COP21 goals: will Paris Climate Change talks succeed?

 

The 2015 Paris climate talks, also known as ‘COP21’, took place from 30 November to 11 December at the exhibition centre Paris-Le Bourget.[1] The acronym COP stands for ‘Conferences of the Parties’ and dates back to the 1992’s Rio de Janeiro Earth summit; during this summit the United Nations created a plan to fight against global warming: the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. From 1995 onward, the delegates of nearly every nation in the world have been meeting during these conventions under the name ‘COP’.[2] The one organized in Paris in 2015 was the 21st Conference of the Parties, therefore called COP21. During COP21 negotiators coming from 195 countries predetermined different goals to be met in order to slow climate change. The major aim of the conference was to build an international agreement, for both developed and developing countries, in order to keep the average global warming rise below 2°C , compared to pre-industrial levels. The other important aims were cutting the greenhouse gas emissions through Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and creating a mechanism to review the progresses and implement the contributions, helping developing nations through climate finance. This essay will study each of these goals, analysing whether they are likely to be met.

The main point of COP21 agenda was the creation of a universal agreement, possibly legally binding,[3] to tackle climate change, a human-induced phenomenon.[4] This was the first time both developed and developing countries took the lead to face this imminent problem; in fact, during the past conferences, rich countries had been bearing the weight of this situation and were considered responsible for combating it.[5] The goal of a universal agreement in 2015 also required other features to be met: being universal, it had to be applicable to all countries and it also had to be ambitious in order to reach its objectives; flexibility and balance were important to consider each country’s needs and possibilities; moreover, the project had to be sustainable and dynamic in order to review and strengthen each progress made.[6] At the end of the conference, a universal agreement was set up, but the latter is not legally binding as many countries would have liked,[7] therefore, it does not engage a ‘heavy international approval process.’[8] Nevertheless, this does not mean it is meaningless. As an illustration, many participants of COP21 said that they believe the accord is likely to succeed, as social pressure and international relations will push parties to stay faithful.[9] According to the press, the first purpose of the Paris talks has already been reached, in fact the compromise has been agreed by all countries and also welcomed by observers.[10]

To begin, the global compromise on climate change intends to cut and subsequently eliminate greenhouse gas emissions across the globe within the second half of the 21st century.[11] This goal has to be reached in a ‘fair and equitable way’[12] and has been set up to keep the average global warming rise below 2°C[13] – 2°C is the average temperature increase since the Industrial Revolution;[14] additionally, the deal wants to ‘pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.’[15] This threshold has been adopted because scientists believe that an average temperature above 2°C will lead to ‘the most dangerous impacts of climate change’;[16] in detail, it could provoke weather incidents, such as droughts, lethal heat waves, mass extinctions of flora and fauna, dangerous floods and rising seas that could submerge territories.[17] In order to achieve this goal the parties need to decrease their dependence on fossil fuels and to promote the usage of green energy. However, the 2°C limit is likely to be exceeded as the current average temperature rise has already hit 1°C and will grow further, reaching  2.7°C by the end of the century.[18] Additionally, staying within the 2°C cap would require a contraction of carbon-dioxide emissions before 2030 and a total ‘decarbonisation’ after 2050, a rate ‘far greater than the world has yet seen.’[19] Some researchers believe that the most ambitious goal of 1.5°C would be met only with zero net CO2 emissions between 2030 and 2050.[20] Media coverage across the world has demonstrated that the implementation of green energy to achieve a 1.5°C goal is unlikely to be accomplished;[21] in fact, this requires higher energy prices, more onshore wind farms, but also investment and research on new technologies that could extract CO2 from the air.[22] In this case, it has been argued that the population will never agree to vote for the shift to an expensive green energy and heavy policies.[23] By the same token, James Hansen, former NASA scientist, considered the Paris Climate Alliance a ‘fraud’, asserting that ‘It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned’, he continued saying that only if CO2 is taxed, emissions will drop[24]; as a matter of fact, the lack of carbon taxation will not push industrialists towards a voluntary cut of emissions. Another problem that makes the goal unattainable is that the agreement does not directly prevent the usage of coal, the biggest source of emissions and for this reason India and China will not stop building coal-fired power stations.[25] On the other hand, there are only a few people arguing that the 1.5°C target is not impossible to be reached; for instance, Greenpeace’s Kumi Naidoo maintained: ‘We have a 1.5-degree wall to climb, but the ladder isn’t tall enough.’[26]

Second, COP21 plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions through the parties’ submission of  Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.[27] As the prior experience of the Kyoto Protocol, in 1997, showed, states cannot be forced to cut emissions, therefore in the new agreement individual pledges have to be done on a voluntary basis.[28] For this reason, the submission of INDCs has been described as a ‘potluck dinner, where guests bring what they can.’[29] However, scientists across the world maintain that voluntary contributions will be insufficient to keep the average global warming under 2°C,[30] in fact the parties’ offers will limit the average global temperature to 2.7°C.[31] With this in mind, the talks will succeed only in the creation of a universal agreement, but not in reaching the 2°C target.[32]

