June 14, 2021

What the Paris climate pact really means, according to the experts

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2015-12-12t040818z_1_lynxmpebbb01a_rtroptp_3_climatechange-summit climate-draft-puts-temperature-limit-out-of-reach-scientists rtx1xemo rtx1y2f4 rtx1ya5mBy The Conversation From Business Insider

After two weeks of negotiations in Paris, the world’s nations have reached a global deal to tackle climate change. The agreement commits 196 countries to help limit global warming to ”well below 2℃ above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5℃”.

Under the agreement:

Countries will pursue their self-determined emissions targets from 2020 onwards.

The national targets will be reviewed and strengthened every five years.

Global emissions should peak “as soon as possible”.

By the second half of this century, greenhouse gas emissions should be balanced out by processes that remove them from the air.

Developed nations will contribute at least US$100 billion a year from 2020 to help poorer nations deal with climate change.

Below, our experts react to the agreement:

Robyn Eckersley, Professor of Political Science, University of Melbourne

The signature achievement of the Paris Agreement is a much bolder temperature target than expected: a ceiling of 2℃ warming, plus the pursuit of the safer target of 1.5℃.

Yet the parties have formally acknowledged that the 185 national pledges submitted thus far for the post-2020 period are well short of what is required to prevent dangerous climate change. The success of the Paris Agreement will therefore turn on how quickly the parties are able to ratchet up their ambition over time.

The good news is that the parties have agreed to relatively short, five-yearly cycles of nationally determined contributions. They have also agreed that each successive contribution shall be a progression beyond the previous one and reflect each party’s highest possible ambition.

The bad news is that there is no requirement that the parties must review and upgrade their existing pledges before 2030, although they may voluntarily choose to do so at any time.

On a worst-case scenario, we could see no ratcheting up of pledges over the next 15 years, just like we have seen no shift in the Copenhagen 2020 pledges made in early 2010. This would require much more heroic efforts in subsequent cycles and make it much harder to reduce the risks of dangerous warming.

However, the worst-case scenario is unlikely. There will be a facilitative dialogue in 2019 to take stock of collective effort, and we can expect some parties to upgrade their existing pledge.

In 2020, parties are required to communicate their next round of contributions for the post-2025 and 2030 periods. Parties are also urged to formulate long-term emission reduction strategies. This will exert further pressure on parties to lift their horizons and their game.

Together these various provisions provide a clear signal for everyone, but especially the business community: there is only one direction for emissions to go, and that is down, and the faster the better.

Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics, Centre For Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics, Charles Stuart University

Twenty-three years after signing the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the nations of the world have at last decided to act on it. The Paris Agreement will mark a turning point in so many ways and represents a victory that would have seemed impossible even one or two years ago.

We knew coming into the conference that the global emissions pathway embodied in the agreement would fall well short of what the science tells us is needed to avoid dangerous climate change. We remain on track for an Earth that will be three or so degrees warmer – a world that must be avoided at all costs.

Before they came to Paris, countries had made their pledges for the next 10-15 years and they were not up for negotiation. So what was always at stake in Paris was how far the outcome would go to reflect new realities, consolidate progress and, critically, define a mechanism for much deeper emission cuts over the next decade or two.

Assessed in these terms, the Paris Agreement is as good as could be hoped for. Two or three years ago the inclusion of an ambition to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5℃” would have been unthinkable.

While the Agreement does not acknowledge the severely constrained carbon budget, the commitment to global peaking of emissions “as soon as possible … and rapid reductions thereafter” reflects a new urgency.

And the redrawing of the developed/developing country map, and the significant shift away from the trench warfare of previous climate summits, marks a new road for future commitments.

The decisive question now is how powerfully the Paris Agreement will signal to those outside national governments, including business, that the world has entered a new era. Because it is what they do over the next few years that will determine how deep the next round of emission cuts can be. All the indications are that Paris will send a very strong signal indeed.

Peter Christoff, Associate Professor, School of Geography, University of Melbourne

2015 is set to be the hottest year ever recorded. Appropriately, the Paris Agreement contains the strongest temperature goal of any international climate deal so far. Its aims – to strengthen global action to hold warming well below 2℃ and encourage efforts to limit warming to 1.5℃ – frame and drive the Agreement’s ambition.

Robust reference to 1.5℃ was strongly contested and opposed by Saudi Arabia, China, India and some other developing countries as an impediment to their development.

By contrast, the United States and the European Union joined a broad “coalition of high ambition” championed by the small island states, and enthusiastically sought tougher phrasing.

Some are sceptical about why they did so. To quote one negotiator: “The inclusion of these targets merely recognizes the desperate need of climate-vulnerable states, buys their support, weakens their resistance on other issues, and helps split the developing state bloc.”

