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COP21: Will The Agreement Remain a Climate Change Success Story?

EmmamHowe MA, United States 0 Ratings 33 Discussions 1 Group posts

Posted by: EmmamHowe // Marketing/Green Policy Development

As the negative impacts of climate change become more imminent and dire, it becomes necessary for all countries to band together in the fight against climate change. The 2015 COP21 convention gives us hope that nations are willing to agree to take a stand on key climate issues, compromising and agreeing on necessary provisions. A significant and critical development from the convention--and possibly for the future of global cooperation on climate issues--occurred when leaders from several developed nations agreed to make concessions and to invest approximately 100 billion per year to assist the developing world. On December 12, 2015, 196 nations joined together and unanimously agreed to an agreement limiting world carbon emissions increases above pre-industrial levels to 1.5 degrees celsius. Subsequently, 175 countries signed the COP21 agreement on Earth Day, breaking the previous record for the opening day signing of a major international agreement (the document remains available for one year for additional signatures). Despite the collaborative breakthroughs of the COP21, it still becomes necessary to examine the deal in full, what it actually accomplishes and does not accomplish, and how much optimism it should garner.

Primary Reasons for Optimism:

- The Paris talks were the biggest ever gathering of world leaders with more than 150 heads of state landing in the French capital for the opening day of the conference

- The number and presence of these world leaders, and the level of commitment and urgency, facilitated the unprecedented outreach mentioned above between developed and developing nations. Specifically, US President Barack Obama met with President Xi Jinping of China, while Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, met with representatives from a group of least developed countries. President Hollande of France concentrated on forging links with the developing world while Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, met in private with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, securing his pledge that Russia would not stand in the way of a deal.

- Also mentioned above, the COP21 agreement included a provision allocating money and funds from rich countries to developing nations, many of whom previously claimed that economic concerns were preventing them from taking action. This provision may also have come out of the historic negotiations and collaboration between developed and developing nations.

- The deal also, for the first time, declared that nations must ensure that the increase in the global average temperature does not rise 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in order to mitigate the most disastrous effects of climate change.

Primary Reasons for Concern:

- The overall agreement is legally binding once countries sign, but some elements – including the pledges to curb emissions by individual countries and the climate finance elements – are not. Thus, future leaders of signatory countries could renege on their commitments.

- Current Parties’ emissions pledges will not meet the goal of reducing emissions to under 1.5 or even 2 degrees Celsius, and these cuts are not required to be reexamined until 2020. In fact, the current pledges are likely to lead to warming of 2.7 to 3C above pre-industrial levels, rising above the 2C threshold that scientists say is the limit of safety, beyond which the effects – droughts, floods, heat waves and sea level rises – are likely to become catastrophic and irreversible

- Also, according to the International Energy Agency, the transformation to a fossil-free world will require $1,000 billion per year by 2020. However, the Paris Agreement only commits to ‘mobilizing’ $100 billion per year by 2020, which is far short of the support required, and there is no firm commitment to increase this figure, merely a ‘hope’ to review it by 2025.

So, What Happens Next?

The ultimate success of COP21 depends on how these signatories progress moving forward, particularly over the next five years, paying close attention to whether they are able to construct concrete emission reductions and climate policies that will push them back to pre-industrial CO2 levels.

While the COP21 agreement lays out essential climate goals, the ability to achieve these goals will depend on the rules, guidelines and processes adopted to implement the Agreement —and these will be hammered out over months and years to come. The newly created Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA) is made up of all the Parties that adopted the Agreement in 2015 and will develop most of the new rules and guidelines. The group is set to meet multiple times a year--they had their first meeting in May 2016--and their work is supported by existing UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) bodies such as the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI).

The Paris Agreement also puts in place a critical process for countries to increase the ambition of their climate plans, or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which are assessed every five years in order to achieve the long-term goals of the Agreement. In 2018, Parties will collectively take stock of countries’ emissions reductions, and then update their NDCs or submit new ones by 2020.

Following the hope that countries will be more willing to transition in the upcoming years, Paris includes the provision for two future meetings that are intended to address its flaws. In 2018, nations will hold a “facilitative conference” to revisit some of the emissions reductions ideas. If it is ratified by more than 55 percent of nations or by nations that cause 55 percent of global emissions, Paris will enter into force two years later, in 2020. Then, in 2023, the world will meet again for a “global stocktake,” where countries are supposed to announce new and improved emission-reduction plans. Richer countries may also announce more monetary help for poorer ones at these events. And every five years after that, the world will meet again to discuss its renewed plans to decarbonize. These two events are intended to serve as climate policy landmarks. Between then and now, the economic trends of investment and divestment and fossil-fuel burning and solar printing will ebb and flow, but there is hope that Paris will provide the initial framework to bring about green transitions to renewable markets across the globe.

Fortunately, there are separate, positive signals that the world is in a state of considerable transition related to renewable policies and investment levels. In fact, the UNEP report “Global Trends in Renewable Energy” stated a new record for overall global investment in renewable power capacity last year of $285.9 billion. Juxtaposed, the coal and gas-fired electricity generation drew less than half that amount. 2015 also marked the year in which investment in renewables in the developing world, including Brazil, China and India, outpaced that in the developed economies of Europe, Japan and the United States. According to IRENA’s 2015 “Rethinking Energy” report, many of these markets are experiencing a rapid growth in energy demand, and renewable energy is seen as an increasingly important part of the future energy mix. Therefore, over the next five years, countries may be more willing to buy into these incentives, set binding emission cuts, and use trade sanctions to punish climate change cheaters.

Perhaps Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, does the best job at summing up the “post-COP21” mood: “It sometimes seems that the countries of the UN can unite on nothing, but nearly 200 countries have come together and agreed a deal. Today, the human race has joined in a common cause. The Paris agreement is only one step on a long road and there are parts of it that frustrate, that disappoint me, but it is progress. The deal alone won’t dig us out of the hole that we’re in, but it makes the sides less steep.”

Though the COP21 Agreement isn’t the final or perfect solution to ending our climate deal worries, the deal makes it evident that policy, business, and individual action seem to be moving in the right direction around the world. But it is important to note that though world governments have agreed to global action, they have still not made a clear commitment on how and when they will start to transition off of fossil fuels. In other words, there is still opportunity for the Paris deal to become the comprehensive, ambitious, and enforceable climate deal the world needs, but it is important to note that this opportunity is not guaranteed.

For more information see:
http://www.wri.org/blog/2016/03/after-cop21-7-key-tasks-implement-paris-agreement
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/13/paris-climate-deal-cop-diplomacy-developing-united-nations
http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2015/12/can-we-hope-after-the-paris-agreement/420174/

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