Even though the commitments will not result in the accord being an immediate success, from the 2020 onward the parties will be encouraged to increase their efforts on a regular basis[33] and to establish a review mechanism, every five years, to assess the progress made during their path.[34] The general comments on this goal have been positive; for example John Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, maintains that the plan will reach its main purpose, zero net emissions within few decades, only if implemented through a long-term mitigation.[35]

Another important point on the Paris talks’ agenda was ‘climate finance’, or in other words the financial help developed countries should give to developing ones, so that they will be able to cope with climate change impact, the transition to low-carbon[36] and the costs of renewable energy.[37] This contribution has been planned as a measure to prevent developing countries from burning fossil fuels;[38] it consists in $100-billion a year by 2020 and the promise of future financial help.[39] On the one hand, developing countries such as India argue that the sum of money provided by richer parties will be insufficient after 2020.[40] This is the reason why they push for it to be implemented;[41] also scientists say that this amount is too little to switch to a clean energy system.[42] On the other hand, developed countries do not want to include a specific future pledge in the agreement.[43]

As shown above, the major aim of the Paris climate talks is the transition to a clean energy that could prevent the globe from suffering from the impact of climate change. Environmentalists and politicians celebrate the agreement as a ‘democratic triumph’, as it will drive the world towards a clean economy.[44] However, the only goal COP21 has so far accomplished is the creation of a global agreement. Even though the agreement has raised the population’s awareness on the climate matter, it will do little in practice;[45] as an illustration, it could be considered as ‘a common expression of good intentions’[46] and, in Nick Dearden’s words, being not legally binding, it will not ‘ensure a safe and livable climate for future generations.’[47] Nevertheless, personalities such as Obama and Xie Zhenhua have shown their positivity on the issue, arguing that even if the pact is not perfect, it is a first step to save the planet.[48] Never mind the positive and negative considerations that have been made, as John Kerry – U.S. Secretary of State – says, to see whether the Paris talks are likely to succeed we should look at history. Specifically, the goals of COP21 could be compared to the effort made in order to stop the spread of nuclear weapons: this was a difficult deal, nonetheless it finally succeeded.[49]

Mirianna la Grasta

 

[1] Glossaire International, http://www.glossaire-international.com/pages/tous-les-termes/cop21-ou-conference-de-paris.html, accessed on 20 December 2015.

[2] Glossaire International, http://www.glossaire-international.com/pages/tous-les-termes/conferences-of-the-parties-cop.html, accessed on 20 December 2015.

[3]Renato Venter, ‘The Conference of the Parties 21 (COP21)’, http://www.newsclip.co.za/Uploads/Files/COP_21_Analysis.pdf, accessed on 20 December 2015.

[4] COP21, ‘What is COP21’, http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/learn/what-is-cop21/, accessed on 20 December 2015.

[5] COP21, ‘What is COP21’.

[6] COP21, ‘COP21: The stakes’, http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/learn/what-is-cop21/cop21-the-stakes/, accessed on 20 December 2015.

 

[7] Renato Venter.

[8] Carole Mathieu, ‘Road to Paris: What Would Be a Successful Outcome for COP21?’, http://www.ifri.org/fr/publications/editoriaux/edito-energie/road-paris-what-would-be-successful-outcome-cop21, accessed on 21 December 2015.

[9] Renato Venter.

[10] The Economist, ‘The Paris agreement marks an unprecedented political recognition of the risks of climate change’, http://www.economist.com/news/international/21683990-paris-agreement-climate-change-talks, accessed on 22 December 2015.

[11] COP21, ‘COP21: The stakes’.

[12] The World Resources Institute, ‘3 Key Ingredients for the COP21 Paris Agreement’, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ben5czqyXto, accessed on 20 December 2015.

[13] Mirren Gidda, ‘COP21: How the Paris climate talks could succeed’, http://europe.newsweek.com/how-cop21-paris-climate-talks-could-succeed-395122?rm=eu, accessed on 22 December 2015.

 

 

[14] John D. SutterJoshua Berlinger and Ralph Ellis, ‘Obama: Climate agreement “best chance we have” to save the planet’, http://edition.cnn.com/2015/12/12/world/global-climate-change-conference-vote/, accessed on 21 December 2015.

[15] Daniel Boettcher, ‘COP21 climate change summit reaches deal in Paris’, http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-35084374, accessed on 20 December 2015.

[16] Emily Gosden, ‘UN climate change deal aims to limit global warming to 1.5°C’, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/energy/12047087/UN-climate-change-deal-to-limit-global-warming-to-1.5C-despite-warnings-people-will-never-vote-for-costly-policies.html, accessed on 21 December 2015.

