Moving on from the Paris Climate Summit

By Emma Thomson

On the 12th December 2015, an agreement emerging from the Paris COP21 Climate Summit was announced. The deal focused on keeping the global temperature rise below 2˚celsius, preferably limiting it to 1.5˚Cwith all 195 countries who attended the Conference of the Parties agreeing for the first time to cut their carbon emissions. The Paris Agreement will officially come into play in 2020.

This deal involves some key commitments from all parties: emissions of greenhouse gases are to be balanced between their sources and sinks between 2050 and 2100, progress in accordance with the agreement will be monitored every five years, and 100 billion dollars will be set aside every year for climate finance in developing countries by 2020.  These funds will be given throughout the agreement to developing countries in order to allow them to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and the review system aims to encourage all countries which are part of the deal to increase their ambition regarding the aims of the agreement.

Providing climate funding to developing countries is a fundamental component of the Paris Agreement

Previously, little money has been given to developing countries with the sole purpose of climate finance, which consequently did not assist the developing countries in adapting to climate change, or allow them to fund schemes that would reduce their carbon emissions in the future, for example through investment in green energy. The fact that providing climate funding to developing countries is a fundamental component of the Paris Agreement is hugely important to the success of the deal. The funding will hopefully increase the capacity of both developing and developed countries to invest in greener energy and technology, and thus successfully reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in a way which has never been possible before.

The goals of the agreement appear ideal: warming will be limited to 2˚C, the predicted tipping point beyond which any effects of climate change will be irreversible; and funding will be provided so all nations can share the burden. Unfortunately, the deal is not without faults. Recurring doubts surrounding discussions at the climate summit are: Is it enough? Will it be successful? Will all of the countries adhere to it? These are all reasonable questions, the answers to which will only realistically become apparent by 2100, when the targets of the Agreement close, but there are several important viewpoints which should be considered now.

Shortly after its formal announcement, Barack Obama stated that the Paris Agreement was the most likely way in which we, as a global population, can save the planet, but also noted that the deal was ambitious. This highlights one of the potential flaws of the agreement: is a deal enough to make politicians and policy-makers keep their word? The agreement is only legally binding on some levels, including the reviews of each country’s carbon emission reduction target. The nation’s targets were submitted prior to the conference in the form of INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions), which are not legally binding. Countries may follow their targets simply due to the international pressure that is now upon them as a result of the INDCs being announced prior to the summitbut unfortunately there is no legal requirement for them to do so.

Even in the unlikely case that all INDCs are met, it will be hard to keep global warming anywhere below 2.7˚C way above the hopeful 1.5˚C increase limit set out by the Agreement. This begs the question: will it be enough? The plans seem ambitious, but if by 2100 there has been a 2.7˚C warming of the planet, we will have surpassed the tipping point. Under this scenario, irreparable consequences will befall our planet; sea levels will rise due to the melting ice caps, there may be crop shortages as a result of droughts, and floods from rising temperatures, which will displace huge numbers of people. The Agreement may not be enough to curb global warming and climate change if the countries only agree to follow their INDCs. This makes it, not only potentially over ambitious, but also potentially unrealistic.

It is the best chance we have

The Paris Agreement is a historic milestone, but it is by no means perfect. Naturally it consists of promising and ambitious aims, which should reduce the rate of global warming by significantly cutting greenhouse gas emissions. But with such ambitious aims comes the potential for a fall. It may or may not prevent us from reaching the point of no return that would change our world forever—either way, it is the best chance we have.

Photograph: Presidencia de la República Mexicana via Wikimedia Commons


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