Such cynicism misses the point. The new goal is not empty symbolism. It is still achievable and has substantial and beneficial real-world implications. It ramps up urgency, strengthens expectations for rapid mitigation by governments and the private sector, and intensifies pressure for funding transfers to the developing world. (The Agreement also calls for a new IPCC report in 2018 to look at 1.5℃ and associated mitigation pathways.)

Such cynicism misses the point. The new goal is not empty symbolism. It is still achievable and has beneficial real-world implications. It ramps up urgency, strengthens expectations for rapid mitigation by governments and the private sector, and intensifies pressure for funding transfers to the developing world. (The Agreement also calls for a new IPCC report in 2018 to look at mitigation pathways associated with achieving 1.5℃.)

Inevitably, many provisions in the final text remain insufficient. For example, the deal acknowledges the emissions gap between the currently inadequate national climate pledges and its goal but does not press for the full implementation of even these pledges nor requires their strengthening before 2025. It seeks a balance of emissions and removals of greenhouse gases “in the second half of this century” yet it merely calls for global emissions to peak “as soon as possible”. Its climate finance clauses are dilatory and enhanced contributions to the Green Climate Fund will not be required before 2025.

These limitations must be overcome if we are to meet this historic Agreement’s aim of “significantly reducing the risks and impacts of climate change”.

Climate adaptation
Jessica Hellmann, Director, Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota

The Paris Agreement largely focuses on the adoption of national pledges towards greenhouse gas mitigation, but it has quite a lot to say about the importance and demand for adaptation.

The Agreement emphasises the need for communication and collaboration among countries toward achieving adaptation, particularly in the developing world where the impacts of climate change will be felt most strongly and who have limited structures in place to adjust to those impacts. It calls for methods to assess adaptation needs by countries leading to recommendations for adoption in future negotiations; it directs all agencies to include climate change resilience in its development aid; and it calls for continued implementation of national adaptation plans.

The Agreement further recognises that climate change will cause loss and damage to countries around the world, but it does not allow for financial compensation for those losses. Adaptation assistance from developed countries, therefore, follows not from formal responsibility but from a desire to assist developing countries. This is a subtle but important distinction with potential implications for the amount and source of money from wealthier to poorer countries. In an effort to grow developed countries’ financial commitments, however, the agreement calls for a minimum investment of US$100 billion a year by 2020 towards both mitigation and adaptation for developing countries.

That adaptation is such a recognised component of the agreement is a step in the right direction, yet the Agreement shows how much remains unknown about the extent of adaptation needed, its best practices, and how to ensure its public and private financing. While exciting to have an agreement in hand that commits to fundamental principles, much remains to be done.

Emissions reductions
Catherine Gautier-Downes, Professor Emerita of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara

What does this agreement mean in terms of world emissions by mid-century? Clearly, the climate pledges made by more than 180 countries do not align with the mandate to limit Earth’s warming to 1.5℃ by 2100 to limit climate risks. They would lead to 2.7 or 3℃. The agreement offers no alternative trajectory to get the world to 1.5ºC.

It is probably outside the agenda for solutions that emission reductions will be found, through:

the renewable energy “revolution” underway with 2015 investments in renewable higher than in fossil fuels in the world and in the developing countries and, in the future, illustrated by the International Solar Alliance to expand solar development to 100 terawatts;

The pledge by 700 mayors to reduce emissions from consumption and increase the share of renewable by 50% by 2050;

the multiple financial pledges that come to nearly US$80 billion;

the financial and business sectors’ new engagement and demand for a carbon price, including the growing movement for fossil fuel divestment;

the world’s mobilisation of civil society with nongovernmental organisations working together to achieve successes like the abandonment of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and vowing to continue pressuring their states in the years to come.

Drastically cutting emissions in the near term is crucial but not enough without “negative” emissions. Opportunities for negative emissions in the building or forest sectors, for instance, must be central research topics in the coming years. This COP is a historic moment that represents a global power shift and puts the world on the path to the fully carbon neutral and climate-resilient world our children and grandchildren deserve.

John Kerry climate change Paris COP21REUTERS/Mandel Ngan/Pool
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (R) meet on the sidelines of the COP 21 United Nations conference on climate change in Le Bourget, on the outskirts of Paris, France December 11, 2015.
COP21 Climate World LeadersJacky Naegelen
Activists of global anti-poverty charity Oxfam wearing masks depicting some of the world leaders outside the venue of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21)
A woman walks past a map showing the elevation of the sea in the last 22 years during the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, December 11, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe Thomson Reuters
climate change global warming COP21REUTERS/Charles Platiau The slogan “For the planet” is projected on the Eiffel Tower
indigenous cop21 paris REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes Indigenous leaders from all over the world pray as they sail on the Seine near the Eiffel Tower continues at Le Bourget near the French capital.

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