Paris: a new deal for climate


Last time, NEU announced the expectations on the incoming COP21; now it’s time to draw conclusions on its effects. Public opinion has strongly welcomed the outcome of the international climate change negotiations and the deal reached on Saturday, after two full weeks of intense negotiations.

The COP21 UN Climate Change Conference, which took place in Paris, reached a global agreement to tackle climate change, an outcome which represents a major landmark in addressing this global challenge. In the Paris Agreement, adopted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), world leaders agreed to limit the rise in global temperature to well below 2°C, in order to avoid dangerous climate change.  “The Paris Agreement confirms the irreversible transition to a low carbon, safer and healthier world”, declared UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, following the adoption of the agreement.

In the final meeting of the Paris talks on climate change on Saturday night, the debating chamber was full and the atmosphere tense. Ministers from 196 countries sat behind their country nameplates, aides flocking them, with observers packed into the overflowing hall.

The conclusion of COP21 give us an environmental agreement, the first to impose various both binding and voluntary measures. It will attempt to limit the rise in global temperatures “well below” 2°C (yet above pre-industrial levels), with the background target being 1.5°C (Art. 2.1). At this purposes, a climate finance fund of $100 billion per year for developing countries by 2020, with further future finance, is to come from the pockets of developing states.

Delegates emphasized the historical sense of the occasion. A persistent theme to come through was that of “balance”. In the Agreement, it was recognized that “global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions” would vary for developing country parties. Once reached, rapid reductions would take place forthwith “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 sustainability development and efforts to eradicate poverty” (Art. 4.1).

Nonetheless, public opinion is not unanimously enthusiastic at all. Various environmental groups were certainly not convinced by the paperwork. The agreement, according to Friends of the Earth International, was a “sham,” the outcome of deception and bullying. The developed countries, in short, had gotten away with the meanest of undertakings. The problems of differentiation, to take one example of this purported sham, have been combated with a severely contorting bit of legalese termed Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities, In the Light of Different National Circumstances (Art 2).

Other stinging criticisms were also mounted. Compensation mechanisms for irreparable damage have not been factored in; adequate finance will not be made available; the proposed program will exceed the proposed temperature limit. The point was largely compounded by the memories of Copenhagen 2009, when the insistence on binding emission targets led to any prospective being spoiled. In the COP21 case, the trick was the Southern Africa management strategy called “INDABA”, used to get to a common agreement when too many positions would jeopardized the discussion. Each party, indeed, states its “red lines”, which are thresholds that they do not want to cross, and tries to provide solutions to the limits of the others. It seems that somehow INDABA got something at the end… The result has been a new creature in the form of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), many of which were submitted in advance of the meeting, and will be a cornerstone of the agreement. When these are factored in, a target closer to three degrees is considered the more accurate outcome of the commitments. Data from Climate Analytics, ECOFYS, the New Climate Institute and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, suggests that the generated figure, based on the Paris undertakings, will come at 2.7°C by 2100.

Nick Deardon, director of the Global Justice Now group, took issue with the persisting disparity between developed and developing states on the subject. As for what was actually binding in the agreement, one could count only on some bare bones procedures: the submission of an emissions reduction target, for instance, and the regular review mechanism on reaching that goal. [The first review will take place in 2019, with a more thorough “global stocktake” (Art. 14) in 2023 followed by cuts to carbon emissions two years later]

What otherwise stands out is Article 6, a wordy provision that puts the boot into binding obligations while giving a free hand to states, suggesting that flexibility is better than not. “Parties recognize that some Parties choose to pursue voluntary cooperation in the implementation of their nationally determined contributions to allow for higher ambition in their mitigation and adaptation actions and to promote sustainable development and environmental integrity.”

The interaction between humankind’s engagement with the environment has already produced a range of dystopian foretastes. Even climate change sceptics would find it hard to deny Beijing’s “red alert” for smog, declared on Monday by authorities in an effort to keep people in from the lethal air. They would find it impossible to deny the increasing deaths from those living in cities which are becoming uninhabitable, or movement from areas which are vanishing. These are simply some features of the environmental devastation that require addressing.

COP21 seeks the vision of the de-carbonized globe; but we will discover soon if the Paris agreement  will be enough for the Planet .

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