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COP21: Post-event perspectives

A salute to the newly signed Paris Agreement at the COP21 UN climate change conference, Paris, France A salute to the newly signed Paris Agreement at the COP21 UN climate change conference, Paris, France Arnaud Bouissou – MEDDE / SG COP21
18 Dec
What role did the following key factors have at the COP21 UN climate change conference in Paris?

Photographs have been taken, hands shaken, and agreements signed. After an ‘historic’ fortnight in Paris, the UNFCCC, world leaders and thousands of activists have moved on, spreading the word about the Paris Agreement and kick-starting what many hope will be the start of a genuine transformation into a fossil-free world. Before the conference, in our December 2015 issue, Geographical asked experts from key fields what they expected from the event. Here, we gather post-Agreement thoughts on whether they were right, and what the last few weeks could mean for the world.

Simon Dalby, CIGI Chair in the Political Economy of Climate Change at the Balsillie School of International Affairs

The Paris Agreement on climate change has accomplished more than many of us expected. It’s not the magic bullet that some activists wanted, but up to now many state leaders have been very reluctant to face up to what needs to be done. That has changed. So it’s fair to call Paris the ‘end of the beginning’ of the climate change problem. The wide consensus across various geopolitical divides is noteworthy. While there is obviously lots of wriggle room for states to evade their obligations, there is appropriate flexibility to allow national capabilities to shape local responses. The ambition to get to carbon neutrality by later this century is a clear target that will require work by all states, but getting ‘buy-in’ to do this is, by diplomatic standards, a very considerable success.


James Anderson, Associate of the Forests Program, World Resources Institute (WRI)

COP21 was much more than a showdown between fossil fuels and renewables – forest ecosystems also had their day. In Paris, countries put forth perhaps the greatest collective commitment to reduce deforestation and increase restoration ever seen in international climate negotiations. Nations set targets that could protect and restore more than 50 million hectares of forest over the next 15 years, an area the size of Spain, which would conserve 17 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 over 15 years, or 2.5 per cent of the current total annual emissions globally. For example, a partnership of African countries, research groups, and investors called AFR100 pledged to restore 100 million hectares of degraded and deforested landscapes by 2030, which could both sequester carbon and bring prosperity to rural communities through improved agricultural yields.


kerry goreThe Paris Agreement has been hailed as a triumph for geopolitical co-operation (Image: Arnaud Bouissou – MEDDE / SG COP21)


Barbara Buchner, Senior Director of Climate Finance at Climate Policy Initiative (CPI)

The objectives laid out in the Paris Agreement are visionary, but not overambitious, as they build on trends already happening in reality. The agreement’s guiding star is the science-based goal of limiting temperature rise to ‘below 2oC’. In combination with the mention of 1.5oC, this goal sends a clear signal, giving governments and businesses an incentive to escalate efforts to decarbonise their economies, supply chains and business models. Even more importantly for business, this deal has teeth. It includes a mechanism to ramp up action every five years, starting in 2018, and importantly, does not allow backsliding.

The agreement gives the signal – and states that developed countries shall provide financial resources to assist developing countries with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention. It also states that the $100billion goal is extended to 2025, and that a new collective numeric goal is to be set prior to 2025, using the $100billion as a minimum. It will be up to nations to implement these commitments, but the strength of the Paris Agreement is in its bottom-up nature – each country is volunteering to sign up, and this sets a strong incentive to achieve the goals.


Michael Bloomberg, UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change

This groundbreaking agreement on climate action – together with the commitments made by cities and businesses around the world – sets the world on a new and hopeful pathway. The agreement not only unites all nations in the battle against climate change, it also sends a clear signal to markets about the direction of government policy, which will help spur greater private sector investment in low-carbon technology. Like any agreement, it’s not perfect, but it also includes a built-in remedy that many city leaders strongly supported: regular re-evaluations of national goals and transparent reporting of progress, to ensure that we are on track to hand a safer, healthier, and more prosperous world to our children.


fabiusFormer French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius has been praised for his leadership of the COP21 UN climate change conference (Image: Arnaud Bouissou – MEDDE / SG COP21)


Kevin Watkins, Executive Director of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI)

The Paris climate summit has taken an important step in the right direction. This is a stronger agreement than expected; and governments around the world have demonstrated an understanding that we face a common threat and we are all in this together. But the world now has to prepare for the huge leap needed to implement this deal and to protect the planet’s most vulnerable people. This includes putting a credible price on carbon, cutting fossil fuel subsidies, getting out of coal and creating an enabling environment for low carbon investment.

If there is one area that must be prioritised then it is the deal on offer for the world’s poor. The livelihoods – and, in some cases, the lives – of millions of vulnerable people are at stake. While there has been significant financial support offered, more is needed to ensure poor countries are not left paying the price for a climate crisis that is not of their making.

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