Climate agreement still ‘not enough’

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Norway’s climate and environment minister, Ola Elvestuen, admits that it was “difficult to find a balance” among the 196 countries that finally hammered out new rules over the weekend for enforcing reductions in carbon emissions. Reaction was decidedly mixed.

Climate and Environment Minister Ola Elvestuen (left) and Henrik Hallgrim Eriksen, who led Norway’s negotiating team, applauding when an agreement was finally struck on how to help hinder climate change. PHOTO: Klima- og miljødepartementet

“The agreement is an important step, but it’s not enough,” Elvestuen told news bureau NTB. “The world is heading towards global warming of over 3-degrees. The world’s countries must therefore get together on new and bigger goals in 2020.”

Elvestuen claimed he nonetheless was satisfied, after two weeks of marathon negotiations over how to follow up and monitor the UN climate agreement reached in Paris in 2015. It called for global warming of no more than 2-degrees, and preferably 1.5. That’s not being reached and now there’s “disagreement over the agreement” reached in the Polish city of Katowice, where the air was fouled by the ongoing use of coal as a power source and which also wants to preserve jobs still offered by its own local coal mine. The location was a constant reminder of what needs to be done to reduce coal’s emissions and find new sources of energy and jobs.

The agreement reached in overtime late Saturday night offers ways for countries to monitor their own emissions and regulates how cuts can be made, how emissions will be reported and how counties should update plans to further reduce emissions.

Disagreement over paying for cuts elsewhere
Problems remain over how wealthy countries like Norway can pay other countries to reduce emissions and then register the cuts as their own. That’s offered a way for Norway to contribute to reduced emissions elsewhere without cutting back further on its own oil and gas industry. It was no longer allowed under the Paris Agreement, but implementation of the rule has been subject to disagreement and delay. Norway, meanwhile, will continue to offer financial support to preservation of rain forests elsewhere in the world until 2030, reported newspaper Aftenposten, and double its contribution to the UN Climate Fund.

In short, Norway will likely still buy its way out of cutting carbon admissions as much as it arguably should at home. Politicians have long promised to make cuts at home as well as finance them abroad, but they remain reluctant to further curtail the oil industry that fuels Norway’s economy.

Norway’s negotiating team, like others, worked “intensely” during the two-week-long meeting in Poland. PHOTO: KMD/Astrid Knutsen Hårstad

“The countries didn’t manage to agree on all parts of the new rule book and several important decisions were postponed,” Steffen Kallbekken of the Cicero Center for climate research, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Monday. “That includes the market mechanisms that have made it possible for countries to pay for climate cuts in other countries and take credit for them at home.”

Nor did the agreement sufficiently boost ambitions for emissions cuts. Asked whether the agreement can be called a success, Kallbekken said it was, when compared to the lack of progress during the past three years and all the disagreements before the meeting in Poland began. It’s not, he added, in terms of what the world really needs to do to halt climate change.

That’s where it was “difficult find a balance among the countries,” Elvestuen said, but everyone worked intensely to make sure the agreement has the necessary quality, and to find solutions.”

Norwegian environmental organizations were also mixed in their evaluations, with Bellona positive and believing the agreement in Poland will at least generate momentum. “Having a system for all the countries is an important victory,” Bellona’s leader Frederic Hauge told NTB. Lars Haltbrekken, who formerly headed Norway’s chapter of Friends of the Earth (Naturvernforbund) and now serves in Parliament as environmental policy spokesman for the Socialist Left party (SV), said all countries now must still cut more than they’ve promised in order to avoid the “most serious consequences of climate change.”

‘Bright spot’ for international cooperation
Gaute Eiterjord, leader of the youth group Natur og Ungdom, wasn’t happy at all, claiming it was maddening that even with “one shock report after another that shows how dangerous the climate crisis is, the countries have made no concrete promises on what they’ll do” to stop it.

Some commentators made a point, though, of noting just how important the sheer willingness to negotiate was in Poland. Newspaper Aftenposten reported how US negotiators and diplomats continued working “as they always have, determined and constructively,” despite all of US President Donald Trump’s objections to the Paris Agreement and his announcement that he’ll pull the US out of it. Commentator Ole Mathismoen wrote that the US delegation instead seemed to work “as if (Barack) Obama was still president.”

Kjetil B Alstadheim, political editor of DN who has followed climate issues closely, was also fairly upbeat. He called the agreement an inspiring sign that “the world is moving forward with the Paris Agreement despite opposition from Trump and other countries throwing up roadblocks, like Russia, Saudi Arabia and Brazil.  He also thinks the agreement will “sharpen countries’ ambitions.”

Most importantly, Alstadheim noted, it provided hope that multilateralism is still in place. “At a time with lots of uncertainty about the future of international cooperation, the meeting in Katowice was a bright spot,” he wrote.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund