson, Steven, and Demirjian, Karoun, ‘Trick or treaty? The legal question hanging over the Paris climate change conference’, Washington Post, 30 November 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2015/11/30/trick-or-treaty-the-legal-question-hanging-over-the-paris-climate-change-conference/

Counterpoint 

The United States Senate would be a potential sticking point for any treaty however it would be unlikely that the United States would hold out against the rest of the world. At the worst case it would simply sign next time the democrats gain a majority. 

Bibliography 

BBC News, ‘Migrant crisis: Hungary challenges EU quota plan in court’, 3 December 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-34998615

BBC News, ‘Why did Copenhagen fail to deliver a climate deal?’, 22 December 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8426835.stm

Chassany, Anne-Sylvaine, ‘France bows to Obama and backs down on climate ‘treaty’’, CNBC, 28 November 2015, http://www.cnbc.com/2015/11/28/france-bows-to-obama-and-backs-down-on-climate-treaty.html

Euractive, ‘Commission ready to drop mandatory quotas for refugees’, 17 September 2015, http://www.euractiv.com/sections/justice-home-affairs/commission-ready-drop-mandatory-quotas-refugees-317723

Fekete, Jason, ‘Paris climate agreement won’t lock countries into emissions reductions’, Ottawa Citizen, 29 November 2015, http://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/a-lot-of-hot-air-paris-climate-agreement-wont-lock-countries-into-emissions-reductions

Harvey, Fiona, ‘UK on track to miss carbon targets, climate change advisers warn’, The Guardian, 15 July 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/15/uk-miss-carbon-targets-climate-change-advisers Mathiesen, Karl, ‘Should we be aiming to keep global warming to 1.5C, not 2C?’, The Guardian,. 2 December 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/02/global-warming-climate-change-2c

Monbiot, George, ‘On climate change this government is indifferent to life, in love with death’, The Guardian, 2 December 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/02/climate-change-david-cameron-bomb-syria-global-warming

Mufson, Steven, and Demirjian, Karoun, ‘Trick or treaty? The legal question hanging over the Paris climate change conference’, Washington Post, 30 November 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2015/11/30/trick-or-treaty-the-legal-question-hanging-over-the-paris-climate-change-conference/

Naik, Gautam, ‘Scientists Dispute 2-Degree Model Guiding Climate Talks’, Wall Street Journal, 29 November 2015, http://www.wsj.com/article_email/scientists-dispute-2-degree-model-guiding-climate-talks-1448829047-lMyQjAxMTI1MjA3MTEwNzE1Wj

Nuttall, Nick, ‘Global Response to Climate Change Keeps Door Open to 2 Degree C Temperature Limit’, UNFCCC Press Office, 30 October 2015, http://newsroom.unfccc.int/unfccc-newsroom/indc-synthesis-report-press-release/

Osborn, Andrew, ‘France and Germany to flout budget rules until 2006’, The Guardian, 30 October 2003, http://www.theguardian.com/business/2003/oct/30/theeuro.europeanunion

Romm, Joe, ‘Misleading U.N. Report Confuses Media on Paris Climate Talks’, thinkprogress.org, 3 November 2015, http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/11/03/3718146/misleading-un-report-confuses-media-paris-climate-talks/

Taylor, Lenore, ‘Paris climate talks: the real test is whether countries will keep their word’, The Guardian, 30 November 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/nov/30/paris-climate-talks-real-test-whether-countries-will-keep-their-word

Thomas, Chris D. et al., ‘Extinction risk from climate change’, nature, Vol. 427, 13 October 2003, pp.145-8, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v427/n6970/full/nature02121.html

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)’, unfccc.int, http://unfccc.int/focus/indc_portal/items/8766.php

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