Things that you must know about Paris climate agreement

Things that you must know about Paris climate agreement

By: || Updated: 13 Dec 2015 11:04 AM
Paris: Nearly 200 countries reached a climate accord that some analysts have called a "turning point" in human history designed to drive the world towards 100 per cent clean energy.

"It's a compromise... but it is a historic accord for the world," said Laurent Fabius, the president of the Paris conference of parties and the French foreign minister. "Our responsibility to history is immense."

But others have warned that the 31-page accord intended to hold the rise in average global temperature below 2°C by reducing Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions is yet another reminder of actions still to be taken, promises yet to be kept and pledged finance still invisible.

The following are questions and answers through which the accord can be explained:

Is the Paris conference a success?

Yes, according to governments and climate policy analysts. No, according to some scientists and activists .

The governments and analysts point out that the conference has yielded an accord that for the first time in history commits almost all countries to reduce or curb their greenhouse gas emissions.

It has also set an aim to hold the rise in average global temperature to below 2°C from the pre-industrial era, a key demand required by science to avert the worst impacts of climate change. The accord also seeks to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.

The agreement recognises climate action plans pledged by over 185 countries, including the biggest emitters such as China, the US, India and members of the European Union, to contribute to this effort, with different countries moving at different speeds.

It also acknowledges differences between developed countries and developing countries - and recognises the need for developed countries to raise and increase finance to help developing countries pursue clean energy and adapt to weather and environmental impacts of climate change.

But some scientists point to what they describe as a key departure from earlier climate accords: a quiet burial of the concept of historical responsibility by ignoring the cumulative emissions, especially the large contributions of the developed countries over the past century. "This is a big political gain for developed countries - and a loss for developing countries," according to T. Jayaraman, a climate science specialist at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

What are the other key proposals in the accord?

It demands a once-in-five-years review of emission-reduction pledges to ramp up targets and calls for capping of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible. The deal again commits $100 billion a year for developing countries from the rich countries by 2020 with a promise to increase it beyond that.

What are the big disappointments?

Almost everyone would agree the Paris accord is a reminder of actions-to-be-taken in the future. "The deal does not force countries to cut their emissions fast enough to forestall a climate change catastrophe," says Helen Szoke, executive director of Oxfam, a non-government organisation.

Some analysts have expressed disappointment at the outcome on promises of finance. "The final deal does not provide any real assurance to poor countries on how much finance will be delivered, when it will be delivered or how much of it will be available for adaptation," says Adriano Campolina, chief executive of ActionAid International, another non-government agency. "There are nods in the right direction in the text - nice words, but carefully placed to have no legal meaning."

What commitments has India made?

India is among about 185 countries that have submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), a set of pledged actions to curb emissions. India's INDC includes a plan to generate 175,000MW from renewable energy by 2022, expand non-fossil fuel-based electricity to 40 per cent of installed capacity, reduce emissions intensity (the emissions per unit gross domestic product) by 33 to 35 per cent by 2030 from the 2005 level and add forests and trees to remove 2.5 billion to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Is the Indian government happy with the Paris accord?

Environment minister Prakash Javadekar has expressed satisfaction with the outcome. "I am happy as all our key demands have been accommodated," Javadekar said in Paris.

The concept of "differentiation", a key demand by India, has been acknowledged in all sections of the agreement, while issues such as climate justice and sustainable lifestyles mentioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been referred to in the text, Javadekar said.

The Indian government is happy with the provision in the accord for a once-in-five-years stocktaking on emissions pledges, which may help ramp up each country's contribution.

However, the absence of any real assurance of finance is likely to be a source of disappointment for India.

What about climate campaigners from India?

Initial reactions were mixed but a storm appeared to be brewing. Many are calling it a compromise text.

The Climate Action Network South Asia, a coalition of over 141 civil society groups from South Asia, described the accord as durable and dynamic, but one that has fallen short of being fully fair and responsive to future needs.

What is the legal status of the Paris accord?

The Paris accord will need to be ratified by the legislative bodies of all the countries that participated in the negotiations. Different countries have different mechanisms. In India, this is typically done through a vote in Parliament.

The ratification requirement is the key reason some clauses have been kept out of the binding part of the agreement.

One example is a demand from developing countries for developed countries to increase finance to levels greater than the annual $100 billion beyond 2020. This was one of the biggest sticking points as delegates said the US Congress would never ratify a commitment to keep on increasing that figure from 2020. In a non-binding decision, the text now says governments shall set by 2025 "a new collective quantified goal from a floor of $100 billion per year, taking into account the needs and priorities of developing countries".

Will the Earth be safer than it was before the Paris talks started?

The current levels of pledges to cut emissions are not sufficient to hold back the rise in temperature at 2°C. So, without any ramp-up of actions, climate change is likely to worsen in the coming years and decades.

But hopes are afloat that the countries will not only keep their current pledges but also increase their actions to move towards a 100 per cent clean-energy world later this century and prevent even worse exacerbation of climate change impacts.

GAINS

♦ For the first time in history, almost all countries have made a public commitment to reduce or curb their Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions
♦ An aim to hold the rise in the average global temperature to below 2°C, a demand required by science to avert the worst impacts of climate change
♦ A signal for a shift towards a zero-carbon economy in the long term, another target demanded by science
♦ Acceptance of the concept of “differentiation” that recognises the historic emissions of the developed countries and expects them to provide financial support to developing countries in combating climate change

CONCERNS

♦ Accord highlights the need for more ambitious emission-cutting actions but does not force even developed countries to cut emissions fast enough to forestall the impacts of climate change
♦ Accord leaves key actions for the future, be it the five-yearly ramp-up of countries’ pledges for emission-reduction
actions or the need to increase finance to help developing countries cope with climate change
♦ The text actually weakens the obligations of developed countries to raise finance
♦ Pledges to increase finance, from rich to poor nations, from 2020 are not part of legally binding text

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