Final Draft of Climate Change Accord Is Released — The New York Times

From left, President François Hollande of France; Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister; and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during the climate change conference on Saturday in Le Bourget, near Paris. (Credit Francois Mori/Associated Press)
From left, President François Hollande of France; Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister; and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during the climate change conference on Saturday in Le Bourget, near Paris. (Credit Francois Mori/Associated Press)

From The New York Times (Coral Davenport):

Delegates on Saturday were presented with the final draft of a landmark climate accord that would for the first time commit nearly every country to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions as a way to help stave off the most drastic effects of climate change.

The document was made available midafternoon, after several delays while negotiators wrangled behind the scenes to nail down final details.

Earlier on Saturday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France made a formal announcement about the document, which had originally been scheduled to be presented on Friday, after two weeks of intense negotiations at this United Nations summit meeting.

Along with President François Hollande of France and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations, Mr. Fabius, who has presided over the assembly, made an emotional appeal to delegates to approve the accord.

“Our text is the best possible balance — a balance which is powerful yet delicate, which will enable each delegation, each group of countries, with his head held high, having achieved something important,” Mr. Fabius said.


From Salon (Don Kraus):

Strange bedfellows alert! What do ExxonMobil, four Nobel laureates, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripask and renowned climate scientist James Hansen have in common? They all believe that putting a steadily rising tax or fee on greenhouse gas emissions – with at least some of the revenue used to offset increased energy costs for lower-income households – is the best way to combat climate change.

Throughout the U.N. climate conference in Paris, diplomats, world leaders and CEOs are calling for a clear price on carbon. Already, 90 countries have committed to putting a price on fossil fuels, shifting the debate from if to how carbon will be priced. Calls for carbon fee plans are rapidly gaining ground over older emissions trading systems (ETS), also known as a cap-and-trade programs.

The Problems With Emissions Trading

The theory behind pricing carbon is simple: Increasing the cost of fossil fuels will make renewable energy sources more competitive. People will respond and buy the less expensive option. Many policymakers still think of cap-and-trade as the primary way to price carbon, because in 1997 a central feature of the Kyoto climate treaty was its requirement for countries to cap or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Kyoto promoted ETS and its Clean Development Mechanism as a way for developing nations with fewer emissions to sell certificates to allow industrial nations to offset their carbon pollution and meet their emissions cap. The greater the demand for offset certificates by industries, the more they were supposed to cost, thereby increasing the cost of carbon. But in most instances the markets haven’t worked too well.

Ángel Gurría, secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, speaking at the Paris launch of the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, said, “Practically all of the other ETS [programs], including the seven pilots in China and [the] four times that we have attempted…in Europe, we have not been able to make it. We already know that taxes seem to work better than the ETS system.”

Marc Breslow is the co-director of ClimateXChange, an organization working to pass carbon fee and rebate legislation in Massachusetts. In an interview he said that a decade ago he was “one of the main advocates” of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program in the Northeastern U.S. Although he supports both means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, he believes that a carbon fee “is simply more straightforward … Running the periodic auctions of emission allowances is complex.” The auctions create “all kinds of speculation and people being forced to guess what future prices of emissions permits are going to be … A fixed price enables businesses and consumers to plan better.”

Breslow is also concerned that ETS can allow emission trading offsets. “In Europe it’s been a disaster.” He said that a large fraction of the offsets in the European Clean Development Mechanism, mostly done in the third world, “are bogus.” He added, “It requires a huge amount of effort” to make sure the offsets “are really worthwhile, principally because for every offset you need to ensure it meets a variety of criteria. The most difficult one is conditionality, a jargon term for ‘would this have happened anyway’ if you weren’t paying for it specifically as an offset. Would people have planted some trees or not cut down some trees anyway? [Determining conditionality] is very difficult and requires a lot of expensive monitoring.”

Brent Newell, legal director of the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, works with environmental justice organizations that are opposed to California’s cap-and-trade program. California’s plan primarily regulates emissions at power plants, cement plants and refineries. According to Newell, they believe it “denies the communities living near those facilities the benefits of direct emissions reductions.” Newell said people do not consider there are other pollutants besides CO2 that come out of these plants that are toxic and have serious health implications on nearby communities. This could include asthma, cardio-pulmonary diseases and cancer. “If you’re breathing and live near one of these facilities you are being negatively affected,” said Newell.

Newell is not alone in his concern for how emissions trade schemes impact the poor. In his recent encyclical Pope Francis says that the “strategy of buying and selling carbon credits can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide. This system … may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.”