The historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change: big strides towards sustainability

An agreement to combat climate change and invest in a low carbon, resilient and sustainable future was agreed by 195 nations in Paris on 12 December. This is the first time in history that world leaders representing every nation have come to an agreement on climate.

The universal agreement’s main aim is to keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The 1.5 degree Celsius limit is a significantly safer defense line against the worst impacts of a changing climate. Global temperatures have already risen by 1 degree since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Many nations, specifically small islands developing states, are in danger of disappearing within the next 50 years if global temperatures rise by another 1 degree.

Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability to deal with the impacts of climate change.

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The key elements

  1. To keep global temperatures "well below" 2.0C (3.6F) and "endeavour to limit" them even more, to 1.5C
  2. To limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100
  3. To review each country's contribution to cutting emissions every five years so they scale up to the challenge
  4. For rich countries to help poorer nations by providing "climate finance" to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy.

 

What the experts are saying

The majority of world leaders and environmental groups are hailing the COP21 Agreement as a revolution. Some are going as far as calling it the end of the fossil-fuel age. 

John Kerry, USA Secretary of State, said: “The result will be a very clear signal to the marketplace of the world that people are moving into low carbon, no carbon, alternative renewable energy. And I think it’s going to create millions of jobs, enormous new investment in R&D [research and development], and that R&D is going to produce the solutions, not government.”

Kumi Naidoo, International Executive Director of Greenpeace, recognised certain flaws in the agreement, but said: "The wheel of climate action turns slowly, but in Paris it has turned. There’s much in this deal that frustrates and disappoints me, but it still puts the fossil fuel industry squarely on the wrong side of history. Together we are challenging the fossil fuel oligarchy, we are ushering in the era of solutions, and we are moving the political benchmark of what is possible."

However many climate scientists do not believe that the agreements go nearly far enough.

James Hansen, a former NASA scientist and father of climate science, called the CO21 Agreemment a 'fraud': "It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned."

He argues that only a tax on carbon emissions will be enough to avoid catastrophic climate change.

 

Show me the money

Developing nations need funding to expand their economies without polluting in the same manner as developed countries. The agreement requires developed nations to maintain a $100bn a year funding pledge beyond 2020, and to use that figure as a "floor" for further support agreed by 2025.

The deal says wealthy countries should continue to provide financial support for developing nations to become more resilient to the effects of climate change encourages other countries to join in on a voluntary basis.

Dr Ilan Kelman of UCL, London, says the lack of time scales are "worrying": "Today is not the end, but the beginning of a journey which has already taken too long to start. The starting point of $100bn per year is helpful, but remains under 8% of worldwide declared military spending each year."

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