Saltanat Sabitova. Paris Agreement and Climate Diplomacy

Saltanat SABITOVA, Second Secretary of the Department of Multilateral Cooperation

of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of

the Republic of Kazakhstan

Paris Agreement and Climate Diplomacy

The basis of climate diplomacy was laid in the 1960-70s, when the global community realised the gravity of environmental problems and the necessity of looking for collective solutions to environmental issues at the global level. Climate risk management began to be a priority on the global agenda of various multilateral negotiations and forums, thus strengthening the role of diplomacy in this area. The issues to be addressed at a high political level have turned climate diplomacy into one of the leading drivers in enhancing resilience.

Obviously, the key organisation on the environmental agenda is the United Nations. The UN adopted the Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1972 and held the first Climate Change Conference in Geneva in 1979. World Charter for Nature, Resolution No. 37/7 of the UN General Assembly dated Oct. 29, 1982, also found that the “principles set forth in the present Charter shall be reflected in the law and practice of each state, as well as at the international level." In 1988, UNEP and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which today is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change. According to this group, the average temperature in 2003-2012 increased by 0.78 degrees Celsius compared with 1850-1900.

We assume that 1992 has given greater relevance to climate diplomacy, when at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro approximately 200 countries adopted the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which aims at stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous impact on the climate system. It should be noted that the UNFCCC doesn't bind the parties with a particular quantitative commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Since then, the international legal framework has been replenished with a considerable number of conventions related to the protection of the environment. However, only in 1997 in Kyoto (Japan) did we see a historically important event in terms of the evolution of climate diplomacy, which consisted of the adoption of the so-called Kyoto Protocol that regulated the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions for the states parties in a quantitative manner. And after nearly 20 years, at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in December 2015 in Paris, the UNFCCC states parties adopted the Paris Agreement, which would replace the Kyoto Protocol. Thus, the international community agreed that the Kyoto Protocol, in fact, required improvements in the form of a new and improved climate agreement.

Paris Agreement: Advantages and Disadvantages

The Paris Agreement differs from the Kyoto Protocol in the approach to limiting greenhouse gas emissions, as well as in the fact that it is concluded for an indefinite period. The Kyoto Protocol established a shared objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which was then distributed among the countries, whereas in the Paris Agreement, each country voluntarily determines its national contribution to emissions reduction taking into account common but differentiated responsibilities; that is, different obligations for developed and developing countries. Obligations can be adjusted, taking into account national circumstances. In this regard, the Paris Agreement is considered to have a more flexible approach for indicators and measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than the Kyoto Protocol.

The main objective of the Paris Agreement is keeping the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit the global temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Given that the average temperature of the planet has already risen 0.8 degrees Celsius, this goal may be feasible only in the framework of the climate model, which involves large-scale measures to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

The Agreement was open for signature at UN Headquarters in New York from April 22, 2016 to April 21, 2017. As of August 2018, representatives of 195 countries signed it, 179 of which ratified the document. Kazakhstan signed the Agreement on Aug. 3, 2016 and ratified it on Nov. 4, 2016. Noteworthy is the fact that the date of ratification of the Agreement by Kazakhstan coincides with the date of entry into force of the Paris Agreement.

For comparison, it should be noted that the Kyoto Protocol entered into force in February 2005, almost eight years after its adoption, by the efforts of hard diplomatic negotiations. A critical contribution to the development of multilateral climate diplomacy within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol was made by U.S. President George Bush, who in 2001 revoked the U.S. signature under the Kyoto Protocol. In this regard, further international negotiations were more declarative and delayed the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol. For example, China, one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, declined to participate in the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. At the same time, we should note the inability of the Government of Japan (the country-initiator of the Kyoto Protocol) to implement its own commitments during the first stage of the Protocol (2008-2012). However, a part of the signatories to the Kyoto Protocol have fulfilled its obligations. For example, members of the European Union (EU) reduced emissions in 2008-2012 compared to the level of 1990 by more than 11 percent (compared to the stated 8 percent); Russia has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by almost 30 percent (compared to the stated 0 percent). However, the efforts of the countries which met their obligations under the Kyoto Protocol were not enough to achieve the goals stated in the document, because, as a result, the global emissions during this period grew almost 1.5 times.

The dynamic signing and ratification of the Paris Agreement demonstrates that, first, states parties, including Brazil, China, the EU, Japan, etc. recognise the critical importance of the document and the provisions specified in it; second, the countries are ready to make serious commitments under the Agreement and to contribute to the environmental agenda and third, shows the uniqueness of the provisions of the document, which, in fact, satisfied the world community. The latter is a clear indication of competent, time-consuming and meticulous diplomatic work in this direction at all levels of negotiations.

However, is it true that all aspects of the Agreement are as impeccable as they seem at first glance? First and foremost, it should be noted that the Paris Agreement does not contain tough terms which are binding to the parties. In particular, the countries which have ratified the Agreement are free to develop their own national contributions to the fight against greenhouse gas emissions. In this context, violation of the Paris Agreement, even after its ratification (for instance, failure to meet nationally determined contributions) does not mean countries will face any sanctions. Violation or circumvention of the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol by some developed countries shows that such decisions do not lead to any diplomatic consequences, neither economic nor political. The subsequent potential withdrawal of the United States from the Agreement (according to the regulations of the instrument, the United States must wait until 2019 to apply for withdrawal and the withdrawal itself may take place only after a year), as in the case of the Kyoto Protocol, as well as a long delay in Russia's decision to ratify the agreement, put the Paris Agreement at risk of suffering the same fate as the Kyoto Protocol.

