On climate change, ‘red alert is on’, says COP21 president Laurent Fabius

The Paris Agreement was adopted by consensus on 12 December 2015, at the 21st Conference of the Parties - or COP 21 - of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris. [Claire Stam]

The world community has taken action against climate change but it must “triple its efforts” to reduce emissions and Europe needs to take the lead, COP21 President Laurent Fabius said ahead of the crucial United Nations’ annual conference (COP24) in December.

“The figures are not good, the red alert is on. Current mitigation plans are not enough, the world must triple its efforts and Europe needs to show the way. It needs a long-term strategy and must inform on its short-term choices,” Fabius said at the closing session of the stakeholder consultation public event organised by the European Commission in Brussels on 10-11 July.

The Paris Agreement was adopted by consensus on 12 December 2015, at the 21st Conference of the Parties – or COP 21 – of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris.

The goals of the Agreement are to keep global temperature rise well below 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures while pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C as well as increase the ability to adapt and shift financing from fossil fuels towards low emissions and climate-resilient development.

But recent figures show that global warming is on course to exceed the most stringent goal set in the Paris Agreement by around 2040, according to a leaked final draft of the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report on 1.5C.

However, governments can still cap temperatures below the 1.5C limit agreed in 2015, the draft says, but only with “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in the world economy.

“Fighting climate change is a necessity but it is also an opportunity for all of us – present and future generations – while we need at the same time a transparent discussion that honestly assesses the risks and opportunities of energy transition,” added Laurent Fabius.

Mauro Petriccione, director-general for climate action at the European Commission, said that during the two-day event, “we spoke about short-term and long-term actions. The EU has been doing a lot like the clean energy and effort sharing regulations bringing us to 2030. Now we need to put these short-term actions in a long-term perspective.”

EU Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete said in his closing remarks that Europe is ready to face the challenge ahead.

“We have listened and will continue to listen as we prepare the strategy,” he said, adding that Europe’s long-term 2050 strategy will not be just a modeling exercise to meet the Paris Agreement but will set a vision for the transition towards decarbonised EU economy and society.

“The long-term strategy is a comprehensive vision for delivering not only a decarbonised energy system but also a competitive European economy that will work for all Europeans,” he said.

Seeking carbon neutrality

In his speech, Fabius referred to the need to clarify the definition and interpretation of net-zero by the second half of the century which is embedded in article 4, paragraph 1 of the Paris Agreement.

“The Paris Agreement was deliberately ambiguous on carbon neutrality, but it’s now necessary to clarify what it means,” he said.

Article 4.1 of the Paris Agreement refers to the mitigation aim and states that Parties are “to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and undertake rapid reductions thereafter […] so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks […] in the second half of this century […].”

The language on “balance” between sources and removals by sinks was used as a proxy for “carbon neutrality” or a “net zero” goal, both of which proved to be too politically controversial to be included.

Although developing countries managed to insert that the aim is to be achieved “on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty”, it is not clear what it entails or how this provision will be implemented in practice.

‘Green is gold’

European Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, underlined the necessity for the industrial sector to reach carbon neutrality.

“The old ‘competitiveness versus climate split’ needs to be overcome. We need a long-term vision that helps our industry to adapt and lead – a smart, clean and competitive one,” she said.

The Commissioner welcomed the construction sector’s initiatives on innovation and digitalisation to drive down emission reduction.

Fabius observed that the business community is now really invested.

“Most CEOs understand that climate action is not only a social, economic, and moral consideration but good business sense too. I just got back from China and there, they are saying that ‘green is gold’,” he said, adding that this major shift has consequences, “we need to take into account social aspects.”

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