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Bridge across mangrove used for eco-tourism activities. Pacific coast, Utría Sound, Colombia. Chocó Ecoregional Programme
Bridge across mangrove used for eco-tourism activities. Pacific coast, Utría Sound, Colombia. Chocó Ecoregional Programme


By Jaco du Toit
The UN Climate Convention (UNFCCC) is all about building bridges: Bridges between countries with very different circumstances, responsibilities and abilities; between our current fossil fuel intensive economies and future low carbon ones; between the proposed level of action to combat climate change and the steps that science tells us are really needed.

The climate negotiations in 2015 have a particularly significant bridge to build. Old commitments and pledges are ending and we’re facing a massive gap between the level of climate action that governments have proposed and what we need to be doing. When governments meet in Paris in December, they will have to assemble the structure that will carry us to a more sustainable future.


Building the bridge

Over the last three years, 196 governments have worked on a structural design for this bridge. As can be expected when you have 196 very different engineers, each offering their own inputs on the plan, this is a very difficult task. It is important that each country feels that the final product will carry their weight and get them to an acceptable destination safely. But we are also getting to the end of the current road very fast and a lot of construction is still required.

Thanks to negotiations in 2014 and 2015, we had a plan that ran to more than 90 pages in June and it was almost impossible to see how a structure could be put together with all the different options and proposals that were on the table.


A Tool to speed up construction

Now the Chairs of the ADP negotiations (basically the forum where the 2015 agreement is being hashed out) have produced a Tool for better bridge building. They’ve taken the numerous proposals that have been tabled by governments and sorted the various pieces into the areas where they might fit best:

• Part 1: Key structural components of the main Paris agreement
• Part 2: Decisions outside of the main agreement that act like suspender cables that support the main structure
• Part 3: A big pile of very important structural elements that still need to be allocated to one of the other two areas.

The co-chairs have also made some progress on identifying which options are similar and how they could be combined. It is clear that they have done a lot of hard work to meet with negotiators between formal meetings to arrive at a shared understanding of how the bridge from Paris to the future could be put together.

This Tool is a good first step towards capturing the areas where there is some alignment and it will allow the discussions to progress further in a more structured way. But the plan is still far from complete.


Strengthening the bridge

One particularly important thing that the co-chairs have done is to table a formal plan (based on countries’ inputs) to look at how the faltering bridge we are currently on can be strengthened. Everyone knows that the climate action pledges that underpin the current framework (in the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen pledges) are too weak. We are travelling gingerly and slowly on a rickety framework when in reality we should be hurtling along on a path that brings us to much deeper emissions cuts by the end of this decade, not the next.

The co-chairs’ Tool contains decision text on action in the next 5 years that could contribute to closing the current emissions gap, but governments must do much more work on this. Particular building blocks that are missing or weak in the chairs’ proposal for pre-2020 action include:

• A clear recognition of the gap between what’s needed and what’s being done to reduce emissions
• A mechanism that can scale up current targets
• Fundamental improvements to the technical discussions that consider opportunities for additional climate action
• Strong guidelines for annual high level engagement to hammer out additional actions and report back on actions launched in previous years
• Clear guidance to the financial and technology institutions of the UNFCCC to support actions arising from the technical discussions

These pieces must be added to the current bridge to ensure that we do not leave the post-2020 structure with an emissions ravine that is simply too wide to cross safely. Taking action now can ensure a climate agreement that ensures a safer future for our planet and its people.


Jaco du Toit is Programme Manager for WWF International’s Global Climate & Energy Initiative. He is based in South Africa.



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