Thursday, 3 December 2015

Paris 2015 COP21 – What do we order and how do we split the bill?

Aims for an Agreement

Between November 30th and December 11th the governments of over 190 nations will descend on Paris for the 21st United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP21). The aim of the Conference is to deliver a first ever universal climate agreement to limit global warming to 2°C and replace the existing agreements which expire in 2020.

ACT 2015, a consortium of the world’s top climate experts has developed a list of 3 key ingredients of the COP21 Paris Agreement:

  1. Set long-term goals for mitigation and adaptation to help the world cope with climate impacts and phase out greenhouse gas emissions, as early as possible in the second half of the century.
  2. Ensure countries are transparent and accountable for their climate action commitments, through a process that regularly evaluates their progress.
  3. Put in place a process for countries to regularly increase their climate efforts on mitigation and adaptation, along with scaled up finance, capacity building and technology transfer, in a timely way - at least once every five years starting in 2020.
Progress so far

The world is already taking steps towards a low carbon future, investment in renewables and sustainable technologies are on the rise with the cost of solar panels dropping by around 70% since 2009 offering a beacon of hope for a clean, affordable energy future. More and more companies are taking action and making investments to prepare for the transition to a low carbon economy and we have seen companies that act on climate change outperforming their non-acting counterparts in terms of profitability (CDP).

There is a growing groundswell of support for climate change action through groups such as Greenpeace and; in 2014 over 300,000 people took to the streets of New York to demand action from their leaders on climate change, with a similar number marching in 161 other countries and there are Climate Marches planned around the world on the eve of COP21.

(Photo credit: Greenpeace Finland)

A record number of countries (over 170) have submitted their national plans and targets to deal with climate change; however, in a report commissioned by Oxfam experts estimate that these commitments will only limit global warming to between 2.7 and 3°C. The extra 1°C beyond 2°C increases developing countries costs of adaptation by about $270bn a year by 2050 and deals a further $600bn of annual economic losses, illustrating the urgent need for an agreement in Paris: We are at a tipping point where companies and countries need a strong guiding hand and clarity of support for a low carbon future through a binding universal agreement.

One of the biggest indications of this tipping point occurred in 2014 when the Rockefeller Brother Fund announced it was withdrawing from investing in the fossil fuel industry, removing approximately $50bn of funding in total. This marked the beginning of private investors and large companies shying away from polluting industries and has led to calls for more funds and large investors to follow suit. We now require bold steps from our national leaders to deliver the agreement we all need.

Paying for past sins

While it is generally agreed that rich countries will need to help poorer nations to mitigate and adapt to climate change, there is a call for more to be done. Less developed countries believe that historical emissions should be factored in at a greater level when determining who needs to pay for climate change adaptation and mitigation. They resent the way that developed countries have benefited from uncapped emissions since the beginning of the industrial revolution to deliver improved quality of life and economic growth while less developed countries will have to improve quality of life and their economies in a more costly, although sustainable, way under the terms of a climate change agreement.

The negotiations in Paris will largely concentrate on how much money the rich nations pay to the poorer ones to help them adapt to the effects of global warming and to help finance the transition from fossil fuels to green energy. This is of great importance in light of the recent economic downturn and the Oxfam commissioned report which forecasts that global warming is on course to cost developing countries $2.5 trillion dollars (£1.65 trillion) a year in total by 2050.

An international Green Climate Fund has been set up with the aim of mobilising $100bn per year from developed countries by 2020 to help less developed countries to fund climate change and mitigation. As of November 2015 $10.2bn has been pledged; showing how the full amount will be delivered is another key outcome for COP21.

Delivering an agreement

The need for action is clear; 2011-2015 has been the warmest five-year period on record, due to a combination of climate change and a strong El Nino event with significant, fatal heatwaves across many parts of the world being made more likely due to climate change. 2015 itself is set to be a record breaking year: the first to pass the symbolic milestone of 1°C above pre-industrial levels and the first to see atmospheric CO2 concentrations over 400 parts per million, it would be fitting for such an important agreement on climate change to be made in the same year.

The ingredients and the need are all in place for a landmark agreement to be reached and deliver hope for a low carbon future, let’s hope this opportunity is seized by the decision makers with both hands. As Laurent Fabius, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development said: "there is no plan b because there is no planet b".

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