SUSTAINABILITY

Paris Agreement Adopted

December 12, 2015   |   Paris

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From left to right: Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius, President-designate of COP21 and President of France Francois Hollande celebrate the news in Paris, France, December 12, 2015

IMAGE: Stephane Mahe

It's the moment we've all been waiting for. At approximately 7.30pm (Paris time) on December 12th, 2015, 195 countries adopted the Paris Agreement, the world’s first universal, legally binding pact on tackling climate change.

 

Under the deal, all countries agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emission level and keep global temperatures well below 2.0C (3.6F) and endeavour to limit them even more, to 1.5C. The agreement set a new goal to reach net zero emissions in the second half of this century, allowing trees, soil and oceans to absorb the CO2 emissions naturally. Rich countries agreed to raise €91bn (£66bn) a year by 2020 to help poor countries transform their economies, with a pledge to offer further support by 2025.

 

Here's a look at the text of the Paris Agreement in full:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The agreement sent a powerful signal to global markets and investors, firmly putting fossil fuels on the wrong side of history and and setting the new scene for a future of renewable technologies. From leaders to think tanks to business leaders, the message was clear: we are moving forward as one planet to an environmentally friendly future.

 

"Today the world is united in the fight against climate change. Today the world gets a lifeline, a last chance to hand over to future generations a world that is more stable, a healthier planet, fairer societies and more prosperous economies. This robust agreement will steer the world towards a global clean energy transition," said the European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

 

Former US vice-president Al Gore had this to say,"This universal and ambitious agreement sends a clear signal to governments, businesses, and investors everywhere: the transformation of our global economy from one fuelled by dirty energy to one fuelled by sustainable economic growth is now firmly and inevitably underway."

 

“Investors across Europe will now have the confidence to do much more to address the risks arising from high carbon assets and to seek opportunities linked to the low-carbon transition already transforming the world’s energy system and infrastructure,” said the International Investors Group on Climate Change

 

As we at Sustain Europe have long exhorted, renewable energy is the only way forward. Now it is truly official.

 

What is legally binding and what is not?

 

The regular review and submission of emission reduction targets will be binding within the framework of the UN. Every five years countries will undergo a progress review, starting in 2018. Also binding will be the €91bn fund from developed economies to help emerging and developing nations move away from fossil fuels and embrace renewable energy.

 

What won't be legally binding will be the emission targets, which will be determined by nations themselves, along with climate finance elements.

 

One of the biggest obstacles to the COP15 summit in Copenhagen was that countries simply wouldn't agree to binding targets. There was a huge effort at this year's Paris conference to make sure that there was no repeat of Copenhagen. On the other side of things, there were emerging economies such as India and China who plainly did not wish to sign a binding treaty. They felt as though if developed countries were allowed to expand their economy without having to adhere to targets, then essentially so should they.

 

How will the Paris Agreement be enforced?

 

To avoid a Copenhagen-style deadlock, negotiators decided this time that each country would volunteer its own commitment to cutting emissions as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs. To date, 187 countries have submitted their INDCs (compared to just 37 at Kyoto in 1997).

 

“Countries are willing to step up and use (the INDC) system,” said Greenpeace representative Ages. “It’s the only system that would have worked when you get such a diverse body” of countries, she explained.

 

As with Kyoto, there will not be any sanctions or similar diplomatic punishment if a country falls short of its INDC. Instead, a policy of naming and shaming will keep pressure on governments to live up to their promises.

 

“If they’re falling short, everyone in the world will know it,” Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists said. “They’ll have to publicly take whatever embarrassment comes along with that.”

 

What happens next?

 

Despite the fact negotiators were heralding this as the beginning of a new era, nobody is naive enough to believe that the Paris Agreement alone will be the solution to climate change.

 

Observers have calculated, by using the UNFCCC's own analysis, that all of the targets, if delivered, will only curb warming by 2.7C. This is well above, not well below, the 2.0C goal of the Paris Agreement, and is something which will need to be addressed in the very near future.

 

The Paris Agreement could most accurately be described as a step in the right direction. What needs to happen next is a subject of much debate, although there appears to be general consensus on what seems to be the right thing to do:

 

Introduce a global carbon tax

 

Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions since the dawn of industrial age. It therefore stands to reason that these companies, along with other polluters, should have to pay for the damage they have created, instead of trying to shoulder the blame onto people and places who have done very little to damage the environment and who are most affected by the effects of climate change.

 

So far, about 40 countries and more than 20 cities and states have implemented some form of a carbon-pricing system, according to a 2014 report from the World Bank. China is planning a national cap-and-trade system and already has tested the concept in several pilot regions. As carbon taxing becomes the norm, so should every country in the world accept such a policy. Money from a carbon tax could be put into investments in clean energy and technology.

 

End fossil fuel subsidies and invest in renewable energy and technologies

 

According the the IMF, the fossil fuel industry will have received $5.3 trillion in subsidies this year: greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments put together. Imagine what kind of impact could be had if even half of that kind of money was invested into renewable technologies.

 

The Paris conference highlighted the fact that we will not be able to reach the 1.5C target unless we develop new technologies which will absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. In the meanwhile, we should be doing everything we can to transition over to renewable energy.

 

Ratify the Paris Agreement

 

The UN hopes to hold a formal signing ceremony in New York by around April, 2016. For the agreement to be legally binding, it must be ratified by at least 55 of the 195 countries that adopted it without objection (and those 55 countries must represent at least 55% of all global-warming emissions). Having said that, nobody is questioning whether or not this formality will take place, but it is an important step, nonetheless.

 

So as we look to the future, governments must now follow up on the political window of opportunity provided by the Paris Agreement. From 2016 onward, implementation will be most effective through national laws: the country commitments put forward in Paris will be more credible if they are backed up by national legislation. In the words of Europe's climate chief Miguel Arias Canete, "This was the last chance. And we took it."

 

So if world leaders are telling us that we're taking the last chance, it stands to reason that we'd better see it through. Being able to see it through will ultimately serve as the real litmus test as to whether or not what has been achieved at Paris is successful.

 

For let's be perfectly clear about this: this Paris Agreement is not going to magically "fix" climate change. What it is going to do though is serve as a launching pad for a new phase of climate action, one that binds nations together and puts asides their differences in the name of saving this planet we call home.

 

Thanks to the Paris Agreement, the world just became a lot closer and a whole lot more eco-friendly, and that is an encouraging thought.

 

 

 

 

 

To find out more about the United Nations Climate Change Conference, you can read our latest edition by subscribing to Sustain Europe.

 

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