EU hails climate change deal but up to governments to stick to pledges

Governments will limit warming to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels but this is way below the 2C that nearly 200 countries agreed as a limit six years ago in Copenhagen

From 30 November to 12 December, Paris hosted the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th session of the meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 11).

On 12 December, the parties reached a new global agreement on climate change. The agreement presents a balanced outcome with an action plan to limit global warming ‘well below’ 2°C.

The global average temperature today is about 15°C, though geological evidence suggests it has been much higher and lower in the past. However, the current period of warming is occurring more rapidly than many past events. Scientists are concerned that the natural fluctuation, or variability, is being overtaken by a rapid human-induced warming that has serious implications for the stability of the planet's climate.

Carole Dieschbourg, Environment Minister for Luxembourg, holding the presidency of the Council, said: “Today is a day to be proud. We have agreed the first-ever legally binding and universal climate agreement which puts the world on course to avoid dangerous climate change. It is a roadmap for a better, more just and sustainable world…. Together with all the stakeholders – NGOs, the business community and every citizen – we will now have the responsibility to translate this agreement into actions.”

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, joined 150 other leaders at the opening event on 30 November 2015. The Council formally adopted a negotiating position for the conference in September this year.

Key points at a glance

Keeping temperatures below 1.5ºC

Governments will limit warming to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels. 1.5ºC marks the point where there is a real danger of serious “tipping points” in the world’s climate. But this is way below the 2C that nearly 200 countries agreed as a limit six years ago in Copenhagen. The world has already hit 1ºC and recent data shows no sign of a major fall in the global emissions driving the warming. The 1.5ºC aspiration will be meaningless if there aren’t measures for hitting it.

Pledges to curb emissions

More than 180 countries submitted pledges to cut carbon emissions (intended nationally defined contributions, or INDCs) but these are not sufficient to prevent global temperatures from rising beyond 2ºC – in fact it is thought they will lead to a 2.7C rise or higher.  The INDCs are recognised under the agreement, but are not legally binding.

Long-term global goal for net zero emissions

Countries have promised to try to peak global emissions as soon as possible by pledging “to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century”.

This would mean “net zero emissions” between 2050 and 2100. The UN’s climate science panel says net zero emissions must happen by 2070 to avoid dangerous warming. Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute said the long-term goal was “transformational” and “sends signals into the heart of the markets”.

Stocktake every five years

187 countries put forward their plans for how to cut emissions as far out as 2030, which are not enough to keep warming below 2ºC; so a review mechanism will ramp up the pledges every five years, in order to make them strong enough to keep under 2ºC. The first stocktake will happen in 2018, but the first one under the deal happens in 2023. The text promises that parties “shall undertake ... [the] first global stocktake in 2023 and every five years”.

Loss and damage

The deal includes loss and damage, a mechanism for addressing the financial losses vulnerable countries face from climate impacts such as extreme weather.

But it also includes a clause that will keep the US happy – that it won’t face financial claims from vulnerable countries hit by climate change: it “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation”.

Money

Finance to help developing countries adapt to climate change and transition to clean energy was an important sticking point in the negotiations. This part of the deal has been moved into the non-legally binding “decision text” – a sop to the US, which knows it would not be able to get such a pledge of cash past the Republican-controlled Senate.

The draft text says that the countries “intend to continue their existing collective mobilisation goal through 2025”. That means the flow of $100bn a year will continue beyond 2020. By 2025 the draft agreement undertakes to improve on that “from a floor of $100bn”.

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