Paris Climate Change Conference: COP21 Paris Agreement Explained

15th December 2015 By ,   0 Comments


At the Paris Climate Change Conference politicians just signed a deal to reduce emissions and stop the planet heating to dangerous levels. Does this mean the world is safe!?

The Problem: Climate Change

Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO₂) trap solar energy from the Sun within the Earth’s atmosphere. This is heating up the planet. It’s generally agreed that if the world’s temperature rises by 2 degrees Celsius we’re in deep sh*t.

Discover: Scenes of Reason explains Climate Change

Currently scientists believe we’re on track to exceed 2.7 degrees by the end of the century. UN member states agree that this is a problem and that we need to reduce our CO₂ emissions to stop this from happening.


The Solution: The COP21 Paris Agreement

United Nations member states have met annually since 1995 to discuss climate change. Twenty years later and we finally have an agreed plan to do something about it. SoR previously broke down why the Paris Conference matters. Buzzfeed also created this awesome piece answering all those questions you were too embarrassed to ask.


The Paris Agreement was signed 12th December 2015 at the end of the Paris Climate Change Conference. If you like your reading you can read the full Paris Agreement text.

The agreement pledges:

To keep the world’s temperature from increasing more than 2 degrees (the exact wording: keeping it “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels “). Countries will also aim for around 1.5 degrees. FYI we’re due to hit 1 degree of temperature increase this year, so the 1.5 target is a big ask.

– To achieve “a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.” In plain English, this means no more CO₂ emissions by 2100. Carbon Brief reports how going “carbon neutral” means that though there will still be some CO₂ emissions, actions like planting more trees or using technology to remove it from the atmosphere means the CO₂ does not damage the environment. Earlier this year the G7 countries set the target of zero emissions by 2100.

How will this be achieved?

In a nutshell: there’s no single plan of action. Instead individual countries have to work out the best way, and there is to be no backing down once they’re committed. Developing countries have more time to switch to renewable energy, and rich countries have to provide the bulk of the $$$ to help them do it.


Best Laid Plans

UN member states were asked to contribute Intended Nationally Defined Contributions or INDCs. These are action plans outlining what countries promise to do to reduce emissions.


Do What You Can

Each country’s action on climate change will depend on its respective capabilities. This means that although we’re all working for the same thing, developing countries will take longer to cut out the carbon. Developed countries are expected to take the lead.


Don’t Be A Stranger

Progress will be reviewed by a committee every five years with new climate action plans submitted by each country. This will start in 2023. Countries won’t be able to back out of their commitments; each emission reduction plan they submit must be more ambitious than the last.


Help A Brother Out

There is also a requirement for richer, developed countries to help out poorer countries to switch over to more renewable energy. There is no set amount mentioned in the actual Paris Agreement text. A figure of $100 billion a year is included in the “decisions” section which outlines what was decided at the conference.


What the politicians said

French President François Hollande said the agreement is a “major leap for mankind.” According to Prime Minister David Cameron “we’ve secured our planet for many, many generations to come – and there is nothing more important than that.” Sounds positive? Even Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn agreed with Cameron, tweeting “Paris #COP21 agreement is historic victory for climate change movement.”

President Obama was quick to point out that this “historic” agreement was a triumph of “American leadership.” Gee, thanks for that America. He added that “the problem’s not solved because of this accord, but make no mistake, the Paris agreement establishes the enduring framework the world needs to solve the climate crisis.”


What everyone else said

Many people are relieved that our leaders have finally agreed to an action plan. Entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson tweeted “today the course of history has shifted. Paris will be remembered by generations as a watershed moment.”

Yet not everyone is convinced. Our environment expert David Saddington said “the Paris Agreement, although a tremendous diplomatic success to simply get ‘a’ deal between 196 countries, does not go nearly far enough to meaningfully tackle climate change.”


Twitter Response from Naomi Klein author of "This Changes Everything" and WWII veteran and activist Harry Leslie Smith

Source: Twitter


Even if countries commit to the Paris Agreement it’s estimated we would still see a temperature rise of around 2.7 degrees. Not good news. The Times notes that a leading scientist called the COP21 targets “cynical posturing.” Bjorn Lomborg said “the maths is simple: in an implausibly optimistic best-case scenario, Paris leaves 99 per cent of the problem in place. To say that Paris will get us to ‘well below 2℃’ is cynical posturing at best. It relies on wishful thinking.”

The World Wildlife Fund said that “the ambition and urgency of delivering climate action is not strong enough.” According to them it is up to governments to take “fast and increased action” and the public, local government and businesses to press them to do more.


It’s down to us

Climate Change, Paris Agreement, COP21,

“Many small people who in many small places do many small things that can alter the face of the world.” Credit: Flickr

David Saddington concludes that whilst COP21 was a “great step in the right direction” it is far from a deal which has just saved the world. According to him the more interesting stories from COP21 come from the work of regional bodies, coalitions, business, non-governmental organisations and individuals who are already ploughing ahead with tackling climate change irrespective of international politics.

As we covered above individual countries are setting their own targets to cut CO₂ emissions. Although these are recognised in the agreement, they are not legally binding. France24 reports that there will not be any sanctions or similar diplomatic punishments if a country misses its emissions target. Public pressure from the media, campaign groups and the public will have to keep countries and governments on course.


What You Guys Think

We wanted to know what you thought, and gathered a selection of online reactions:

“I believe it’s a step in the right direction as now is the time when we all need to be coming to an agreement to reduce things like carbon emissions…We all need to work together and utilise the new cleaner energy sources that green companies have worked so tirelessly to bring us.” – Robyn Freeman Buckle.


Facebook post on the COP21 Paris Agreement

Source: Facebook

“I was disappointed because there’s ample evidence that animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of climate change – from greenhouse gas emissions, to deforestation, to biodiversity reduction, to water consumption and pollution. Aside from damaging the environment, animal agriculture is a cruel business that treats animals as if they were mere objects.” – Dermot Macpherson, 31, Florida.


Facebook post on the COP21 Paris Agreement

Source: Facebook


Have your say:

COP21 Paris Agreement explained: an ambitious deal but is it achievable?

With some plans now in place to solve the problem it’s down to us to ensure our governments stay on target. The Paris Agreement doesn’t actually come into effect until 55 countries (representing 55% of global emissions) ratify it next year. This is just the beginning…


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