COP21 Paris: what happened

News – Thursday, December 17th, 2015
Carbon Footprint

More than 190 nations gathered at the 21stConference of Parties (COP21) in Paris earlier this month to agree global measures to reduce emissions and mitigate dangerous and irreversible climate change which scientists warn would be associated with an increase in temperatures of over 2°C on pre-industrial levels. Continued use of fossil fuels means that we are already halfway there with warming already at 1°C above pre-industrial levels.

COP21_logoTwo rounds of consultations were held in advance of the COP and 195 States Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held regular meetings in preparation. The COP resulted in an agreed list of commitments to come into force from 2020 through to the end of the century, with the aim to peak emissions as soon as possible and continue on a downward trajectory to cap global warming to 2°C as a maximum. Key points to the COP agreements are:

  • Nations are legally bound to prepare and regularly update climate commitments and targets (called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or “INDCs”). The initial targets will be set for 2025-2030 and nations are expected to increase the ambition and scope of the commitments and targets over time, as well as report on performance regularly. All the States were invited to submit their INDCs ahead of COP21 – it has been estimated that pledges made would see global temperatures rise by 2.7°C, however the agreement seeks to review and speed up progress throughout the century.
  • Progress towards targets will be assessed in 2018 and repeated every 5 years. Although there are more flexible reporting requirement for developing countries, they are encouraged to move towards stricter goals and implement a plan by 2020.
  • The commitment included an aim to achieve net zero emissions between 2050-2100. The methods for achieving net zero emissions were open to interpretation and therefore may include carbon capture and storage, reforestation, etc.
  • All nations are required to consider climate adaptation and how they can strengthen their resilience to climate change.
  • Developed nations are required to provide developing nations a minimum of $100bn per year until 2020 to implement emissions reductions and climate adaptation measures, with the aim of increasing this figure post 2025. Other countries are encouraged to also contribute on a voluntary basis.

Many agreed that the COP 21 is widely seen as a landmark global commitment to tackling climate change and a big step in the right direction, even though there has been some criticism of the extent of some of the commitments. The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions are voluntary and the timeline for achieving global net zero emissions was criticised for being too vague. Some countries (particularly low lying countries) also wanted to see a more ambitious warming cap of 1.5°C rather than 2. The promised annual $100bn funding provision until 2020 for developing countries was also criticised for not going far enough, and compensation for countries experiencing adverse effects from climate change were excluded from the commitments.

However, to pull nearly 200 nations together under one commitment is by no means a small feat. We feel that given the scale of the task, the commitment made is a fantastic step forward, and we will be looking to see how policy is implement on a UK national level so that we can communicate how it can affect the members within the CCCA in the future.

Timeline of global climate change negotiations:

  • 1992: The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change formed in Rio de Janeiro, committing governments to take action to prevent dangerous climate change. No actions were specified.
  • 1995: First COP in took place in Berlin.
  • 1997: the Kyoto protocol was introduced committing governments to cut global GHG emissions by approx. 5% by 2012, on 1990 levels. Targets were allocated to developed countries only (excluding emerging economies).  Implementation of the protocol was delayed as USA would not ratify it (it required ratification from nations collectively responsible for at least 55% of the total global emissions) however Russia did ratify it in 2004 therefore it came into force in 2005. Some member nations failed to comply.
  • 2005: COP11 – the Montreal Action Plan was produced
  • 2007: 196 countries agreed on emissions targets in Bali and planned negotiations on a successor to Kyoto protocol (due to expire in 2012).  USA joined but objected to the demand for industrialised nations to cut emissions to 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020 therefore concessions were made. It was agreed that developed nations would help developing nations by sharing low-carbon technology and by establishing a fund to help them mitigate and adapt to climate change.
  • 2009: COP15 in Copenhagen established a common objective to cap the global temperature increase below 2°C, however an agreement to the successor of the Kyoto protocol was not reached. Developed countries pledged to raise $100 billion per year by 2020 to support developing countries to implement climate change adaptation and mitigation measures.
  • 2010: COP16 in Cancún saw the ratification of the 2°C temperature rise cap and the establishment of the Green Climate Fund.
  • 2011: COP17 in Durban saw the creation of the Green Climate Fund and the establishment of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action – the purpose of which was to bring all countries together to develop “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” to be agreed in 2015 and implemented from 2020.
  • 2012: COP18 in Doha established a second period of the Kyoto Protocol to cover the interim period between the Kyoto Protocol expiring and the introduction of the new global climate agreement (2013-2020).
  • 2014: COP20 in Lima concluded talks with the ‘Lima Call For Climate Action’, laying the foundations for a new global climate agreement.
  • 2015: Paris COP21

First published: 17/12/2015
Author: Ana Lopez, CCCA Sustainability Officer