Negotiators for 195 countries have agreed to a set of principles and goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change. The agreement is partly legally binding and partly voluntary. The only previous UN climate agreement, the Kyoto protocol, required a number of rich countries to cut emissions marginally and was rejected by the US; the Paris deal applies to all nations. It also takes a different approach: it provides a support structure for every country to decide for itself, how it plans to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, taking into account its own unique domestic situation. The support structure will allow these national pledges to get stronger over time. Despite the caveats, the agreement was appreciated on a global level as a historic first step towards a decarbonised economy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has described the deal as the victory of “climate justice” and said there are no winners or losers in the outcome.
Key features in the final deal include:
The final draft includes a temperature limit of “well below 2C”, and says there should be “efforts” to limit it to 1.5C.
Remember, the earth has already warmed about 1°C since pre-industrial levels, due to the greenhouse gases.
The draft wording aims to peak global greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible” and to achieve “balance” between emissions and sinks in the second half of the century.
At present, global emissions aren’t expected to peak until 2030 or later, which would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to stay below 2°C. Though these goals are aspirational, without policies they’ll be very difficult to match.
The text provides essentially a two-stage process to increase ambition over time, acknowledging that the current provisions are not enough for 2°C temperature target.
In 2018, there will be a facilitative dialogue to take stock of the collective efforts of countries, where they will inform about the efforts of future commitments.
Countries which have submitted targets for 2025 are then urged to come back in 2020 with a new target, while those with 2030 targets are invited to “communicate or update” them.
The agreement places a legal obligation on developed countries to continue to provide climate finance to developing countries.
Wealthy countries have set a goal of providing more than $100 billion per year in public and private financing by 2020 for poorer countries.
The funds will help them invest in clean energy and cope with sea-level rise, droughts, floods, and other ravages of climate change.
Many poorer countries have asked for compensation from richer countries. The US had opposed this, and the deal “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation.” But it does set up committees to deal with displacement and other related issues.
The deal calls for a “transparency framework” that is “facilitative, non-intrusive, non-punitive manner, respectful of national sovereignty, and avoid placing undue burden on Parties.”
Many of the details have been moved out of the legally binding agreement and into the more flexible decisions.
This includes the provision that, prior to 2025, countries should agree a “new collective quantified goal” from the floor of $100bn per year, which is the current aspiration.
The agreement provides a big indirect push for the development of renewable energy sources, but few direct incentives.
Describing the agreement as “ambitious”, President Obama said: “Together, we’ve shown what’s possible when the world stands as one.”
“In short, this agreement will mean less of the carbon pollution that threatens our planet and more of the jobs and economic growth driven by low-carbon investments.”
The Paris deal is only a first step, but to stop global warming, every country needs to do much in the years ahead to move from fossil fuels (which currently provide 86 per cent of world’s energy) to cleaner energy, and stop deforestation. They’ll have to go far beyond what they’ve already promised.