COP21 celebrations, but governments must mind the emissions gap

1.5 degrees was projected onto the Eiffel Tower. [OECD/Twitter]

World governments today (12 December) agreed a historic international agreement to fight global warming at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris.

Almost 200 nations agreed a deal to cap global warming at “well below” two degrees above pre-industrial levels, with a reference to a lower, long-term 1.5 degree target in the text.

Any mention of the 1.5 degree limit seemed unlikely two weeks ago when the COP21 began. But the idea gradually gathered steam and was adopted by the “High Ambition Coalition” of the EU, US, and over 100 developed and developing countries.

The deal was hailed as the beginning of the end for fossil fuel industries and a strong signal to markets for green investment and innovation. But, despite the landmark deal, the promises given by countries to curb their emissions in the run-up to the COP21 will fall far short of the two degree goal. Even two degrees will have serious consequences for people and the environment.

Countries’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) will only cap global warming at 2.7 degrees, according to analysis by the Climate Action Tracker. Bridging the ‘emissions gap’ will require even more commitment from the governments, which struggled for two weeks to strike a deal. 

The European Union said in statement, “The sum total of the 185 INDCs […] are not yet enough to keep the world below 2°C by the end of the century. However, the agreement traces the way to achieving this target.”

Under the terms of the deal, countries will submit new INDCs every five years, and they cannot be less ambitious then their previous climate plan. This will be accompanied by a reporting and transparency system.

Regular five yearly reports on nations progress to meeting their agreed targets was something that the EU was pushing for, and secured. It was described as a red line by an EU source, earlier in the week.

Gavel brought down

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius brought down the gavel on the landmark agreement, hailed as “fair, ambitious, legally binding and inclusive”, at about 7.25pm to rapturous applause. Referring to the recent Paris terror attacks, one delegation said that Paris had become a “city of light and hope again”.

French President François Hollande said that Paris had witnessed many revolutions over the centuries. But the climate change revolution was the “most beautiful” revolution in its history. The deal came at a good time for Hollande, under pressure from a surging Front National, as France has regional elections tomorrow.

The deal overcame stark divisions between developing and developed countries. Climate finance to pay for developing countries to shift to low-carbon energy, and compensation for the effects of climate change, which was historically caused by developed nations, was a major sticking point.

Developed countries intend to continue their existing collective goal to mobilise $100 billion per year until 2025 when a new collective goal will be set. But climate finance commitments were taken out of the legally binding COP agreement, and put instead in the less robust COP decision, which accompanies it.

There is no compensation aspect in the article, which specifies the loss and damage mechanism. That omission was described as being nothing more than an offer to help pay insurance, by one policy expert at the COP21.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the agreement was not perfect but praised it as a “critical step forward.”

Compromises were made. Articles covering international aviation and shipping were sacrificed in the interests of reaching a deal. The EU had promised to fight to get the major source of emission back in the pact – but were forced to admit defeat.

There was also no mention of decarbonisation or carbon markets in the final text.

But securing the agreement at the Le Bourget conference centre on the outskirts of Paris, even a day over deadline, represents a huge achievement. Countries such as China, India, and Saudi Arabia all came on board.

Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete told the COP plenary, “This is no doubt a tremendous, collective agreement.”

He spoke to EURACTIV after the announcement of the draft deal at about noon today, which was backed later with no objections. The draft was released as thousands of protestors demonstrated in Paris, calling for climate justice and the 1.5 degree target. 

>>Read our live blog to see how COP21 unfolded

Negotiations on climate change began in 1992, and the UN organises an annual international climate change conference called the Conference of the Parties, or COP.

Paris is hosting the all-important 21st conference in December 2015. The participating states must reach an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the object of which was to reduce CO2 emissions between 2008 and 2012.

>>Read: EURACTIV COP21 coverage


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