Paris Climate Change Conference 2015 article banner image

The 12 December 2015 marked the end of two weeks of negotiations in Paris over the future actions to reduce climate change and its effect. The fact that all 195 nations reached agreement is to be applauded, although the agreement itself has been widely criticised as being weak and a far cry from the solid commitment required to make any real change.

It was hoped that the agreement would be a legally binding commitment by the participating nations to reduce emissions to a level that would limit global warming to 2°C, or preferably 1.5°C, above pre-industrial levels. However, under the agreement reached, there is no obligation to keep global warming at this level, just a requirement that countries endeavour to do so. Further, while 187 of the participating nations have submitted voluntary emission reduction target pledges, called Intended National Determined Contributions, if met, these intended emission reduction targets will only reduce warming to between 2.7°C and 3.7°C above pre-industrial – falling short of both the 2°C level which it has been agreed threatens life on earth, and the “well below” 2°C level which the agreement purportedly aims for.

Equally disappointing was the lack of express deadline in the agreement. In order to keep below 1.5°C, or have a chance at keeping below 2°C, the rate of global warming must peak and begin to decline before 2020: the sooner emissions peak, the less the emissions will have to be reduced by. The Paris agreement however, simply asks that countries attempt to reach peak “as soon as possible”, with no attempt at defining when this might be.

Despite these failings, there are a few positives that can be taken from Paris.

1.    Fossil fuels should be phased out

It is a shameful fact that Britain is the only G7 country to be actively expanding fossil fuel subsidies – and more embarassing still that this is being done at the cost of renewable energy subsidies. Unsurprisingly, the Paris agreement fell a long way short of banning fossil fuel subsidies. However, on the surface of it, the message from Paris was clear: in the long-term, fossil fuels, and subsidising fossil fuels even more so, are simply not the answer and have no place in the fight against climate change. If the participating politicians, including Britain, are to come anywhere close to meeting their targets, reliance on fossil fuels will have to be phased out.

2.    Investment

It has been agreed that the developed economies will provide $100 billion to countries with developing economies in order to enable them to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and move towards using cleaner fuels, including renewable energy sources. It is not entirely clear from the agreement where the funds are coming from but the fact that developed nations acknowledge the importance of assisting developing nations in their move towards renewable power is encouraging and, hopefully, a sign of a similar shift on home soil.

3.    Transparency

Under the agreement, Britain, along with all other participating countries, will have to submit their emission reduction targets and a climate change plan every 5 years from 2020 in order to show that they are actively pursuing the reduction in global warming set out in the agreement. There has been much criticism that these reviews won’t even start until after the peak in emissions should have been reached. Nevertheless, it is at least hoped that, if the actions of individual governments are to be scrutinised, cuts like those the British government has made in 2015 to the renewable energy sector can be challenged.

4.    Pressure

Finally, politicians have, on the surface of it, made a bold statement. If the UK Government is to live up to its agreement to actively endeavour to reduce global warming as soon as possible, then there will have to be significant policy changes. Perhaps optimistically, it is hoped that the Paris agreement can be a reminder to politicians every time the Government proposes to cut another renewable subsidy or put another obstacle in the way of the renewable energy industry’s progress, that they are failing to live up to the puported commitment set out in the agreement.


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