COP21 – a week in review II

15 December 2015

The historic UN Conference in Paris was the first time that all parties successfully agreed on measures to combat climate change. While not a panacea for climate change, it shows nations across the world are willing and able to lower emissions.

It’s also important because now businesses have some governance certainty of climate change legislation and commitments and it’s only a matter of time before we see the flow on effects into how businesses operate.

Here are our top five takeaways from the final agreement.

1)The deal is done

The first ever universal agreement intended to slow climate change is a 31 page document that was approved by 195 countries on Sunday (NZT). It states that the world should aim to limit total warming to less than 2C.

The deal adds structure and momentum to efforts that are currently underway around the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The deal includes transparency measures to verify that nations are reigning in emissions and requires that countries reconvene every five years. On top of this, wealthy countries have set a goal of donating US$100 billion per year by 2020 to poorer nations to assist in combatting and adapting to climate change.

French President François Hollande and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared the agreement a “major leap for mankind”.

Key points:

  • Overall temperature goal: Countries are aiming to keep warming below 2C and possibly as low as 1.5C.
  • Overall emissions goal: Countries agreed to peak emissions as soon as possible.
  • Pledges to be reviewed every five years: Starting in 2020, countries are encouraged to submit newer and stronger pledges for cutting emissions every five years.
  • Financing for poor countries: Developed nations have pledged to provide a collective total of US$100 billion per year to support low-lying countries that will face the worst effects of climate change.
  • Loss and damage: Committees have been set up to deal with displacement and other related issues caused by climate change.   
  • Transparency measures: The deal calls for reporting and monitoring measures to ensure countries are cutting emissions as much as promised.
  • Legal status: This ensures that the supporting structure around climate pledges is binding (including transparency measures and the promise to return every five years).


2) The Agreement ushers in the end of the fossil fuel era

To achieve net zero emissions as soon as possible there will need to be a massive uptake in renewable energy and the careful preservation of the world’s forests.

Greenpeace and declared the agreement the end of the fossil fuel era and said that it would put coal and oil companies on the wrong side of history.

 The text says it aims to “achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century”, which the New York Times reports as sending, “a clear message to the fossil-fuel industry that much of the world’s remaining reserves of coal, oil and gas must stay in the ground and cannot be burned”.

Source: Slate, NY Times

3) World Bank President calls the agreement a “game changer”

The deal, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim says, could redefine what economic development means for the future, by ensuring that the need to invest in a low-carbon future was included in plans for economic growth and lifting people out of poverty.

In The Guardian Jim Yong Kim said, “this is extraordinary, it’s a game changer. I could never have imagined that we would get there…It’s the first official link between climate change and poverty”.

The agreement gives a strong sense of direction regarding investment in a low-carbon economy and would create more jobs and economic growth across the world.

Source: The Guardian

4)  Indigenous people, children, women and developing nations given a voice  

The official agreement reads, “climate change is a common concern of humankind, Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations.”

Furthermore the agreement recognises the need to strengthen knowledge, technologies, practices and efforts of local communities and indigenous people within responding to climate change.

Parties signatory to the deal also acknowledge that adaption action should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach that takes into account vulnerable groups, people, ecosystems and should be guided by best available science.

Source: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

5) A ray of hope for agreement on carbon pricing

Multinational companies from BP to Unilever had hoped for a globally agreed way of pricing carbon emissions. While the agreement was blocked by big oil exporting countries such as Saudi Arabia and Bolivia there is potential to bridge this gap.

French President François Hollande said he’d seek to build a coalition of countries that wanted to pursue a CO2 emissions price. This comes off the back of China’s planned trading scheme to be launched in 2017 which could surpass even the current European Union’s Emissions Trading System.

In an interview with Reuters, Jeff Swartz, policy director at the International Emissions Trading Association, said, “I think we are going to see a multitude of approaches to CO2 pricing”.