Laurent Fabius: “History is coming, in fact, history is here.”
The culmination of more than 20 years of UN climate talks has seen all countries agree to reduce emissions, promise to raise $100bn a year by 2020 to help poor countries adapt their economies, and accept a new goal of zero net emissions by later this century. The agreement reached in Paris on 12 December, after two weeks of talks under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is a strong deal that should be welcomed as an impetus to do even more.
Intended Nationally Determined Contributions
It could be said the Paris climate negotiations were a success before they even started. A total of 185 countries, representing 97% of the world's population and 94% of its greenhouse gas emissions, submitted climate action plans with their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions to the United Nations before the climate talks began.
The agreement includes a system to keep nations accountable
Each signatory nation has pledged to reduce its carbon emissions, but such pledges need verification if they are to be meaningful. The deal specifies that when accounting for their climate actions, "Parties shall promote environmental integrity, transparency, accuracy, completeness, comparability and consistency" by adopting specific guidelines. The agreement includes a five-yearly global stock-take and a mandatory review mechanism to assess each country’s contributions.
The pledges will not keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6°F), let alone 1.5°C (2.7°F)
Myles Allen, professor of geosystem science at Oxford, cast doubt on the 1.5C target: “Human-induced warming is already approaching one degree and is predicted to be at 1.2C by 2030, so 1.5C will be a challenge ” According to an analysis by the Climate Action Tracker, if nations follow through on their unconditional pledges, global warming should remain below 3 degrees Celsius. That is a far cry from 2 degrees, and could lead to catastrophic impacts. That is why it is critical that the Paris agreement be taken as a starting point, with nations gradually ratcheting up their goals.
Developing countries will receive more financial support... but only in 2020
More financial support is needed to ensure poor countries are not left paying the price of a climate crisis that is not of their making. One of the key points of disagreement during the negotiations was whether developed countries would be required to provide financial support to developing countries to help them cut their carbon emissions. The global community had previously agreed that rich countries would contribute $100 billion a year for climate action in poorer ones. The Paris deal commits countries to set a new, higher funding level in 2020.
The climate action pledges are not binding
Though parts of the Paris agreement are binding, the national climate action pledges themselves are not. This is the biggest remaining uncertainty is that though this climate deal has been unanimously adopted by the delegations in Paris, it must still be ratified or approved by at least 55 countries, accounting for at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, before it comes into force. It is to be hoped that peer pressure will be enough to keep nations in line so that their pledges lead to results.
A total of 2,025 companies have publicly pledged to cut their carbon emissions. The fossil fuel divestment movement has reached a critical mass: more than 500 institutions with more than $3.4 trillion in assets have pledged to divest from fossil fuels. And 28 of the world's wealthiest investors have pledged to invest a combined $2 billion over the next five years (including $1 billion from Microsoft founder Bill Gates alone) in clean energy research and development.
There was a lot of goodwill around the climate negotiations in Paris, and a lot of momentum. None of the main players wanted to see a repeat of the Copenhagen talks. But now that the deal is sealed, the momentum must not be lost. A deal is only as good as its implementation.