Review of the outcomes of the Paris Climate Conference 2015 (COP21)

News Post date December 23, 2015

The Paris Climate Conference 2015 (COP21) concluded on the 12th December with the consensus of all attending parties on the ‘Paris Agreement’ – a global agreement on the reduction of climate change.

This is the first agreement of its kind and marks a significant step forward for both climate change awareness and international diplomacy. Parties will be signing the Paris Agreement in New York between 22 April 2016 and 21 April 2017, which should initiate their adoption of the framework into their legal systems.

The climate deal covers areas identified as essential for a landmark conclusion:

· Mitigation

· Transparency system and global stock-take (accounting for climate action)

· Adaptation

· Loss and damage – compensation and liability

· Support

However, despite the progression that this agreement represents, the content itself falls short of meeting minimum requirements for protecting the world against the effects of climate change. The most significant of which is that it is nonbinding, with no accountability measures to ensure that nations actually fulfill their commitments. China and the US formed the main opposition to this, with the US claiming that the agreement could not be legally binding if it were to pass Congress. This is of significance as these two countries are the planet’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases.

The articles are very nonspecific, using vague terms such as “where appropriate” and “where necessary” throughout, allowing for variations in interpretation. Specifically, the overarching target for the limitation of global warming is very loosely summarised in Article 2, “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”. To “pursue efforts” is an intentionally nondescript term used to placate those contesting a 1.5°C limit, without openly dismissing calls for a lower target.

With nations open to submit their own Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) for greenhouse gas reductions, there is no real guidance on how ambitious, or unambitious, these can be. Additionally, the absence of legal accountability means that no country will actually be liable if they fail to deliver on these pledges. Numerous studies have been carried out to model projected temperature changes under ‘business as usual’ (without any climate deal) and under the successful implementation of INDCs. Though the results vary, general consensus determines that the INDCs conveyed during COP21 are insufficient. The World Resources Institute has compared studies from a range of sources, reaching the conclusion that although the INDCs will lower temperature trends, in comparison to the ‘business as usual’ model (which is likely to lead to 4.5°C warming by 2100), the planet is likely to experience a 2.7-3.7°C rise in global temperature (Figure 1).

Clearly the Paris Climate Agreement contains some major flaws, and, at this point, looks as though it will let down those countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), a group of 20 countries chaired by the Philippines, and the Alliance of Small Island States (AoSIS) highlighted the disproportionate impacts that many countries will suffer due to a higher than 2°C temperature rise – a point that has largely been disregarded. The CVF representative, Saleemul Huq, spoke out at the conference, “We are the countries who will suffer the most from climate change and against whom all the big [negotiating] groups like the US, EU and G77 are aligned. We are the majority: 106 of the 195 countries of the world want this 1.5°C target. But there is no democracy here. It’s a power game and the powerful are not on our side…We accept it is not realistic, but it is the right thing to do”.

One potentially redeeming feature of the agreement is that after 2020, countries will need to present a more ambitious INDC target every 5 years (Figure 2). However, again, there is no mechanism to ensure nations are held accountable. Financial commitment by richer, developed countries to aid developing countries in switching to renewable energy sources is also an important aspect. Although the one hundred billion dollar a year pledge has been criticised for being inadequate, it will act as the foundations for further investment and support in the future.

Both the conference and the agreement have caused a great deal of controversy, but importantly, they have also generated a large amount of conversation on the topic of climate change. Lauren Fabuis (President of COP21 and French Foreign Minister) claimed that “The Paris Agreement allows each delegation and group of countries to go back home with their heads held high” and on the other hand, Nick Deardan (Director of Campaign group Global Justice Now) is quoted to have said “It’s outrageous that the deal that’s on the table is being spun as a success when it undermines the rights of the world’s most vulnerable communities and has almost nothing binding to ensure a safe and liveable climate for future generations”. It should be acknowledged that although the agreement is lacking, it is a significant achievement to form any sort of agreement amongst over 190 countries. In order to substantially reduce the negative effects of climate change, all partaking nations will need to fully commit and integrate the agreement into policy making, and continue to formulate more ambitious targets over the years to come. Another crucial aspect of the conference is the role of the private sector. The planet is now relying on private sector investment in renewables and environmentally friendly technology to lead the way for countries to move away from fossil fuels and towards a more sustainable future.

At Rescue Global we recognise the importance of international agreement, leading to action, on climate change. We work across the full disaster risk reduction and response cycle, spanning urgent short-term response actions, through to strategic long-term mitigation and adaptation work. Relative to climate change, this means we respond to its effects - for example, where storms are more severe or unpredictable. Equally, we work with nations regularly affected by disasters on their disaster risk reduction laws, so enshrining adaptation and mitigation in policy and practice.

We welcome the acknowledgement of the importance of the private sector and the role the sector has to play in climate business. Rescue Global proactively works with the private sector through the Crisis and Disaster Resilience Alliance. We see the value of cross-sector collaboration in both short term disaster response work and long-term risk reduction action.

Main Menu