[17] John D. SutterJoshua Berlinger and Ralph Ellis.

[18] Emily Gosden.

[19] The Economist.

[20] John D. SutterJoshua Berlinger and Ralph Ellis.

[21] Renato Venter.

[22] Emily Gosden.

[23] Emily Gosden.

[24] Oliver Milman, ‘James Hansen, father of climate change awareness, calls Paris talks “a fraud”’, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/12/james-hansen-climate-change-paris-talks-fraud, accessed on 22 December 2015.

[25] John Cassidy, ‘A Skeptical Note on the Paris Climate Deal’, http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/skeptical-note-paris-climate-deal, accessed on 22 December 2015.

 

[26] Oliver Milman.

[27] COP21, ‘What is COP21?’.

[28] Pilita Clark, ‘COP21 Paris climate talks: a beginner’s guide’, http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/cff1bae6-971e-11e5-95c7-d47aa298f769.html#axzz3w0up13Ag, accessed on 20 December 2015.

 

 

[29] John Cassidy.

[30] John Cassidy.

[31] Helen Briggs, ‘Global Climate Deal: In summary’, http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-35073297, accessed on 21 December 2015.

[32] Carole Mathieu.

[33] The World Resources Institute.

[34] COP21, ‘What is COP21?’.

[35] Helen Briggs.

[36] COP21, ‘COP21: The stakes’.

[37] Helen Briggs.

[38] Pilita Clark.

[39] Renato Venter.

[40] Pilita Clark.

[41] Pilita Clark.

[42] John Cassidy.

[43] Pilita Clark.

[44] John Cassidy.

[45] The Economist.

[46] John Cassidy.

[47] Daniel Boettcher.

[48] Daniel Boettcher.

[49] John Cassidy.

 

Bibliography

Video

The World Resources Institute, ‘3 Key Ingredients for the COP21 Paris Agreement’, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ben5czqyXto, accessed on 20 December 2015.

Websites

Carole Mathieu, ‘Road to Paris: What Would Be a Successful Outcome for COP21?’, http://www.ifri.org/fr/publications/editoriaux/edito-energie/road-paris-what-would-be-successful-outcome-cop21, accessed on 21 December 2015.

COP21, ‘COP21: The stakes’, http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/learn/what-is-cop21/cop21-the-stakes/, accessed on 20 December 2015.

COP21, ‘What is COP21’, http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/learn/what-is-cop21/, accessed on 20 December 2015.

Daniel Boettcher, ‘COP21 climate change summit reaches deal in Paris’, http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-35084374, accessed on 20 December 2015.

Emily Gosden, ‘UN climate change deal aims to limit global warming to 1.5°C’, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/energy/12047087/UN-climate-change-deal-to-limit-global-warming-to-1.5C-despite-warnings-people-will-never-vote-for-costly-policies.html, accessed on 21 December 2015.

Glossaire International, http://www.glossaire-international.com/pages/tous-les-termes/cop21-ou-conference-de-paris.html, accessed on 20 December 2015.

Glossaire International, http://www.glossaire-international.com/pages/tous-les-termes/conferences-of-the-parties-cop.html, accessed on 20 December 2015.

Helen Briggs, ‘Global Climate Deal: In summary’, http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-35073297, accessed on 21 December 2015.

John Cassidy, ‘A Skeptical Note on the Paris Climate Deal’, http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/skeptical-note-paris-climate-deal, accessed on 22 December 2015.

John D. SutterJoshua Berlinger and Ralph Ellis, ‘Obama: Climate agreement “best chance we have” to save the planet’, http://edition.cnn.com/2015/12/12/world/global-climate-change-conference-vote/, accessed on 21 December 2015.

Mirren Gidda, ‘COP21: How the Paris climate talks could succeed’, http://europe.newsweek.com/how-cop21-paris-climate-talks-could-succeed-395122?rm=eu, accessed on 22 December 2015.

Oliver Milman, ‘James Hansen, father of climate change awareness, calls Paris talks “a fraud”’, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/12/james-hansen-climate-change-paris-talks-fraud, accessed on 22 December 2015.

Pilita Clark, ‘COP21 Paris climate talks: a beginner’s guide’, http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/cff1bae6-971e-11e5-95c7-d47aa298f769.html#axzz3w0up13Ag, accessed on 20 December 2015.

Renato Venter, ‘The Conference of the Parties 21 (COP21)’, http://www.newsclip.co.za/Uploads/Files/COP_21_Analysis.pdf, accessed on 20 December 2015.

The Economist, ‘The Paris agreement marks an unprecedented political recognition of the risks of climate change’, http://www.economist.com/news/international/21683990-paris-agreement-climate-change-talks, accessed on 22 December 2015.

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