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COP 21: curtain call

A positive take on the Paris climate deal.

Sohara Mehroze Shachi
18 December 2015

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COP21 participants, UN

After two weeks of grueling negotiations, suspense and anticipation, the COP 21 climate conference drew to a close. 195 countries reached across traditional divides to unite behind the greatest moral challenge of our time and seal the deal on an historic climate accord.

“We welcome the Paris outcome as an historic milestone on the road to a more sustainable global economy,” said Stuart Gulliver, Group Chief Executive of HSBC.

“This agreement marks the beginning of a new era where we find good examples of climate action from all, developed and developing countries, because it is in everyone’s best interests to do so,” said Monica Araya, member of the Climate Vulnerable expert group, “It is no longer about who is acting and who is not, but how strong the world can act together.”

What is in the final agreement?

The specifics of some segments of the agreement are satisfactory, while others leave a lot to be desired.

Long term goal on 1.5°C/decarbonization: While gaps remain between current emission reduction pledges and the amount of reduction required to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees, countries have agreed to work towards this goal while taking efforts to limit global average temperatures to 1.5°C above pre–industrial levels. This is a major accomplishment for developing countries and environmental NGOs who put up a united fight in favour of vulnerable countries.

Ambition mechanism: The aim of an ambition mechanism is to ensure that commitments of countries will be reviewed every so often and that these commitments will be renewed without backsliding. With a good ratchet mechanism, countries will have no choice but to have ambitious commitments over time. The agreement says countries must update and increase their commitments in 5 years cycles. The first stock take will be in 2018 and then subsequent ones every five years.

Mitigation: Countries made a clear reference to the need for peaking emissions as soon as possible in a differentiated manner. The Paris agreement contains an operationalization of the 1.5°C temperature goals that points to zero fossil fuel emissions and development of National Long–Term Low GHG Strategies.

Adaptation: With worsening impacts of climate change, many countries need a strong adaptation commitment, including funding for adaptation. The positive aspect of the agreement in this regard is it links mitigation and adaptation, stating that the more countries reduce emissions, the less other countries have to adapt. However, funding commitments, on which adaptation hinges, remain unclear.

Loss and Damage: Developing countries stood their ground in Paris with regard to loss and damage – the adverse effects of climate change which are beyond adaptation. This was a contentious issue as liability and compensation from developed countries were on the radar. Loss and damage is included in the agreement, mentioning support for “minimizing” and “averting” loss and damage such as early warning systems and emergency preparedness but omitting liability and compensation.

Finance: Finance is of paramount importance to the agreement as all mitigation and adaptation measures are essentially dependent on availability and access to funds. The agreement refers to provision of scaled up financial resources with floor of $100 billion – which now is extended to 2025 – and balance between adaptation and mitigation. However, crucial terms such as new, predictable and additional have been taken out so the nature of funds remains unclear.

The agreement refers to ensuring efficient access to financial resources (which so far has been a major hurdle) for many vulnerable countries. However, it is not very ambitious with regards to the amount of funds. The adaptation gap remains an issue, as existing funds lag far behind actual adaptation needs.

Capacity building: Regarding capacity building, the text is very ambitious highlighting constant progress on an annual basis. Cooperation is a must and transparency is required from developed countries. Methods to review progress are diversified to be consistent with other aspects of the agreement, especially finance. Parties are urged to be transparent in the implementation of efforts, and cooperative for the success of the agreement. The final draft shows clear support for developing countries.

Beyond COP 21 – the way forward

For world leaders, the hard work begins now. While Paris marks the beginning of the new era for climate action, there is far more to be done by governments to further accelerate the transition to a 100 per cent renewable future and ensure that communities can adapt and are protected from climate impacts.

“We must remain vigilant to ensure commitments are reviewed as early as possible, so we don’t get locked into a 3°C pathway," said Pascal Canfin, special advisor for climate, World Resources Institute.

Leaders must act now to harness the economic opportunities, political momentum, and moral authority to drive the change they aspire to on the international stage back at home for a greener future.

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