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Focus on the Paris Climate Change Agreement – Part 1

14 December 2016

When the Eiffel Tower lit up during climate talks in Paris a year ago, it displayed the long-term target that governments agreed to pursue efforts to limit global warming to. Less than a year on, the tower was again illuminated as The Paris Agreement on climate change came into force.

Faster than anyone had anticipated, enough of the 194 members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) ratified the agreement, making the international effort to slash man-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other global warming gases official. The passage of the accord – the fruit of more than two decades of difficult international negotiations – has been hailed by nations and observers around the world.

All governments that have ratified the agreement, which includes the US, China, India and the EU, now carry an obligation to hold global warming to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels – as low as 1.5°C if possible. That is what scientists regard as the limit of safety, beyond which climate change is likely to become catastrophic and irreversible.

 

The challenge of tackling climate change

Countries have put forward commitments on curbing carbon emissions, and governments are working to plan practical steps for implementation. The agreement also recognises that non-party stakeholders such as cities, civil society and the private sector have a role to play in addressing climate change. They are invited to:

  • Scale up their efforts and support actions to reduce emissions.
  • Build resilience and decrease vulnerability to the adverse effects of climate change.
  • Uphold and promote regional and international cooperation.

 

With everyone working towards the agreed target, it certainly seems like they are on the same page. The global solidarity gives the Paris agreement its power, but some see the deal as a bit of a strange one. Rather than requiring all signing parties to adopt similar measures, countries are independently deciding on how to lower their emissions. The need for this “bottom up” approach emerged from the failed 2009 negotiations to address climate change. Because economies, cultures, and nations differ so greatly, a common denominator was hard to determine and, therefore, achieve. By allowing ratifying countries to determine the best way forward for them, individual, galvanised support for the agreement was reached. There will be, however, a “name and encourage” system to put pressure on countries to play their part. And global stocktakes will provide a collective analysis of what has been achieved worldwide and what still needs to be done.

 

The next steps

Shortly after the agreement came into force, world leaders met in Marrakech at the Conference of the Parties (COP22) climate change talks. There, Morocco launched plans to tackle the issue of global warming and encouraged other countries to recognise the devastating effects climate change is having on the land.

The talks were hailed a success, with Brazil committing to restore 22 million hectares of degraded land by 2030. Just a week later, US President-elect Donald Trump appeared to be wavering on his pledge to withdraw from The Paris Agreement. The world now waits to see how other countries will take action for the sake of the planet…

 

Part 2 of our Paris Agreement blog series will take a closer look at the key elements of the deal – coming next week.

 

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