Inside The Paris Agreement: Why The World Agreed To 'Balance' Greenhouse Gas Emissions

One surprise in the final draft of the Paris Agreement was a pledge by nearly all the world's countries "to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century."
It was a wordier phrase than had appeared in previous drafts and proposals, and one likely to prove more effective.
"Achieving a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century will require net carbon dioxide emissions to be reduced, in effect, to zero," Oxford University geosystems scientist Myles Allen said soon after the agreement passed. "It seems governments understand this, even if they couldn’t quite bring themselves to say so."
Governments settled on the phrase after weighing many terms they couldn't quite bring themselves to say, according to Susan Biniaz, a U.S. State Department attorney who has worked on climate negotiations since 1992, including the Paris climate talks in December.
"One of the lessons there was, sometimes you can reach agreement by getting rid of terms and just explaining what you mean," Biniaz said last week in an appearance at the University of Chicago Law School.
Biniaz has worked largely behind the scenes in climate negotiations since countries first began negotiating. Secretary of State John Kerry lifted the curtain on her contribution in his remarks to reporters moments after the Paris Agreement passed:
"We have a treasure in our team who has been at almost every COP, I think, since 1992, and that’s Sue Biniaz," Kerry said. "Just amazing – her knowledge, her skill, her ability to be able to help find a creative way through some very difficult issues is second to nobody that I’ve seen."
Yet Biniaz told future negotiators at the law school that she was still learning how to break deadlocks:
Going into Paris, advocates and negotiators had proposed a slew of terms for the mitigation article of the agreement, the article that weighs upon greenhouse gas emissions:
Decarbonization of the global economy by the end of the century
Climate neutrality by the end of the century
Carbon neutrality
Net-zero emissions
Even the penultimate draft of the agreement, released the night before adoption, contained a different term: greenhouse-gas emissions neutrality.
"Every single one of those was flawed for some reason because someone wouldn't accept it," Biniaz said at the forum sponsored by the Energy Policy Institute of Chicago.
"The OPEC countries didn’t want any mention of carbon because it was too much of a focus on carbon dioxide as opposed to the other greenhouse gases.
"Some people thought net zero was not okay because it had the word zero in it, which looked too scary, and some people didn’t like it because it had the word net in it, which looked like it was too much of a proviso on zero."
"Some people liked climate neutrality because it sounded good, some people didn’t like it because they didn’t know what it meant."
In the final hours of negotiations, parties abandoned all these terms and decided to just say what they mean, she said.
"It's probably the closest to net-zero emissions, but it doesn't use that expression, it just spells it out," Biniaz said. "So, an important lesson there."
The phrase gives the 196 parties to the agreement a more pragmatic goal than the 2º C temperature limit they have been working with since the 2009 Copenhagen Accord. Countries know they have to achieve net-zero emissions in the second half of this century. So do smaller entities within each country. Financial regulators have suggested using the phrase to evaluate the climate risk of individual companies.
The phrase serves as the kernel of a much longer sentence sprinkled with clauses designed to reassure developing nations that development, with its poverty-eradicating effects, won't be halted entirely:
“In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.”

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