A legally binding agreement was reached between 195 countries in Paris on 12 December to keep global warming “well below 2°C” and to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrialised levels”. It was agreed that the global peaking of emissions will be achieved as soon as possible, although this will take longer for developing nations.
While some environmental groups see the 1.5°C target as meaningless without measures in place to achieve it, the landmark agreement goes well beyond expectations and has the mechanisms in place to build on the commitments already made by individual nations over time. Prior to the start of the Paris talks, commentators called for an agreement to have ambition, inbuilt review, a long-term goal, and legal force. Indications are that the Paris Agreement has delivered on three out of four of those requirements, while the countries’ individual emissions targets themselves are not legally binding.
Prior to the Paris talks, 187 countries submitted Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs) which outlined each nation’s plan to cut emissions together with an outline of how this would be achieved. Collectively, these plans would limit global warning by 2.7°C. Given that the target set under the Paris Agreement is 2°C, five-year reviews of these NDCs have been put in place, which requires a stocktake and ratcheting up of individual nations’ commitments. Each nation’s successive commitment will go beyond its previous pledge. The first legally binding review is to take place in 2023, and some countries have agreed to a voluntary stocktake in 2018. The European Union and China are already on track to meet their NDCs, but the United States still needs to take further action.
While international carbon trading was not directly referred to in the Paris text, a new market mechanism will be designed to support low carbon projects. In the meantime, the more ambitious target of 1.5°C may require the EU to revisit its post-2020 reforms of the EU ETS, which are based on a 2°C goal. MEPs have said it will entail some consideration by EU lawmakers, given the increased costs this would bring to industry. Some countries plans to meet their targets via new or improved trading schemes such as China’s new carbon market, due to be introduced in 2017, which will be the biggest in the world. Quebec and California have now linked their carbon markets to create the largest North American carbon trading system, with Ontario due to join them by 2017.
The UK’s recent cancellation of funding for a new carbon capture and storage project has come under criticism in the wake of the Paris agreement, which states a goal to release no more carbon emissions in the second half of the century than can be absorbed by forests or other carbon sinks. Energy Secretary Amber Rudd continues to highlight the vital part that business has to play in developing clean technologies and bringing them to market. During the Paris talks, a number of highprofile announcements were made by the private sector, including a new Green Energy Innovation Fund, to be headed by Bill Gates. In addition, 153 corporations committed to low-carbon action plans and 60 organisations signed up to a construction alliance.
Climate economist, Lord Nicholas Stern was cautiously optimistic, and advised, “National, and local governments, cities and businesses must now raise their efforts to match the ambition of this Agreement. Cities and businesses have been strongly represented at the Paris climate change summit and have played an important role in urging governments to achieve a strong agreement, and emphasising the important role of innovation in creating a low-carbon economy.”
Written By – Nikki Wilson