Climate Compass Blog

Will the Paris agreement be a legally binding treaty?

Secretary of State John Kerry caused a bit of a stir with comments this week in the Financial Times suggesting that the Paris climate agreement will not be a legally binding treaty.

It appears Mr. Kerry has stepped somewhat inelegantly into a legal morass that doesn’t translate easily into sound bites.

There’s understandably a great deal of confusion about the finer legal points at issue here, in part because the term “treaty” means different things under international and U.S. law. The bottom line is that the Paris agreement will very likely be a treaty under international law, but probably not a treaty as that term is generally understood in the U.S. context.

To elaborate a bit (for a fuller explanation see an excellent legal analysis authored for us by Arizona State University legal scholar Dan Bodansky):

Significant progress toward limiting HFCs under the Montreal Protocol

In an important breakthrough, parties to the Montreal Protocol meeting in Dubai have agreed to a path forward aimed at phasing down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a class of highly potent greenhouse gases. This progress adds to the momentum leading up to the UN climate talks starting later this month in Paris.

HFCs, chemicals widely used in refrigeration, air conditioning, and foam blowing, were developed in response to limits on ozone-depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol.

The United States and 40 other countries had put forth a range of proposals this year for phasing down HFCs. While these efforts fell short of producing a consensus amendment, extensive discussions throughout the week resulted in a path toward delivering an HFC phasedown amendment at a special, additional meeting of the parties to be held in 2016.

New business models plus public support can boost investment in EV charging

More than 300,000 electric vehicles (EVs) are already on the road in the United States, but to ramp up adoption of this technology, consumers will need more access to charging beyond their home or office.

C2ES has identified business models that, combined with near-term public support, could boost investment in publicly available EV charging and expand the environmental benefits of EVs.

The business models are detailed in a new C2ES publication, Strategic Planning to Implement Publicly Available EV Charging Stations: A Guide for Businesses and Policymakers. The guide draws on research from a two-year initiative in partnership with the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) to explore innovative financing mechanisms aimed at accelerating the deployment of alternative fuel vehicles and fueling infrastructure.

This figure illustrates the business challenge facing charging service providers presently. Over the expected life of the charging equipment, the direct revenue for the provision of charging services is less than the cost of owning and operating the charging station.

Putting the UNFCCC to the test

There’s a theory I’ve been advancing for some time and the upcoming Paris climate talks will, for the first time, put it to a test.

The issue is whether the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is capable of delivering. Established nearly a quarter century ago as the global forum for countries to take on climate change, the UNFCCC enjoys universal participation – and is universally deemed a disappointment.

The harshest assessments came in the wake of the ill-fated Copenhagen conference in 2009, when many quietly, and some openly, began urging governments to abandon the UNFCCC as a place worth investing any effort or hope.

But governments chose to stick with it. The following year, in Cancún, they hammered out an agreement through 2020. And the year after that, in Durban, they launched a new round of negotiations culminating next month in Paris. The aim: a new global agreement beyond 2020.

Are 2015's extreme weather events driven by climate change or El Niño?

Hurricane Patricia (Photo: NASA Earth Observatory)

Record warmth, increased precipitation, and more intense tropical cyclones.

These are just a few of the consistent predictions from models investigating our future in a world with climate change. Or, it’s a list of some of the impacts of the periodic weather pattern called El Niño.

So which one has been driving some of this year’s extreme weather events?

A record year for Pacific tropical cyclones

The National Hurricane Center reports that eight major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher) have developed in the eastern North Pacific Ocean so far this season. This is consistent with the characteristics of El Niño that have been shaping up over the course of the year.

During an El Niño year, the surface ocean in the Eastern Pacific basin warms (it’s usually very cold) and the trade winds in the area weaken. These two meteorological developments favor the formation of tropical cyclones, the general term that includes hurricanes and related systems. Hurricane Patricia achieved record strength in a record short period of time this month, becoming the strongest Pacific hurricane to make landfall. Meanwhile, climate change will probably not change the number of hurricanes overall, but warmer ocean surface temperatures and higher sea levels are expected to intensify their impacts.

Driver: El Niño

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