Towards Cop 21, Finalising a New, Binding Agreement on Climate

cop21-logoClimate change is currently one of the most relevant topics in the international political agenda. On December 2015, the Conference of Parties (COP) 21 will take place in Paris with the objective of achieving, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, a binding and universal agreement on climate that would enter into force as of 2020. Over 190 nations, the private sector, international organizations, NGOs and civil society will be represented.

In 2014, critical progress has been made in setting a new framework for the negotiations that will take place in 2015, which is set to be a pivotal year not only for the agreement that should be approved in Paris, but also for the adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals[1] (SDGs). The SDGs will play a critical role in the next 15 years in the so called “post 2015 development agenda”. Among the proposed 17 SDGs, the 13th goal clearly urges governments and all relevant stakeholders to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”. However, much depends on what the agreement set in Paris will look like for this goal to be really effective. Paris 2015 will be present a unique opportunity to ratify a binding agreement that limits drastically greenhouse gases’ emissions and stimulates the research for renewable resources and alternative lifestyles, after the disappointments of Kyoto and Copenhagen.

In the last few months, important steps have been taken, starting from the huge demonstration that took place in New York last 21 September. In that occasion, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators around the world took to the streets in a series of marches, asking political leaders to adopt drastic measures to tackle climate change, with the slogan “Now! Not tomorrow”[2]. People in over 160 countries participated in the events, which organizers were calling “the largest climate mobilization in history.” Looking forward to the signature of the new international agreement that will be adopted at the Paris climate conference in 2015, the demonstration had a clear objective: putting pressure on governments to finally come to terms for a binding treaty. The marches were leading up to the United Nations Climate Summit, where more than 120 world leaders convened to galvanize political will for the new global climate treaty.

The United Nations Climate Summit took place in New York, last 23 September. The Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon expressed serious concern on the issue of climate change and declared that “Climate change is not a far-off problem. It is happening now and is having very real consequences on people’s lives. Climate change is disrupting national economies, costing us dearly today and even more tomorrow[3]”.


Credit: Rosamund Pearce, Carbon Brief, based on EU data

The purpose of the 2014 Climate Summit was to raise political momentum for a meaningful universal climate agreement at COP 21, and to galvanize transformative action in all countries to reduce emissions and build resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change. Ban Ki-moon addressed the audience by recalling that “we must invest in climate resilient societies that protect all, especially the most vulnerable”. Moreover he asked all governments to “commit to a meaningful climate agreement in Paris in 2015[4]”. All the participants to the meeting shared this goal and promised a more efficacious policy and funds to tackle climate change. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of people were marching to ask for a comprehensive policy and for a strong intervention in order to reduce greenhouse gases’ emissions and to alleviate pressure on planet Earth. It was made clear that political will was needed to finally cut down emissions for good and to be carbon neutral by the end of the century. There was a common awareness on the gravity of the situation and all the leaders participating in the summit granted their support to the cause

In December 2014, at COP 20 in Lima, participants from over 190 states, stakeholders and civil society reaffirmed their will to reach an agreement in Paris. Lima meeting intended to make sure Paris isn’t a repeat of Copenhagen, where an agreement wasn’t reached, by doing a lot of the groundwork, in particular agreeing key parameters over the shape of a deal.

At first sight, the scenario described above may seem a turning point on the path to a real and decisive action against climate change. Unfortunately, history has taught us that grand statements and highly participated parades not always lead to practical results. Even if a deal in Paris is signed, there is wide scepticism that it will be drastic enough to keep the world to within 2°C warming. Accordingly, the issue of climate change has always been a much debated one and highly anticipated results have often been missed. The main problem of these international agreements has been the difficulty to reach a consensus between developed and developing countries. Accordingly, developing countries could not accept a restriction on their emissions, due to their conviction that climate change was caused mainly by the action of developed countries in the 20th Century. Furthermore, superpowers like the United States of America, especially under the presidency of George W Bush denied the necessity of a real change in their industrial policy.

However, things are changing and an historic treaty has been signed last November by USA and China[5], after months of negotiations. The treaty includes new targets for carbon emissions reductions by the United States and a first-ever commitment by China to stop its emissions from growing by 2030. At the same time, the European Union has launched its 20-20-20 programme, the EU-ETS and the promotion of renewables and is willing to become “highly energy-efficient, low carbon economy[6]”.

Accordingly, countries are expected to make individual pledges before COP 21, setting out what action they will take, so they can be improved upon and finalised in Paris. They are requested to specify their expected cuts to GHG emissions before 2030.Until now 10 countries (Switzerland, Norway, Mexico, the United States, China, Russian Federation, Gabon, Lichtenstein, Andorra and Canada) and the EU (with its 28 member states) have pledged[7] their expected cuts. Particularly, the US have pledged to reduce GHG emissions by 26-28% compared to 2005 levels by 2025, the EU and its member states have pledged to reduce emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2030, while China, as already mentioned, has agreed to stop its emissions from growing from 2030.

Based on these pledges made by China, the European Union and the United States – who together account for nearly half of global greenhouse gas emissions – COP21 will result in limiting annual pollution to 55-57 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030, according to study from analysts including Lord Nicholas Stern[8], chair of the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy and author of the Stern Review, published in 2006.

The projected total, Stern notes, is an improvement on the current trajectory of approximately 70GT but is still far higher than the 40-42GT level the world needs to reach by 2030 to have a 50 per cent to 75 per cent chance of limiting global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, according to UN estimates. Notwithstanding these predictions, during the recent G-7 meeting in Elmau (Germany), the participants re-stated their commitment to decarbonize the global economy in the course of this century and their will to limit global warming to a 2-degree Celsius rise in temperatures[9].

We shall not underestimate what has already been achieved, as these commitments are unprecedented and prove that climate change is now highly ranked in the international political discussion. At the same time, it is well known that international agreement are always the result of compromise and that, in order to reach consensus, countries tend to accept lower results. We can’t predict now what will be the result of Paris, but it is undeniable that expectations are set very high, and that, after years of talks and negotiations, time for drastic actions has finally come. A binding deal in Paris will surely help to raise even more momentum to this delicate issue; climate change is one of the main issues of the xxi century and we still have the opportunity to mark a difference for us and for future generations.












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