Nations of the World Reach Climate Change Agreement in Paris

On the final day of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris, the countries of the world reached an agreement to combat climate change and make investment towards a low carbon future.

According to a Dec. 12 statement from the UNFCCC, the Paris agreement for the first time brings all 195 nations into a common cause based on their historic, current and future responsibilities.

The universal agreement’s primary goal is to keep a global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability to deal with the effects of climate change.  

Countries have agreed to peak their emissions as soon as possible and continue to submit intended nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that detail their future objectives to address climate change.

The agreement builds on the climate action plans already submitted by 188 countries. The text of the agreement reiterates an invitation to all parties that have not yet done so to communicate to the secretariat their NDCs towards achieving the objective of the convention as soon as possible and well in advance of the next COP in November 2016.

In addition, the agreement includes a cautionary note that the estimated aggregate greenhouse gas emission levels in 2025 and 2030 resulting from the current NDCs do not fall within least-cost 2 degrees Celsius scenarios but rather lead to a projected level of 55 gigatonnes in 2030. It also notes that much greater emissions reduction efforts will be required than those associated with the NDCs in order to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by reducing emissions to 40 gigatonnes or to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by reducing to a level to be identified in an upcoming special report.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release the special report in 2018.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michale Brune in a Dec. 12 statement called the agreement “a turning point for humanity.”

He said: “For the first time in history, the global community agreed to action that sets the foundation to help prevent the worst consequences of the climate crisis while embracing the opportunity to exponentially grow our clean energy economy. Paris marks the beginning and not the end of the work that must be done. In a dramatic step forward, countries have agreed to pursue efforts to limit warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, and are now compelled to develop increasingly ambitious plans to stay within that boundary. Additionally, we now have strong transparency and accountability mechanisms, as well as robust climate financing for developing countries, that builds undeniable momentum towards a just society that is powered by clean energy.”

Following the adoption of the agreement by the Conference of the Parties, the agreement will be delivered to the UN in New York and be opened for signature in April 2016. The agreement will enter into force after 55 countries that account for at least 55 percent of global emissions have submitted their instruments of ratification.

“The Paris Agreement allows each delegation and group of countries to go back home with their heads held high,” Laurent Fabius, president of the COP21 and French Foreign Minister, said in a statement. “Our collective effort is worth more than the sum of our individual effort. Our responsibility to history is immense.”

The UNFCCC said that the Paris agreement covers the following areas:

  • Mitigation – reducing emissions fast enough to achieve the temperature goal
  • A transparency system and global stock-take – accounting for climate action
  • Adaptation – strengthening ability of countries to deal with climate impacts
  • Loss and damage – strengthening ability to recover from climate impacts
  • Support – including finance, for nations to build clean, resilient futures

The agreement also includes a compliance mechanism that will be overseen by a committee of experts that operates in a non-punitive way.

Parties have agreed to submit updated climate plans every five years, and continue to engage in a process on mitigation opportunities. In addition, they will work to define a road map on increasing climate finance to $100 billion by 2020.

Lead image credit: UNFCCC

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