Nevertheless, despite the decision of U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Agreement, such world leaders as China, France, Germany, the Netherlands, etc., on the contrary, take a more proactive position in favor of green, low-carbon and sustainable development. For example, in January 2017, People's Republic of China (PRC) authorities announced the cancellation of the construction of 85 coal-fired power plants and the construction of 18 more facilities was frozen earlier. Building new coal power plants is completely banned in the three largest cities – Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai. The Netherlands is trying to play a leading role in the EU; thus, the Dutch government has a more ambitious goal to set the bar higher for itself than for all EU countries in reducing emissions. By 2030, coal-fired plants are expected to be gradually closed down in the Netherlands. Germany began to implement the Energy Transition, the German government's policy aimed at the gradual abandonment of hydrocarbon and nuclear power.

Businesses in Germany and Korea, however, are skeptical about their countries' go green concepts. The decisions of these countries to halt the development of nuclear energy and the construction of new nuclear power plants, which by their design, emit almost no CO2, are heavily criticised. For example, experts say that CO2 emissions per kilowatt/hour in Germany are ten times higher than in France, which relies on nuclear power. After the accident at the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant in March 2011, all 48 nuclear reactors were shut down in Japan and that led to more active use of power plants operating on mineral fuels. As a result, 2013 emissions in Japan were the highest, exceeding 1990 emissions by 10.8 percent. Currently, the closed plants are being reopened on the condition that they meet new safety requirements.

Russian officials say that it is not delaying the ratification of the Paris Agreement. To date, experts are trying to assess the socio-economic impact of the ratification and implementation of the Paris Agreement; for instance, the cost of transition to low-carbon development for all economic sectors, payback periods of this investment, identifying financing sources and potential losses in case of refusal to implement these measures in the context of strategic planning. It should be noted that the cautious approach of the Russian side is greatly influenced by financial and economic sanctions.

The controversy over the advantages and shortcomings of the Paris Agreement can be continued for a very long time. And only the real state of affairs in the world after the first five-year period (2020-2025) of implementing the Agreement may show a preliminary comparative conclusion about the quality and long-term nature of its provisions. The presentation by the countries of their first nationally determined contributions will also elicit an ambiguous response from the stakeholders.

Kazakhstan's Stance in Climate Diplomacy

The Republic of Kazakhstan, in the framework of the Paris Agreement, announced its contribution in the form of unconditional reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent, as well as conditional reduction (in case of international support) by 25 percent by 2030 of its 1990 level. In 1990, the total emissions of Kazakhstan amounted to 389 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, which means that by 2030 Kazakhstan should not exceed the level of emissions equal to 330 million tonnes of CO2.

To this end, Kazakhstan uses a set of market mechanisms that includes an emissions trading system, projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and removals, renewable energy projects and the development of a green investment market. It should be noted that since the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol in 2009 (10 years after the signing), the current Environmental Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan has been significantly amended. More than 40 laws and regulations have been adopted and additional legal measures are subject to adoption.

The emissions trading system implies that Kazakh enterprises with greenhouse gas emissions exceeding 20,000 tonnes of CO2 per year will have a certain number of allowances (credits) for emissions. By using trading platforms, enterprises may sell, in case of saving credits, by reducing emissions, or purchase, in the event of a shortage, credits on the market. Kazakhstan introduced the emissions trading system in 2013. The pilot launch of this system has already revealed a number of shortcomings, which is why the system was frozen from April 2016-January 1, 2018. Despite critical comments on the trading system, this tool is expected to serve as an effective mechanism to reduce CO2 emissions.

Other market mechanisms include the Renewable Energy Services (RES) market having 55 operating facilities with a total capacity of 336 MW. Moreover, measures to generate green investment have helped to raise 480 million euros (US$ 556.2 million) from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development for RES projects, as well as 110 million euros (US$ 127.5 million) from the Green Climate Fund.

The approach and position of Kazakhstan in reducing greenhouse gas emissions implies the use of mechanisms that fall under the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement is not only a climate agreement, because along with environmental solutions, it also bears consequences for political, technological, industrial, social, economic and other areas of humankind. During the ratification of the Paris Agreement (just three months after the signing of the Agreement in August 2016, compared to 10 years required to ratify the Kyoto Protocol), the country's climate diplomacy has proved to be active based on comprehensive measures and ensuring the country's strategic long-term interests in climate protection. Diplomacy has played an important role in the coordination and control of issues related to climate change on the planet. Experience shows that the position of countries in the climate issue can affect the outcome of various negotiations, including those not related to climate matters. The influence of climate diplomacy expands every year. Evidently, the development of the climate consciousness of humanity will eventually lead to an even greater strengthening and expansion of climate diplomacy in the world in achieving foreign policy goals.

Created at : 14.09.2018, 17:45, Updated at : 14.09.2018, 17:45