Climate Change: The COP21 Agreement

“Together we’ve shown what’s possible when the world stands as one”- President Obama

On Saturday, after months of build up and two weeks of intense negotiations, the 195 countries participating in COP21 reached an agreement. By many this agreement has been labelled as ‘historic’ and as a ‘turning point’ in the fight against climate change. But is this deal all that it’s cracked up to be?

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Well, firstly, the fact that 195 countries even managed to agree on something is pretty amazing, especially considering that until recently, some governments denied that climate change was happening. This represents the massive shift seen in global opinion on climate change in the last few years.

In the past climate conferences have been a battle between rich and poor, developing and developed nations, but this agreement marks a new-found understanding that climate change will impact everybody.

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Two polar bears discuss the outcome of the Conference in Paris. Photo: rferl.org

So, what was agreed?

  • To aim to limit climate change to below 2’C, the ideal being 1.5’C
  • For the greenhouse gases emitted by humans to be equal to that absorbed by the earth naturally (through trees, oceans, and soils), at some point between 2050 and 2100
  • Climate finance’, aims to raise US$100 billion yearly from richer nations to fund renewable energy projects in poorer, less developed nations.
  • Starting in 2023, nations to meet every 5 years to re-evaluate targets.

The agreement is set on a part voluntary and part legal basis. Each individual country sets its own targets on a voluntary basis, but they will have be transparent in publishing these plans as well as reports on the carbon-cutting actions they are taking. This is in the hope that global ‘peer-pressure’ will push nations to act as they will not want to be seen as failing to act.

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The Eiffel Tower lit up during COP21 Source: reuters

Criticism

Despite the overall positive outcome there are several issues with the agreement. One of which is the vagueness of it. There isn’t much in the way of set targets or specific goals to be met, nor are there any penalties if any country fails to act.

George Monibot from The Guardian pointed out that “While earlier drafts specified dates and percentages, the final text aims only to ‘reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible’. Which could mean anything and nothing.”

There’s also further criticism that the pace of the agreement is too slow. The plans and targets of each nation are being made for the next meeting in 2023, which basically means that countries won’t actually be required to adopt these plans until then. Even after that meeting they will only  meet every 5 years to discuss reducing targets. The pace at which climate change is progressing is faster than the rate at which governments and organisations are reacting.

Overall the Paris climate conferences have had a positive outcome for the whole world, but now it’s up to the individual countries to act on the agreements made.

“It sometimes seems that the countries of the UN can unite on nothing, but nearly 200 countries have come together and agreed a deal. Today, the human race has joined in a common cause. The Paris agreement is only one step on a long road and there are parts of it that frustrate, that disappoint me, but it is progress. The deal alone won’t dig us out of the hole that we’re in, but it makes the sides less steep.” – Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace


 

Sources; BBC news, The Guardian newspaper, and Science Alert.com


 

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