C2ES's Diringer discusses finance, accountability hurdles facing negotiators in Paris

Will existing momentum surrounding next month's Paris climate meeting translate into substance during the discussions? During today's OnPoint, Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, discusses the circumstances under which the outcome in Paris could fall short of expectations. He also talks about the shape the final agreement may take.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Elliot, great to have you back on the show.

Elliot Diringer: Great to be back with you, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Elliot, the general consensus heading into next month's U.N. climate meeting in Paris is that the momentum is greater than anything we've seen before. In terms of how that momentum will translate into actual substance, what are the chief hurdles that you're going to be watching most closely as the meeting progresses?

Elliot Diringer: Well, of course there are still some open issues. Always the question of finance is a tough one, might go down to the wire. How will the agreement ensure that support is flowing from countries that can provide it to those who really need it? That'll be an issue. There'll also be a lot of negotiating around the question of whether countries' emissions targets will be legally binding -- some real differences there, so that will be one of the outstanding issues. And then finally there's the question of how the agreement will ensure rising ambition going forward. Will it require that countries come back to the table periodically, probably every five years, to offer up a new set of contributions? I think there's broad support for that kind of ratcheting mechanism, but not everybody's on board yet. So that's an important one.

Monica Trauzzi: There was seemingly some disagreement between the French and the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on whether the outcome needs to be legally binding. How critical of a point is that, and is this going to be a big issue?

Elliot Diringer: Well, it's an important point, and I think there's been a lot of confusion around this because the word "treaty" means different things in an international context than in the U.S. context. The mandate that launched these negotiations calls for an agreement with legal force, and I think there's very broad expectation that the agreement will in fact qualify as a treaty under international law. That doesn't necessarily mean, though, that it will be a treaty in the sense that we typically think of here in the U.S., as one that requires advice and consent from the U.S. Senate. So I think it's that sort of a confusion and nuance that may have led to the appearance of a major difference there.

Monica Trauzzi: I spoke with IETA's Dirk Forrister on the show earlier this month, and he anticipates a short agreement that includes just sort of headline items with minimal detail. Is that your expectation as well?

Elliot Diringer: Well, I think it will be reasonably short. This will be a legal agreement so it can't go on for pages and pages. But hopefully it provides sufficient clarity and specificity so we don't come back next year arguing over what did we mean in this agreement. So it needs to lay out the parameters pretty clearly.

Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned climate finance earlier. It's a critical element of these discussions. Do you think ultimately there will be an agreement on new climate finance?

Elliot Diringer: I think there has to be. It has to be a part of the deal, and there are two basic issues there: whether to set a new collective goal for what developed countries will help mobilize post-2020, building on the $100 billion goal that they agreed to for 2020, and then how do we enlarge the circle of donors so it's not entirely on the developed countries. We saw a really important signal from China in September in the joint statement with the United States where it pledged $3 billion and called for an agreement that encourages developing countries that are willing to provide support to do so. So I think we're going to make some headway on that.

Monica Trauzzi: What are you hoping negotiators have learned from previous meetings and agreements that should be applied in Paris to ensure success?

Elliot Diringer: I think in fact the deal that is shaping up for Paris reflects a lot of lessons drawn from the last two decades of climate negotiation. What we see is a hybrid kind of agreement that balances top-down and bottom-up elements. We've tried different approaches over the years. We've seen what works and what doesn't work. This is an agreement that provides flexibility on the one hand to get the broad participation you need, but needs to also incorporate some international discipline through rules and norms to ensure that we get accountability and ambition as well.

Monica Trauzzi: So under what circumstances could the Paris outcome fall short of expectations?

Elliot Diringer: Well, obviously success depends on the criteria one uses, and we know going into Paris that, for instance, the contributions that countries have put on the table, more than 160 already -- a significant success. But when you add all those up, they bring us closer to the 2 degree goal but don't get us all the way there. So by that measure the agreement will fall short. For me, though, what's important is having an agreement that gets all of the major players on board, that provides for strong accountability and also works to raise ambition over time. If we have those elements in place, I think Paris will be a success.

Monica Trauzzi: What do you make of India's environment minister signaling that any push to dramatically reduce coal is an unnatural restriction? Do you think that's going to cause problems at the meeting?

Elliot Diringer: Well, the way this agreement is being designed is that countries' contributions will be nationally determined. Each country will decide for itself the level of its contribution, the form, and the policies that it will undertake in order to achieve its contribution. The agreement won't speak to particular types of fuels. It's not going to say you have to reduce coal, you have to increase renewables; that's left to national discretion. And I think that it needs to provide countries with the nudge and the opportunity to head in a low-carbon pathway. So hopefully India can leave Paris feeling a little more confident about its ability to make that low-carbon transition.

Monica Trauzzi: The security situation in Paris is evolving. Do you have any concerns heading over there for the meeting and a meeting of this size? Do you anticipate security will be on par with what it needs to be?

Elliot Diringer: I do anticipate it will be. You know, I don't have any particular concerns. Obviously we're all well aware of the security situation. I have confidence, though, that the French government is going to do what's needed to protect everyone.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it there. Have a safe trip.

Elliot Diringer: Thanks very much.

Monica Trauzzi: Thanks for coming on the show. Thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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