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People are Waiting for a Change

The new climate agreement currently looks like several dozens of pages of a text that contains different options, which oftentimes contradict each other or even are mutually exclusive. In December, later this year, parties to the UN convention on climate change will have to use this package to assemble and adopt a document, which will determine the framework and the directions of climate action for years to come.

One of the most important points of the agreement is a section on long-term emission targets, expressed as numeric goals for cutting CO2 emissions. The wording that pleases the most developed countries implies reducing global emissions by 40 to 70% in the period from 2010 to 2050. However, less developed countries such as Russia, India, and China will have to make a huge effort to reach this goal. This is why at these negotiations they are trying to avoid any numeric long-term goal for 2050 to reduce their emissions levels. They would be content with a goal expressed in degrees, i.e. 2 or 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The results of citizens’ opinion, which they expressed during the global World Wide Views on Climate and Energy event, that took place in 79 countries, is the following. When asked about the goals, namely, if the agreement should contain a global long-term zero-emissions goal for the end of this century, an overwhelming majority, 68% of all participants, said ‘yes’.
People think that the goal should be legally binding for all countries. 79% of all public consultations participants think that their country should take measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even if other countries do not do it. 90% are convinced that their countries should report their emissions, as well as their progress in reducing them.

Not only citizens, experts, too, support the thesis about the need of a global goal. However, they believe that the goal must be able to ensure global emission reduction that is necessary for keeping the planet’s climate intact. This implies that apart from the common goal we also need separate goals that deal with prevention and adaptation. In addition, in is important that the prevention goal be expressed numerically, as the level of global greenhouse gas emissions in CO2 equivalent.

In order to implement the goals of the climate agreement effectively, individual country’s goals should be revised on a regular basis. That is why one of the highly debatable issues of the new agreement is one concerning the revision of countries’ contributions and their evaluation.
A number of countries advocate a strictly fixed cycle, which consists of the submission of their INDCs by a country, its evaluation at UNFCCC, possible correction of the goal by the country in question, implementation of the goal (partial, in case the cycle of the goal is shorter than the evaluation cycle), then international evaluation of the goal’s implementation.

The US and several countries in Latin America support such an approach. The EU has not said anything against such goal evaluation cycles so far. However, China and India are strongly against this cycle being formalized in the text of the new agreement. They insist that this cycle is only necessary for developed countries, and not for them.
As for the citizens’ opinion, over 92% of World Wide Views participants voted for the option that implies that all countries should agree in Paris to renew their commitments to protect the climate every 5 years.

The section about loss and damage from the effects of climate change that are very difficult to adapt to, if at all, - is a new thing in the climate agreement, which was absent in the previous versions. This issue is often called a ‘financial conflict of developed and developing countries’. Many developing countries, especially the most vulnerable ones, would really like to see a little ‘bridge’ in the text, that would connect them to separate and larger funding in the future, insurance payments etc. Developed countries insist that the issue of loss and damage be included into the adaptation section, as it was decided at the UN climate summit in Warsaw in the end of 2013 – namely, to create a separate mechanism, but with no financial functions.

World Wide Views participants, when asked about which options the future Paris agreement should include to address loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change, named the following: 1) help countries implement plans to reduce such damage (34%), 2) establish a fund that could pay for such damages (32%), 3) create new institutional arrangements, such as an international climate court, to settle damage claims (22%).

One of the key points of the new agreement is the financing of climate projects, i.e. allocation of state funding by developed countries to promote adaptation in the most vulnerable developing countries. The version of the text that is supported by the least developed countries (except for the largest of them) implies a drastic increase in such support, namely for adaptation, and specifically from state funds. One of the versions contains the goal for climate financing for 2020, of $100 billion annually. However, the main financial donors of the planet, the EU, the US and Japan, are taking their time committing their tax payers’ money and waiting until developing countries start making their own efforts, and until there is a clear reporting system that ensures the transparency and the efficient use of climate financing.

One more highly debated topic of the new climate agreement is long-term finance and predictability of allocation of state funds by the developed countries for climate issues in general. Not only small and most vulnerable countries, but also even the largest developing economies, such as China, India and Brazil, are advocating for it. The main donors (the US, the EU and Japan) are in direct opposition to it. Internal decision-making systems in those countries usually do not allow such long-term planning of funds allocation. Besides, it is generally a difficult thing to do, not knowing the future economic situation in one’s country and the whole world.

It is worth mentioning, that answering the question about climate finance, around 80% of the citizens think that after 2020 high-income countries should pay more than already agreed on for mitigation and adaptation in low-income countries.

The draft text of the new climate agreement mentions the tools for implementing the climate agreement very vaguely. It briefly mentions the “Clean Development Mechanism +1”.
Meanwhile, people are waiting for politicians to take more serious steps, for instance, to cut fossil fuel subsidies.

When asked about which approaches they preferred for making large-scale cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, over 45% mentioned support for research and development of low carbon technology, for example research into effective car batteries. Among other leading approaches, according to the public opinion, are: subsidization for low-carbon energy (such as wind, solar power, marine energies, and geothermal energy); legislation of new standards (for example to improve the energy efficiency of cars or buildings and appliances); carbon pricing, for example through taxes on carbon emissions, or emissions trading schemes; and new socio-economic institutions and practices, such as investment in public transportation systems or consumption of locally produced food.

‘A growing number of people in the whole world realize the importance of climate change issues,’ says Olga Senova, Head of Russian Social Ecological Union’s Climate Secretariat. ‘We are all waiting for an agreement, which states clear goals that will allow us to contain the rise of global temperature. In addition to that, we need specific tools to allow countries with different income levels to reach those goals. Unfortunately, at the negotiations, countries tend to wait for others to act first and commit, and are not willing to promise more than others do. Citizens, on the other hand, believe that now it is time to stop looking at each other. Every country should commit and implement the necessary measures, even if someone else does not do it. Politicians must listen to citizen’s opinions! Citizens are waiting for actions!’