Responses to the Paris Agreement

A bit of what I have seen online so far:

My quick take: there is lots to be disappointed about in this agreement. Targets aren’t legally binding. Indeed, the agreement text seems far too aspirational in many places. I can’t help but feel that an international agreement on trade or defence would include more concrete measures for effective implementation. It’s also objectionable that the agreement seeks to prohibit people harmed by climate change from suing those who are causing it for damages.

Even if fully implemented, this text doesn’t do nearly enough to prevent catastrophic climate change. That being said, having an agreement endorsed by so many parties — and which does include mechanisms for increasing ambition over time — makes me a bit more hopeful that this problem can ultimately be resolved.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

15 thoughts on “Responses to the Paris Agreement”

  1. Here’s a rough (unofficial) overview of some different parts of the agreement:

    Temperature Goal: One of the biggest battles at COP21 has been the goal of how much we let our planet heat up. Vulnerable countries fought hard for the goal of 1.5°C — one that’s more in line with justice and science. This wasn’t even on the table to begin with. It’s now in the agreement (well sort of), and even a recognition of it is great. Much is owed to island nations and climate justice groups

    Here’s what the text does say:

    “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

    2°C will be the binding part though, so getting countries to really aim for 1.5°C will require a lot of pressure in the years to come. If we aim for 1.5°C it means nations get to stay above water. It means more communities are protected. It means more people get to survive. Read more about 1.5°C and what that means here.

    Whether it’s 2 or 1.5C – what’s clear is we have to move to get off of fossil fuels fast.
    Indigenous Rights, human rights, women’s rights: Have been moved to sections of the text where they aren’t legally protected or operationalized. Read a joint response from indigenous groups about the talks.
    Pledges to Cut Emissions: This is stuff we already knew coming into the talks. Countries submitted before-hand their plans to curb or cut emissions, and it will only limit temperature increase by (around) 2.7 – 3.7°C. That’s down from the 5°C or so represented from business as usual. Progress, but not nearly enough to result in a livable climate. There’s a huge amount of work to be done.
    Setting the long term goal to get off fossil fuels: What we wanted was a clear timeline for when we transition off of fossil fuels. We and others pushed hard to make 2050 the goal for when the world would be 100% off of fossil fuels.

    The final text created something that at first glance inserted some weird things:

    “Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.”

    People are still figuring out what “a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases” actually means. But the quick take is it’s actually pretty good. Experts are saying it means getting to “net zero emissions” between 2050 and 2100 – which is a good goal to reach for. If we reduce CO2 emissions to net zero between 2055-2070, and all GHGs by 2080-2100, then supposedly we have a chance of keeping global warming below 2°C (staying below 1.5°C or getting back there quickly would require bolder action). Either way, the message should be clear: time to throw the fossil fuel industry’s business plan out the window.
    5 year review mechanism: We won’t always have Paris. One of the good things about this agreement is the 5 year review mechanism. Right now the contributions from each country will not bring us a safe world, not even close. But now this agreement would “force countries to come back to the table every five years to review their emissions reduction targets and make new, more ambitious cuts.”

    This is often known as the ‘ratchet mechanism’ and could push countries to keep on stepping up. It’s one thing that could help cut the gap between policy and science. Countries have been asked to start reviewing their pledges in 2018 so that new commitments could be ready to go by 2020.
    Supporting most vulnerable: Will the nations most impacted by climate change get the support they need? Not nearly enough.

    “Ethiopian activist Azeb Girmai, speaking for LDC Watch, which keeps an eye on the least developed countries in Africa and elsewhere, described it as “the saddest day for all the poor people in the world facing loss and damage day-in and day-out” while their representatives in Paris were “bullied” by rich countries.” read more

    Also good to follow @AsianPeoplesMvt on Twitter for some good response.
    Holding countries accountable: What will happen if countries don’t fulfill their promises and pledges? Well nothing really. There are no review mechanisms if countries do not comply.

  2. I can’t help but feel that attitudes have shifted and the conference in Paris will be the signal for more action.

  3. Bill McKibben is right. It’s not enough for governments to do more. They need to do much more, and much more quickly.

    The Paris Agreement may contribute usefully to that process, or it could end up being yet another insufficiently ambitious multilateral agreement that leaves us on the road to catastrophe. Since the national emission reductions countries have committed to add up to a devastating 3.5 ˚C of warming, the only way to really be optimistic about this pact is to see it as a step toward much more aggressive action.

    In particular, we need to stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure globally. That means both production facilities for coal, oil, and gas and facilities and equipment that use them. At the same time all states, and especially rich states with high emissions, need to immediately start shutting down the fossil fuel infrastructure they already have. That’s going to be a big fight in Canada and a lot of other places.

  4. Success of the Paris Agreement will be measured by policy progress here at home

    For the first time, all signatory nations have committed to a legally-binding agreement that recognizes the urgent threat of climate change. The agreement aims to limit global temperature increase to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels” and encourages all countries to “pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius”.

    These temperature goals demonstrate a near-global consensus on the urgent need to transition to a low-carbon economy.

    Importantly, the Paris Agreement also makes reference to mid-century emissions reductions goals. The text states that in order to achieve the temperature goals, the world must see a “peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible” and that all countries must undertake “rapid reductions […] so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gas emissions in the second half of the century”.

