From 30 November to 11 December 2015, the governments of more than 190 nations gathered in Paris, France, to discuss a possible new global agreement on climate change, aimed at reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and thus reduce the threat of dangerous climate change. This was the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) and the eleventh session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP).
This global agreement is really important and necessary. Scientists have warned that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, we will pass the threshold beyond which global warming becomes catastrophic and irreversible. That threshold is estimated to be a temperature rise of 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and with our current emission trajectories we are heading towards a rise of about 5°C. That may not sound like much, but the difference between today’s temperature and the last ice age is about 5°C. It maybe seems a small change in temperature but this can mean a big difference for the Earth. Current commitments on greenhouse gas emissions will expire in 2020. At the Paris conference, governments are expected to produce a global agreement on what should be done in the decade after 2020 and beyond this timeframe.
From Rio de Janeiro to Paris
Global negotiations on climate change have taken place been carrying on for more than 20 years. In 1992, governments met in Rio de Janeiro and institutionalized the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This agreement which is still in force, obliged governments to take action to avoid further dangerous climate change. Unfortunately the agreement did not specify concrete actions. UN negotiations have so far resulted in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, the 2010 Cancún Agreements, the 2011 Durban outcomes, the 2012 Doha Climate Gateway, and a set of decisions were reached at the 2013 conference in Warsaw.
All those years of negotiations resulted, in 1997, in the draft of the Kyoto Protocol. That pact required a worldwide cut in emissions of about 5%, compared with 1990 levels, by 2012, and each developed country was allotted a target regarding emission reductions. But developing countries, including China, South Korea, Mexico and other rapidly growing economies, were given no targets and allowed to increase their emissions freely at will. Additionally the Kyoto Protocol was not a global agreement. The USA remained firmly outside Kyoto. It was clear a new approach was needed that would include the USA and encourage the major developing economies – especially China, now the world’s biggest emitter – to take on obligations regarding their emissions. In late 2004, Russia decided to sign the treaty, perhaps as part of a move to have its application for World Trade Organization membership accepted by the European Union. The protocol finally came into force on 16 February 2005.
At the Copenhagen conference of 2009, both the world’s developed countries and the biggest developing countries agreed – for the first time – to put limits on their greenhouse gas emissions. This was a landmark agreement, as it meant the world’s biggest emitters were united to a single goal. The emission reductions that were agreed upon were still not enough to meet the targets set by science. Although they constituted a major step forward compared with the old policy of “business as usual”. The Kyoto Protocol unfortunately never met its objectives. At First because it wasn’t ratified by the USA and by Russia until it was too late. Furthermore none of the countries that failed to meet their obligations under the Kyoto Protocol have been sanctioned.
Paris Climate Agreement
The heads of state of more than 190 countries attended in Paris. These included President Barack Obama of the USA, President Xi Jinping of China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister David Cameron of the UK.
The biggest emitters were very committed. The European Union has stated to cut its emissions by 40%, compared with 1990 levels, by 2030. The USA also stated to cut its emission levels from 26% to 28% by 2025. China agreed that its emissions will peak by 2030. Nations responsible for more than 90% of global emissions had to come up with individual targets, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCS). These included all of the major developed and developing countries, though their individual contributions vary. Analysis of the INDCS, supported by the UN, has suggested that these pledges are enough to hold the world to about 2.7°C or 3°C of warming. That is not quite enough to meet the targets set by science. However, that is not the end of the story. One of the key components of the Paris agreement was the creation of a system to review the emission targets every five years. A complementary approach is to make more effort to bring down emissions outside the UN framework, for instance by motivating “non-state actors” such as cities, local governments and businesses to do more. Another key question of the Paris conference, apart from emissions reductions, was climate finance. Poorer countries want the first world to provide them with financial assistance that will enable them to invest in clean technology to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, and to adapt their infrastructure to the likely damage caused by climate change. This was a hugely contentious issue. An agreement on climate finance was one of the main obstacles to the Paris deal.
After two weeks of talks, an historic agreement has been established. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “We have entered a new era of global cooperation on one of the most complex issues ever to confront humanity. For the first time, every country in the world has pledged to curb emissions, strengthen resilience and join in common cause to take common climate action. This is a resounding success for multilateralism.”
In order to enter into force, the Paris Agreement had to be ratified by at least 55 Parties to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) accounting for 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions. On September 21, 2016, on the sidelines of the 71st UN General Assembly, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon invited the Parties to a special event in New York in order to fast-track the ratification of the Agreement. Up to now, 31 countries deposited their instruments of ratification crossing the first threshold of 55 Parties. The second threshold of 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions required for this entry into force was crossed on October 5, 2016, with the deposit at the United Nations of the instruments of ratification by the European Union, which counts as 1 party, along with seven of its member states namely Hungary, France, Slovakia, Austria, Malta, Portugal and Germany in addition to Nepal. Thirty days later, on November 2016, the Paris Agreement came into force on the eve of the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) to the UNFCCC. The 22nd Session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22) is being held in Marrakech, from November 7 to 18, 2016. This international climate conference will focus on action items in order to achieve the priorities of the Paris Agreement, especially related to adaptation, transparency, technology transfer, mitigation, capacity building and loss and damages.
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