COP21 The Agreement

14 December 2015

After a 24 hour extension of negotiations, the Climate Change conference was brought to its feet in a standing ovation to welcome the news that the 195 countries represented had unanimously accepted the terms of the agreement they had been working on for the last two weeks.

The agreement accepted recognises 'that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet and thus requires the widest possible cooperation by all countries, and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, with a view to accelerating the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions.'

 The agreement commits all nations to deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions so as to limit temperature rise to 'well below 2°C' by the end of the century.  For the first time the Conference has produced an agreement that sets an ambition to limit any global temperature rise to 1.5°C in recognition that any higher rise will threaten the existence of the Small Island Nations and of coastal communities.  In their concluding comments, the representatives of the Island and Least Developed Nations said that for the first time they felt that their needs and concerns were being acknowledged to be as important as those of the largest developed nations.  They felt, they said, equal partners in the global response to the threat of climate change.

It was recognised that the current plans of the countries represented were inadequate to meet the declared aim of limiting rise to well below 2°C.  Countries are now encouraged to reassess the plans they have submitted to the Conference to ensure deeper cuts in emissions. These plans will be reassessed at the nest COP in Morocco.  Specific reference is made to renewable energy, particularly with respect to addressing the growing energy needs of developing countries.  This is to encourage the developing economies to miss out on the fossil phase of development and move straight to renewable generation.  The agreement encourages developed economies to assist the technology transfer of renewable generation systems.  While falling short of specifically calling on developed economies to switch to renewable energy, there is an expectancy that they will deploy renewable energy generation at home as well as in developing countries.  The reference is specifically to renewable rather than 'clean' or 'low carbon' energy, so it doesn't include 'clean' coal or nuclear.

The agreement isn't just about reduction of emissions and targets, it also makes clear reference to the rights and needs of all peoples.  It recognises that climate change is an issue of  justice.  It calls on all Parties, when considering climate policy and action to 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 and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.'  The rights and needs of indigenous communities are to be respected and local knowledge respected.  This therefore encourages  cooperative partnerships when developing mitigation and adaptation programmes, rather than remote planning by governments and private interests that ignore potentially affected communities.  It acknowledges that climate change will cause the temporary or permanent displacement of peoples and that the legitimate rights of these people must be respected and protected under international law.

There is recognition of the concept of 'Mother Earth' and of  'Climate Justice' in recognising the need to protect biodiversity and to protect carbon sinks and reservoirs of green house gases – a reference to the methane deposits in the tundra permafrost and Arctic ice.  The ambition of the Agreement is to bring global emissions in line with the global capacity of natural ecosystems to absorb carbon, hence to need to conserve and enhance the natural carbon sinks.

Tackling climate change isn't just a concern for governments and their advisers at international conferences.  The Agreement in Paris was made possible in part because of the huge input from civil society by way of demonstrations, lobbying and the many campaigns calling for an effective agreement.  This was acknowledged by Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary to the UN Climate Conference, who, in her closing comments, acknowledged that the sheer presence of people on the streets demonstrating was a powerful reminder that the people of the world were demanding positive action.  The agreement acknowledges the importance of education, training, public awareness, public participation, public access to information and cooperation at all levels on the matters relating to climate change.  It calls for cooperation at all levels from local communities to research institutions to all levels of government and to international bodies.  The response to the threat that climate change represents to all people and to future generations must come from us all and in all aspects of our lives, and not be imposed from above. 

We should see the Paris Agreement as our agreement designed to stop our shared home descending into further violence and chaos.  It will need our constant vigilance to keep it on track.  Regular five year reviews are built into the monitoring process and we need to ensure that the targets set will bring us within a 1.5C temperature rise, as determined by science and not opinion.  We need to keep pressurising our reluctant government to take the action we demand to ensure that our country fulfils its obligations within this agreement. The Conference demands that there is a transparent and accurate accounting process for monitoring emissions.  That monitoring will apply to countries like the UK that still want to maintain a fossil and nuclear energy mix rather than move to a fully renewable energy supply. We know that the fossil fuel interests won't take the emasculation of their business required by this agreement willingly.  We must be aware of their efforts to dilute and delay the action needed and be ready to counter it.  The agreement has merit and is to be welcomed but it remains a work in progress.  Without sustained effort to build on this agreement and to improve the proposals of national governments, we will still face the nightmare of relentless climate change.  Celebrate we can now, but with full recognition that the work to enable a safe and sustainable future goes on.

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