    In less convoluted terms, this agreement calls for near total cuts to carbon pollution in the next 35 years. For Canada, this means transitioning away from polluting sources of energy like oil, coal and gas, and towards low-carbon solutions for electricity, transportation, buildings and other important sectors of the economy. There are still many details to be worked out, but one thing’s for sure: the world just confirmed that polluting fossil fuels have overstayed their welcome and are being shown the door. The conversation is not if the world transitions away from fossil fuels – but rather how, and how quickly.

    If Canada is going to contribute its fair share of emissions reductions towards the 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2 degrees Celsius limit, it will need to decarbonize its economy by mid-century. This will mean reducing emissions by at least 80 per cent relative to Canada’s current levels in the next 35 years. To make this happen, we need to start bending Canada’s emissions curve immediately. Securing these carbon reductions will require a sea-change of new policies to send appropriate price signals to businesses and consumers alike.

  5. The United Nations climate talks, and the legally binding global agreement that emerged, is a pivotal event in the history of climate activism, but it is important to remember that such action didn’t start — and won’t end — in Paris.

    It’s also important to see that the deal itself — a “powerful, yet delicate” document, in the words of summit chair Laurent Fabius — doesn’t mean much if looked at in isolation, outside of the context of what has happened worldwide over the past few years.

    Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate bureaucrat, spoke on the evening of the agreement’s approval about the tireless work that had led up to the moment. After the dismal failure of the Copenhagen summit in 2009 left all involved broken and defeated, a rebuilding effort began in 2010 in Cancun where national delegates and “non-state actors” agreed on the importance of limiting global warming to 2 C. They also raised the ambition of a 1.5 C target.

    The Cancun meeting, Figueres said, “established the direction of travel.”

    A year later, at the Durban conference, countries laid out a timetable to reach a universal climate accord by 2015, ideally an all-inclusive, binding deal with the United States, China and India on board. Three years of diplomatic efforts saw the tides begin to the shift.

    But politicians and bureaucrats weren’t the only ones on the job. Emma Ruby-Sachs, acting executive director of social activism network Avaaz, said civil society was orchestrating its own movement with growing assistance from businesses and cities. “By marching in the streets, calling leaders and signing petitions, people everywhere created this moment,” she said.

    Pipeline and coal projects were persistently protested and groups such as organized more frequent public demonstrations, sometimes simultaneously in cities around the world.

    In September 2014, at a UN summit on climate change in New York City, hundreds of thousands of citizens from all walks of life took to the streets as part of the People’s Climate March in united protest against lack of government action. This was followed two months later by a surprise U.S.-China climate deal, bringing the planet’s two largest emitters of GHGs to the table for the first time.

    “It was then,” Figueres said, “that we knew we had the power of the people on our side.” By the Lima climate conference in December 2014 “the tsunami of action had become irreversible,” she added.

    At the same time, renewable energy technologies had become more efficient and dramatically less costly, and small and big investors alike were for the first time asking serious questions about “climate risks” — how both climate change and responses to it might hurt their investments over the coming years.

    Cities, provinces and states also took the lead where national governments lagged, and for the general public, extreme weather events — from California droughts to B.C. wildfires to Calgary floods — created an escalating sense of urgency for action.

    All stars aligned when most of the world’s government leaders arrived on Nov. 30, the first day of the Paris summit, in a show of unprecedented support. Also unprecedented was that more than 185 countries had already made official pledges to reduce GHG emissions. Figueres knew, at that precise moment, that the political will to secure a global deal had been all but locked down.

  6. Renewables poised to surge after Paris Agreement

    This shift will take place no matter how well or poorly the deal just achieved at the U.N. climate summit in Paris is carried out. Although a robust commitment by participating nations to curb future carbon emissions will certainly help speed the transition, the necessary preconditions — political will, investment capital, and technological momentum — are already in place to drive the renewable revolution forward. Lending a hand to this transformation will be a sharp and continuing reduction in the cost of renewable energy, making it increasingly competitive with fossil fuels. According to the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), between now and 2040 global investments in renewable power capacity will total $7 trillion, accounting for 60 percent of all power plant investment.

    Fossil fuels will not, of course, disappear during this period. Too much existing infrastructure — refineries, distribution networks, transportation systems, power plants, and the like — are dependent on oil, coal, and natural gas, which means, unfortunately, that these fuels will continue to play a prominent role for decades. But the primary thrust of new policies, new investment, and new technology will be in the advancement of renewables.

  7. I sense climate change awareness and concerns are now so mainstream that governments must and will act and corporations must be attentive. An area that is less certain will be agriculture and individuals.

  8. Global temperatures could exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above their preindustrial levels within the next 15 years, according to a new scientific study, crossing the first threshold under the Paris climate agreement and placing the world at a potentially dangerous level of climate change.

    The report comes as climate agreement participants are watching the United States — where the Trump administration is debating whether to withdraw from the Paris accord — and as scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are working on a special report about the 1.5-degree goal (equivalent to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) and the consequences of overshooting it.

  9. Bridges creak and potholed roads challenge even the best-engineered suspensions. Not that Germany’s automotive excellence is what it once was: the image of the economically crucial car industry has been tainted, as has the country’s air, by emissions from the diesel engines it favours—a scandal it tried to cover up. Dirty coal is filling some of the gap left by the closure of the country’s nuclear plants as part of an “energy transformation”; the country’s carbon-dioxide emissions are up.

    Mrs Merkel bears a good bit of the blame for all this. Closing the nuclear plants was her idea. The car industry has had an over-cosy relationship with the parties of her “grand coalition”.

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