News Crunch: The Paris Climate agreement

“Together we’ve shown the world what’s possible when we stand together as one” – US President Barrack Obama 

The Crunch:

  • Over 195 nations have signed onto a historic, legaly binding climate agreement.
  • Cooperation and coordination measures have been outlined for the first time between the developed and developing world.
  • Signatories have pledged to limit global warming to 2 degrees, aiming for 1.5 degrees celsius of warming.
  • Developed nations will commit US$100 billion annually to aid developing nations with the transition to “greener” economies.
  • Review period of every five years has been set to ensure states stick to their targets, and potentially improve them.
  • Whilst an important step, the current emissions targets are still insufficient to meet 2 degrees – the world is heading for nearly 3 degrees of warming under the new agreement.

 

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UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon discusses amendments with French president Francois Hollande.

After two weeks of negotiations among the world’s most significant leaders, 200 nations have agreed to support the Paris Agreement of COP21. Amidst protests on the streets of Paris, pledges by the world’s billionaires and long talks behind closed doors regarding the legal implications of using “should” instead of “shall” and more than 24 hours after the negotiations were due to close the audacious deal has been brought to a successful close though questions remain to its actual effectiveness.

It represents a landmark agreement – largely legally binding and far more ambitious than all those before it. It marks a crucial step forwards in world unity with regards to tackling climate change as the world begins to feel its worsening effects. The agreement sends a clear signal, not just to everyday citizens, but to the global market as a whole, that times are rapidly changing, the world is advancing out of a fossil fuel economy and the impact of this should not be underestimated.

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Key points:

  • The main goal of the agreement is to limit global temperature rise to below 2 degrees celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. It also calls for nations to aim for only 1.5 degrees of warming. Not only is this target more ambitious, it is an acknowledgement of the plight of highly vulnerable low-lying nations which will not survive 2 degrees of warming.
  • There is now an expectation that global emissions should peak as soon as possible and that zero-net emissions be reached by the latter half of this century.
  • Nations will still be able to decide on their own emissions reductions targets, however beginning in 2020 there will be a review every five years to not only ensure that nations are adhering to their reduction plans, but with the possibility of amending the targets if they are proving insufficient in reducing warming.
  • Developed nations will donate an annual sum of US$100 billion in aiding developing nations meet their targets. This sum will be up for review in 2025 and the Global South intends for it to be raised over time. In a new change, developing nations may volunteer to contribute to the fund. This was greatly supported by the developing bloc who wish to see nations such as China provide aid.
  • There are clauses acknowledging that poorer nations and peoples will be worse off in a warmer climate and provisions have been put in place for aid and assistance when necessary. However the USA succeeded in ensuring that there be no liability or expectation of compensation for past emissions.  
  • The agreement is partially legally binding, such as signatories being required to subject themselves to the review periods. This is also a mark of progress as the potential to be legally bound to reductions expectations was one of the key reasons Copenhagen was not a success.
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Ice caps and glaciers such as this one in Svalbard account for about a third of recent global sea level rise. Photo credit: Woodwalker via Wikimedia Commons

 

“It’s a victory for all the planet and future generations” – US Secretary of State, John Kerry.

The chairman for the group representing some of the world’s poorest countries declared that “we are living in unprecedented times, which call for unprecedented measures… It is the best outcome we could have hoped for, not just for the Least Developed Countries, but for all citizens of the world”.

The positive rhetoric that has come out of COP21 has undoubtedly been a positive step towards tackling climate change. If the energy and unity can be maintained remains to be seen, and as the effects of serious climate change begin to be felt around the world, there are questions as to whether this is simply too little, too late.

 

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