Whisper it quietly, but we may finally be edging towards a conclusion at the COP21 talks in Paris, as world leaders run out of time to drag their feet over a global agreement to take on climate change.
It’s been a predictably painstaking process, as leaders and representatives from 195 countries debate how to limit greenhouse gas emissions enough to prevent man-made global warming exceeding 2C above pre-industrial levels. While the latest prediction is that there will be a conclusion tomorrow (a day later than expected), analysts have suggested further compromise will be needed for the final agreement to be reached.
‘Things are moving in the right direction,’ chairman of the meeting, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said vaguely, before suggesting a compromise deal would be presented on Saturday. A sticking point has reportedly been the compensation for nations most affected by climate change, meaning negotiations have been drawn out for even longer than anticipated.
When the deal does finally get signed, it won’t come into effect until 2020, but its conclusion is nevertheless an immediate concern for businesses worldwide - whether they fear flooding in their factories or skyrocketing electricity bills.
Participants at the UN conference have been working on a new draft text setting out the long-term strategy for dealing with climate change. The prospects look good for vulnerable countries – money to assist them to get clean energy and adapt to climate change should be on the table in the 2020s. Global temperature rise should be held well below 2C, with an ultimate target of 1.5C – which small island states consider safe.
The final draft text holds stricter global warming limits than its predecessors, though notable omissions have been shipping and aviation (responsible for around 5% of global emissions and constantly on the rise), and it’s unlikely they’ll reappear in the final text at this late stage. That certainly makes for an interesting accompaniment to the fierce debate surrounding the delay of a decision on the Heathrow expansion – undoubtedly a setback for British businesses.
One of the central demands from the UK has been five yearly reviews of national climate action plans. The most recent review shows the UK is to miss its fourth carbon budget for the mid-2020s, with the government under building pressure to set out just how it will deliver on this and meet the fifth budget for the early 2030s.
When it comes to the discussion of phasing out fossil fuels, negotiators also seem to have softened their language. The Paris text’s long-term goal for the end of fossil fuels is woolly, with a pledge to cut emissions ‘as soon as possible’ – trimming earlier versions of the draft which featured set time scales.
In the UK, energy secretary Amber Rudd proclaimed last month that the coal industry would be heading for the scrap heap by 2025, though coal still provides 29% of Britain's electricity and Rudd’s preferred option of natural gas is not much more popular with environmentalists.
Despite Cameron's repeated pledge to lead 'the greenest government ever', businesses are currently likely to be feeling sore about the lack of help when it comes to getting greener, considering government cuts to renewable energy subsidies, efficiency programmes and a £1bn carbon capture project.
While we await the final agreement to see just how British businesses might be affected by the COP21 deal, most will probably just be relieved an agreement has been reached at all. The Conference of the Parties has been taking place every year since 1992 after all, trying to put together a comprehensive course of action - and largely failing.
An ultimatum was set in 2011 that an agreement had to be met by 2015, though you may wonder just how urgent the issue of climate change is if it takes 20 odd years just to reach a decision on what to do next.