Letter from Paris: How ministers need to lift their game in week 2

In his second post from Paris, Barry Coates says the current deal before ministers is not good enough to keep temperature increases below 2 degrees and spells out what's missing

As ministers arrive in Paris from around the world, they have a historic opportunity – and responsibility. While it's now clear most countries want a global agreement, the current draft simply isn't good enough. It will lead us into an era of dangerous climate change.

After eight years of often acrimonious negotiations, government officials have left a draft agreement that needs political leadership. There is still time for Ministers to salvage an agreement that would provide a foundation for a safe climate future.

Setting a goal for a safe climate

The effort to accommodate all countries in a global agreement has resulted in a weak, ‘pledge and review’ process. Unsurprisingly, the current pledges for emissions reductions and finance fall well short. Even with the most generous of assumptions, emissions reduction pledges would increase global temperatures by 2.7 -3.5°C.

More ambition is needed. Governments are lagging well behind the changes that are taking place in society. Instead of protecting the polluters, governments need to put in place policies that will use pricing, regulation, education and investment to accelerate the transition towards a just and low emissions world. Far more needs to be done to scale up the transition away from fossil fuels towards a low carbon society, resilient communities and to protect the most vulnerable people.

This means a Paris Agreement must include:

* a long term goal of 1.5°C which is essential to avoid devastating impacts on vulnerable people. As global temperature rise approaches 1°C, extreme events are already causing massive damage, suffering, loss of life and loss of biodiversity

* A commitment to end fossil fuel subsidies and to put a serious price on greenhouse gas emissions

* A rapid transition to decarbonisation by 2050

A review and ratchet mechanism to increase ambition

Regular and frequent reviews of pledges to action are important because government pledges so far are nowhere near sufficient to prevent dangerous climate change.

In the real world we have seen rapid changes in the cost of solar PV, battery storage, electric vehicles and business action on climate change. We have also seen a wave of commitments to action by consumers, households and cities. Much has changed over the past five years and there will be a far greater potential for emissions reductions in five years’ time.

There must be therefore be reviews each five years or less. They should include scientific assessments linked to review of progress in reducing emissions, a comparative analysis of country commitments and new pledges for action.

Currently the review and ratchet mechanism in the draft agreement is incoherent and ineffective. Ministers need to bring clarity to the process. It is vital that there is a mechanism to progressively strengthen commitments to stay within the rapidly depleting carbon budget that will avoid dangerous climate change.

Supporting clean development in poorer countries

The poorer developing countries need funding for their transition to renewable energy and a transition to low emissions forms of development. The developed countries, including New Zealand, previously committed to provide US$100 billion annually for reducing emissions and adaptation, to be provided by 2020. But this has not yet been delivered. Developed countries need to lead the way, supplemented by funding from the richer developing countries, and they need to scale up their commitments to funding beyond 2020.

Clear, consistent and robust rules on finance are also important. It is crucial that there is clarity about the funding being new and additional (not just re-labelled aid money), as well as being predictable and transparent.

Protection for the most vulnerable people

Millions of people around the world are already suffering from climate impacts. Vulnerable communities are bearing the brunt of the impact, but have no safety nets and no assets to fall back on. It is crucial that the richer nations that primarily caused the problem of climate change take the lead in helping countries to protect themselves and adapt to climate impacts.

This means there needs to be adequate levels of climate finance, without unnecessary hurdles and bureaucratic procedures. It also needs a mechanism to provide resources for vulnerable countries suffering from extreme weather, through a ‘loss and damage’ fund.

Transparency and accountability

Increasing the level of ambition will require trust and cooperation that has been sorely lacking in negotiations over the past 23 years. It is essential that countries abide by the spirit of the agreement without trying to twist the rules for their own advantage. That means there need to be clear rules and definitions, and strong accountability mechanisms.

Making us proud

New Zealand’s reputation on climate change has fallen from being a progressive country to being a pariah. Not only is New Zealand’s pledge for emissions reductions one of the weakest in the world, but our government has tried to evade our responsibilities and abused the trust of other countries.

The government has allowed polluters to increase their level of pollution through the use of cheap carbon credits that do nothing to reduce emissions. The government has taken advantage of lax rules on forest accounting to make it appear that we are meeting our commitments when, in fact, we have fallen behind almost all other developed countries. And the government has ignored the agreement to provide new and additional climate finance by just re-labelling aid funds as climate finance.

Tim Groser will be replaced by Paula Bennett as the Minister for Climate Change from next week. There is an opportunity for the government to adopt a different approach.

We must be able to hold our heads up proudly and not evade our responsibilities for taking action on climate change. We need to get beyond the outdated ‘economic growth at all costs’ approach and realise that our economic future depends on making the transition to a low emissions economy, for decent jobs, high value exports, a better quality of life and a healthy environment.