The Paris Agreement
The 21st COP in late 2015 led to the Paris Agreement, a significant step in international climate change talks.
Some of the major contributions of the agreement was the validation of several concepts in climate change. Firstly, the agreement decided to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels which acknowledges the growing threat of climate change. Additionally, the convention encouraged REDD+ policies as a valid approach to climate protection policies. The agreement also acknowledged the the term “loss and damage” as a step for recognition of the rising sea levels facing many small island nations.
A major provision of the Paris Agreement is the use of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which are documents detailing the efforts planned by each nation in confronting climate change (See WRI’s article on INDCs).This differs from the previous Kyoto Protocol in that this is a more bottom-up approach with each country deciding for themselves how they want to face climate change.
The agreement legally binds nations to submit an NDC every five years and for the countries to follow the plan they submitted. Furthermore, each successive NDC is supposed to be “ratcheted” where each NDC is progressively ambitious than the previous.
These NDCs include a range of policies that combine mitigation and adaptation measures but a major characteristic is that these contributions are meant to be transparent.
The Paris Agreement was opened for signature on April 22 2016 (Earth Day) and as of August 2016, 180 countries have signed it (track how many countries have signed and ratified the agreement here.) 55 countries accounting for 55% of the global greenhouse gas emissions need to ratify the agreement for it to take effect.
Although, the Paris Agreement was heralded as a major step in global climate change negotiations, numerous criticisms emerged saying that the agreement does not go far enough in certain areas (See this article by The Guardian).
There has been much praise for the decision to aim the temperature increase to less than 1.5°C however, many critics have pointed out that there is a lacking plan on how to reach that goal.
Specifically, there is no mechanism to enforce that countries fulfill their NDCs. Various officials have approached a “name and shame” system of international peer pressure but that is far from a systemic mechanism.
Additionally, there is the continuing debate on who should bear the brunt of financing climate change projects with developing countries calling upon developed countries to name a specific number.
Despite these criticisms, many acknowledge that the Paris Agreement is a step in the right direction for governments around the world to continue developing policy to combat climate change.
The Paris Agreement is a new milestone in climate change talks and sets the dialogue for future measures. An understanding of this agreement is key to understanding future intergovernmental environmental discussions.
A major topic for journalists to focus on is the implementation of the NDCs. Because there is no enforcing mechanism to ensure that countries pursue their detailed plans, it is up to the media to help hold governments accountable to the NDCs they submitted (See WRI’s INDC Dashboard). The World Resources Institute is an excellent resource in tracking the countries that have submitted NDCs and what these NDCs entail. Having a good grasp of climate finance is important in following the policies listed out by the NDCs.
The Paris Agreement also acknowledges several debates such as “loss and damage” (see Joydeep Gupta’s article on it), adaptation and mitigation and the roles of developing and developed countries in confronting climate change. These debates continue to be issues in the current dialogue and it is important to have an understanding of them.
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