Last weekend ministers and representatives from nearly 200 countries came to what has been hailed as an historic agreement to tackle climate change and deliver a net zero carbon emission this century. The agreement which was approved by all 195 countries targets to keep temperature rises “well below 2C” and to strive towards 1.5C for the first time. It also promises to deliver on a scientific target that is being widely interpreted as requiring net zero emissions this century. The agreement also promises $100 billion a year of support finance from 2020, introduces new mechanisms for climate adaption, and includes support for carbon markets.
When asked about the climate agreement British Prime Minister David Cameron said “the whole world has signed to play its part in halting climate change. In striking this deal, the nations of the world have shown what unity, ambition and perseverance can do. Britain is already leading the way in work to cut emissions and help less developed countries cut theirs – and this global deal now means that the whole world has signed to play its part in halting climate change. It’s a moment to remember and a huge step forward in helping to secure the future of our planet.”
EU Climate Action and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete said the deal represented a “major win for Europe because it had achieved its key objectives on ensuring countries submit five yearly reviews of their national targets alongside a long-term goal.
“But more importantly, it is a major win for the global community. Now, what has been promised must be delivered. Europe will continue to lead the global low-carbon transition we have agreed.”
Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever, said the deal provides “an unequivocal signal to the business and financial communities, one that will drive real change in the real economy. This agreement establishes a clear path to decarbonize the global economy within the lifetimes of many people alive today, reaping the benefits of accelerated infrastructure investment, cleaner air, greater security and a growing low carbon global economy,”
Phillipe Joubert of the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change agreed with Mr. Polman and said the deal marked an historic milestone. “Business leaders and investors now have a clear direction of travel, a global framework to speed up and scale up of their solutions,” he said. “The Paris agreement will accelerate the shift to a new sustainable, equitable and decarbonised world. We thank everyone who’s contributed to this historic achievement, including visionary leaders from business and governments.”
Green investment groups were also very positive regarding the agreement. “Institutional investors called on Governments before and during COP21 to provide an unequivocal signal sufficient to accelerate the low-carbon transition,” said Stephanie Pfeifer, CEO of the IIGCC. “By setting a long term goal for net zero emissions in the second half of this century, and by putting in place a five year review cycle sufficient to require ever more ambitious domestic action to deliver an irreversible downward trend in emissions, this agreement provides an unequivocal signal for investors to help escalate the development of low carbon infrastructure and energy systems across the globe.”
Dirk Forrister of the IETA emissions trading body also welcomed an agreement that promises to support the development of international and national carbon markets. “We congratulate governments on a historic agreement, grounded in a new spirit of cooperation,” he said. “With the endorsement of more than 190 governments and a strong foundation for markets going forward, businesses can begin planning for a vibrant new future.”
Speaking at a session that followed the approval of the agreement US Secretary of State John Kerry said the Paris deal would send a message to the global marketplace and help unleash the power of business innovation in order to tackle climate change.
“We are sending literally a critical message to the global marketplace,” he said. “It won’t be governments that actually make the difference. It will be the genius of the American spirit, it will be business unleashed.”
CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn said the Paris deal heralds an exciting opportunity for business. “We now have a climate deal agreed by the world’s leaders that puts us on a sustainable low-carbon path and which can provide the framework for business to invest with confidence,” she said. “It will now be for governments to show how they plan to turn global ambition into national reality. Businesses will want to see domestic policies that demonstrate commitment to this goal and none more so than in the UK.”
However despite the positive mood the agreement is not perfect and has left some wondering if it will make a difference akin to that being spoken about. The cap on emissions is not rigid enough which is likely to lead to increases in temperature of 2.7 – 3C higher than pre-industrial levels and therefore breaching the 2C safety level and potentially leading to more damaging floods and droughts often at catastrophic levels.
Poorer countries are worried that the amount of financial support will not be enough to protect them and provide aid should such catastrophes occur. Also not all of the agreement is legally binding, so future governments of the signatory countries could yet renege on their commitments.
However Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, remained positive “It sometimes seems that the countries of the UN can unite on nothing, but nearly 200 countries have come together and agreed a deal. Today, the human race has joined in a common cause. The Paris agreement is only one step on a long road and there are parts of it that frustrate, that disappoint me, but it is progress. The deal alone won’t dig us out of the hole that we’re in, but it makes the sides less steep.”
Previous attempts at climate agreement, despite being initially positive, have ended in failure with the largest polluters refusing to either take part or come to an agreement. Therefore the Paris agreement can at least be seen as a step forward but it will not be without difficulty.
For example the EU has admitted it has not yet looked into the policies needed in order to make the agreement work and will ask a UN climate science panel for advice involving “negative emissions” technology.
Negative emissions usually means the mass development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies which bury CO2 in underground fissures. These would be linked to power plants which use ‘carbon neutral’ bioenergy that removes carbon from the air as it grows. The theory is that more carbon would be saved than re-released into the atmosphere, so creating net zero emissions.
However the method is not without its critics including Kevin Anderson, the deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change branding negative emissions “highly speculative” stating “in the absence of negative emissions, staying below the 2C commitment demands levels of reductions in emissions far beyond anything discussed during the Paris negotiations.”
It would be churlish to disregard this climate agreement despite the obstacles. For the first time all countries have agreed to a deal which will see them bring down carbon emissions with the aim of stopping the global temperature increase.
Whether the agreement will both hold and work only time will tell however we choose to remain optimistic that events in Paris last weekend was a major stride in the right direction leading to all countries working together to reduce their carbon emissions, halt the global temperature increases and ultimately end the threat of environmental catastrophe.