Why Run With The Herd?

Politics

The Paris Accords – What exactly are they?

Disclaimer – it’s been a while since I have posted – just bored, busy, who knows……sorry about that.

So there has been much in the news of late regarding the Trump Administration’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement. I’ll be honest – I don’t believe ANYONE on this. I don’t believe the Trump Administration, I don’t believe Al Gore, I certainly don’t believe Angela Merkel or the Green Party of Germany, I don’t believe Fox News nor MSNBC. CNN won’t cover it because it has no Russians in it, so I can’t say whether or not I would believe them – wait, yes I can – I wouldn’t believe CNN either. I literally don’t believe anyone. I know what you’re thinking – he’s paranoid. You would be too if everyone was out to get you. 🙂

So for this “Why Run With The Herd?”, I decided to focus on trying to answer the question “What is the Paris Accords?” without trying to insert my own opinion – at least initially.

Where can I find the Paris Accords? The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the starting point for all things on The Paris Agreement. Bear in mind, that this site clearly has an agenda – which is to get the Agreement signed by as many countries as possible. As of 8/6/2017, 158/197 “parties” have signed the agreement (I’m not sure why they don’t say countries.). “Authentic texts of the Paris Agreement” are in multiple languages. The English version is 27 pages long. We’ll start with that.

How is the English version of the Paris Agreement Structured? Basically the agreement is structured into 2 sections, neither of which are labeled with any details. The Intro or Preamble (which is immediately before Article 1) and then 29 articles labeled Article 1 through, you guessed it, Article 29.

I don’t want to read 29 articles and an intro – What are the crib notes? I told you I was going to withhold my opinion – if I give you the crib notes, I’ll have to summarize it in a way that it saves you time. If you want to save the hour or two it will take you to read the document, it’s probably fair to say that climate change is not as important to you as you might think. I’m sorry for the snippiness – but this is “Don’t Run With the Herd”. Read the document!

Fine – tell me about the document then. To be honest, I find the document very legalistic in it’s prose. This probably should not be a surprise to anyone. The US Constitution is not anywhere near as passionate as the Declaration of Independence, and this document more resembles the Constitution than the Declaration. It would be easier for you to read the document – which as I said, should take you about an hour. That being said, here are a few snippets, and I hope I have not cherry picked them to bias you in any one way.

Preamble – The preamble has 14 clauses – some that are administrative in nature and some that clearly send a political message. An example of one of the administrative clauses is:

Being Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, hereinafter referred to as “the Convention”,

Pursuant to the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action established by decision 1/CP.17 of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention at its seventeenth session,…

So for all intents and purposes, to truly understand the Paris Agreement, you need to go back and read the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.

An example of the more political preamble comments is:

Noting the importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems, including oceans, and the protection of biodiversity, recognized by some cultures as Mother Earth, and noting the importance for some of the concept of “climate justice”, when taking action to address climate change,…

I’ll be honest – I am not entirely sure what it means (other than it is important to ensure the integrity of all ecosystems). What exactly is “climate justice” and why is it in quotes? I don’t know.

Articles 1-29. As I said before, there are 29 articles following the preamble. In order to provide some sense of transparency here, and withhold to the best of my ability my own opinion, I’m listing out the articles (or parts thereof) that I think are important. I define “important” in this context to be:

  • There is known contention in the public arena or
  • I don’t understand the article.

Article 2

(a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;

I don’t know where the 2 degree C number comes from, or why it’s good, or how they know it would “significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”. The bottom line though is that if you agree with the Paris Agreement – you agree to these statements.

(c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

2. This Agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.

I am assuming that (c) means that participants will somehow change their economic models to incent low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development. I’m really not sure though.

I have no idea what 2. means or how it gets implemented.

Article 4

4. Developed country Parties should continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets. Developing country Parties should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts, and are encouraged to move over time towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances.

I’m pretty sure this is the Article that the US complains about China – which is considered a developing country and therefore doesn’t have to really do much other than “enhance[ing] their mitigation efforts].

5. Support shall be provided to developing country Parties for the implementation of this Article, in accordance with Articles 9, 10 and 11, recognizing that enhanced support for developing country Parties will allow for higher ambition in their actions.

I’m pretty sure this means that money and resources will move from developed to developing economies.

Article 5

2. Parties are encouraged to take action to implement and support, including through results-based payments, the existing framework as set out in related guidance and decisions already agreed under the Convention for: policy approaches and positive incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries; and alternative policy approaches, such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests, while reaffirming the importance of incentivizing, as appropriate, non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches.

I have no idea what this means. If a reader knows, please leave a comment and enlighten the rest of us.

In Conclusion

Now time for the opinion. The Paris Accords is an arguably wordy document that is legalistic in it’s prose. There are clearly sections of the document which imply that parties are not bound by parts of the Agreement, but there are 118 (by my count) “shall” in the document, which says to me that there is a clear expectation on what you are supposed to be doing if you sign the document.

I cannot tell, by reading this document, whether or not being a party to the agreement is good, or bad, for the United States. Simply because the Trump Administration says it’s bad for America is not a good enough reason to assume it’s bad. Simply because Al Gore (or one of his surrogates) say’s it’s good for America is not obvious either. What is obvious is that this is a complicated agreement and no one can really predict what will be the side effects of trying to reach the goals spelled out in Article 2.

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