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The ground-breaking Paris Agreement leaves no room for delay in cutting emissions

By Steve Pye, on 15 December 2015

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The achievements of the Paris Agreement are significant. The contrast with the failure of Copenhagen in 2009 are captured in the following Guardian headlines: Low targets, goals dropped: Copenhagen ends in failure (19th December 2009) and Paris climate change agreement: the world’s greatest diplomatic success (14th December 2015).

The greatest achievement has been in getting all 195 countries committing to a strong level of ambition, to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C. This reflects strong recognition of the climate science in these negotiations.

Critically, for the first time, all countries have committed to emission reductions, and to 5 yearly cycle of revision based on a ‘global stocktake’ of progress to the long term goal. While such commitments fall short in aggregate, estimated at holding average temperatures to between 2.7 and 3.5 °C, they have allowed for participation of all and provide a basis for ratcheting up ambition in the future.

There seems to have been some critical factors at play in achieving this, beyond the skilful diplomacy and effective organisation of the French hosts. Firstly, the basis of the negotiations has been ‘bottom-up’, based on a ‘pledge what you can’ approach (under INDCs) as opposed to trying to enforce objective requirements. This has ensured full participation. Secondly, the science continues to be repeated and reinforced, including under the IPCC AR5 report, and is more widely accepted (or acknowledged) than 5 years ago. Thirdly, the means to deliver the goals of the agreement, while extremely challenging, are increasingly understood. This is reflected in growing investment in renewable energy technologies, and the new initiatives to provide additional funding to low carbon technologies – Mission Innovation, Breakthrough Energy Coalition, and the International Solar Energy Alliance.

Whilst welcoming the achievements, hard questions remain around delivering the necessary transition. When you think that since Copenhagen, some 15-20% of the remaining global carbon budget (for a more than likely probability of achieving a 2 °C limit) has been eroded, it highlights the need for strong action now. Developed countries need to take a lead, committing domestic policy towards the stated long term objectives. Rhetoric now needs to backed-up with concrete action. In the UK, this means not scrapping the CCS demonstration programme (critical for most 2 °C pathways), strongly favouring renewable generation, seriously addressing building energy efficiency, re-thinking support for gas etc.

It will be vital that the NDCs, as the basis for global action, are quickly revised to meet the necessary ambition. They need to be long term (2050 and beyond) and deliver deep decarbonisation; moderate ambition by 2030 is only likely to result in “dead-end gimmicks and facile solutions”.

The Paris Agreement certainly provides renewed impetus for global action; now it is up to Governments to set out their long term plans, to put in the necessary funding into clean energy technologies, and develop the policies, including carbon pricing, to incentivise the right choices.

 

Photo credit: Pixabay CC0 Public Domain: Quartzla

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