The (COP21) 2015 Paris talks on climate change leading to the agreement signed by 195 nations was the most significant conference since Copenhagen as countries had set themselves a deadline of 2015 for coming up with a legally-binding deal that would enable the world to limit warming to within 2 degrees of pre-industrial levels. While, many contentious issues including a legally binding framework have not been agreed upon, there is certainly cause for rejoicements. The world is now on a path to keep temperature rise below 2 degree celsius by the end of the century (2100).

Previously, UN reports had indicated that although worldwide pledges to cut carbon emissions will make a ‘significant dent’ in forecast global warming levels, this would not have been enough to stall dangerous climate change. In fact, prior to the Paris agreement, 146 countries had made pledges covering action to cut their carbon emissions starting 2020. Christina Figueres, the UN Climate Chief had then indicated that those commitments would still have resulted in global temperatures exceeding 2 degree celsius, beyond which scientists say will result in mankind experiencing the worst effects of climate change.

Perhaps some of the success of this agreement can be attributed to efforts of the UN and the French Government, which were jointly hosting the talks. They scheduled the presence of world leaders at the start of the summit, rather than its closing days, which certainly helped spur on negotiators to agree on a deal. The Paris agreement was greeted with scenes of celebration and emotion among delegations, who struggled for 13 days to overcome divisions between developing and developed countries. Certainly it is momentous to reach an agreement between 195 nations and this will likely pave the way for a stronger UN and global governance. Nevertheless, not everything is achieved, the world still needs to prioritize action against climate change as political and economic realities have shown that the world body is far from adhering to a conclusive and binding agreement on reducing anthropogenic activities to mitigate the acceleration of climate change events.

What the COP 21 has achieved[1]:

The convention framework adoption report has clarified several ambiguities from the past. To begin with, it recognises that “climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet and thus requires the widest possible cooperation by all countries, and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, with a view to accelerating the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions”

The COP also recognises that deep reductions in global emissions will be necessary in order to achieve the ultimate objective of the Convention and re-emphasizes the need for urgent action addressing climate change. Most importantly, the convention acknowledges that climate change is a common concern of humankind, and it urges Parties, when taking action to address climate change to respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.

The convention reiterated the urgent need to enhance the provision of finance, technology and capacity-building support to developing countries by developed countries and that too in a predictable manner in order attain the respective pre-2020 action plans of developing country Parties. While, climate change mitigation is being met through compensatory or regulatory mechanisms the needs of developing nations to adapt to climate change received special mention. The conference also called upon developed country Parties, Financial Mechanisms or other Organisations in a position to do so to provide assistance to Parties that may need such support in developing and communicating the intended nationally determined contributions.

Key outcomes of the conference include but are not limited to the following[2]:

The Convention has agreed to uphold and promote regional and international cooperation in order to mobilize stronger and more ambitious climate action by all Parties and non-Party stakeholders, including civil society, the private sector, financial institutions, cities and other sub-national authorities, local communities and indigenous peoples.

The COP also broadly agreed to enhance linkages and create synergy between, inter alia, mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology transfer and capacity-building, and to facilitate the implementation and coordination of non-market approaches.

Mitigation: Climate change mitigation strategies will be based on the Nationally determined contributions communicated to the Conference of Parties. The COP agreed that the information provided by countries regarding their nationally determined contributions may include as appropriate, quantifiable information on the reference point (a base year) time frames and periods of implementation. Parties also agreed to provide quantifiable information on scope, coverage, planning processes, assumptions and methodological approaches including those for estimating and accounting for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and how the Party considers that its NDC is fair and ambitious, in light of its national circumstances.  

Adaptation: Regarding adaptation, Parties have agreed to strengthen regional cooperation on adaptation where appropriate and where necessary establish regional centres and networks particularly in developing countries. Additionally, UN agencies and international, regional and national financial institutions are to provide more information to Parties on how their development assistance and climate finance programmes incorporate climate-proofing and climate resilience measures.

Finance: Most importantly the agreement includes the creation of a new collective quantified goal from a floor of USD 100 Billion annually taking into account the needs and priorities of developing countries. It is also agreed that the financial resources provided to developing countries will enhance the implementation of policies, strategies, regulations and action plans of their respective mitigation and adaptation strategies. The COP recognised the importance of adequate and predictable financial resources, from public, private, bilateral, and multilateral sources such as the Green Climate Fund and other alternative sources. Moreover, the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility would be the entities entrusted with the operation of the financial mechanism of the convention along with the Least Developed Countries Fund and Special Climate Change Fund which in turn are administered by the GEF to serve the agreement.

Although there is much to be appreciated the COP also notes with concern that greenhouse gas emission levels in 2025 and 2030 resulting from INDCs don’t fall within least-cost 2 degree Celsius scenarios but rather lead to a projected level of 55 gigatonnes in 2030. It also notes that much greater efforts need to be taken than simply the INDCs so as to hold the increase in global average temperature to below the 2-degree mark.

[1]    Conference of the Parties Twenty-first session Paris, 30 November to 11 December 2015  FCCC/CP/2015/L.9  Adoption of the Paris Agreement.

[2]    Conference of the Parties Twenty-first session Paris, 30 November to 11 December 2015  FCCC/CP/2015/L.9  Adoption of the Paris Agreement.

Author is the Founder Trustee to CPPR. Views of the authors expressed are personal.

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Sepi Sebastian was Executive Director at CPPR.

Seppi Sebastian
Seppi Sebastian
Sepi Sebastian was Executive Director at CPPR.

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