The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), adopted in 1992, set objectives to prevent dangerous climate changes by limiting greenhouse gases emissions. The parties have met annually from 1995 in Conferences of the Parties (COP).
A key step was achieved in 1997 with the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, which established legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their emissions. However, the withdrawal or the refusal to sign the agreement and the lack of commitment of crucial actors led to an overall failure of the Protocol to achieve a significant reduction in global emissions. A key factor was also the uncontrolled growth of countries previously considered undeveloped, which thus do not have any emissions reduction commitment under the treaty.
Following attempts to reach a comprehensive agreement to reduce emissions failed, while the scientific evidence of the link between climate change and human activities has become undeniable. The need for a new legally binding instrument was evident, but the negotiations took many years.
The Paris Agreement
At the 21st Conference of the Parties, held in Paris from 30 November to 12 December 2015, the countries finally reached a deal. It is divided into the Agreement, which will come into force in 2020, and the decisions, which should ensure its effective and transparent implementation. Key points of the deal are:
- The long-term objective is to keep global warming well below a maximum of +2°C, trying not to overcome +1.5°C above pre-industrial levels
- The peak of greenhouse gas emissions should be reached soon and from 2050 they should be rapidly reduced
- Each country has to prepare and maintain successive Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) comprising mitigation and adaptation measures, reflecting the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities
- Developed countries have to take the lead and support developing ones in their efforts for mitigation and adaptation to climate change. The decisions set a target of $100bn a year until 2025, when countries have to set a new higher goal.
The conditions for the Agreement to enter into force were that at least 55 countries representing at least 55% of total global emissions have ratified.
- 22nd April, 2016: over 170 countries signed on Earth Day.
- 21st September, 2016: 60 Parties to the convention ratified the agreement, guaranteeing the 1° of the 2 conditions needed for the agreement implementation.
- 4th October, 2016: the EU Parliament ratified the Paris agreement. The same day, thanks to the ratification of Bolivia, Nepal and Canada, the 2° condition for implementation is met.
- 4th November, 2016: the Paris Agreement is effective
The Paris Agreement was presented as a huge success in the media and political narrative. It was the first “binding” deal on climate change signed by the overall majority of the world’s countries.
However, this diplomatic success was largely hampered by Trump’s decision to withdraw USA from the Agreement, and the deal in itself is largely criticized as insufficient and just a palliative:
- The INDCs presented by the countries are insufficient to achieve the target of 2°C, leading the world, if respected, to an overall 3°C increase. They are also fragmented and not expressed in absolute terms, and the pledge and review mechanism allows both to be upgrade and downgrade. The independent researchers of Climate Action Trackers studied the INDCs of 32 countries covering about 80% of global emissions and 70% of the population. They concluded that:
- None is a model to follow
- 1 is compatible with the 1.5°C target (Morocco)
- 5 are compatible with the 2°C target (Costa Rica, Ethiopia, India, Philippines and the Gambia)
- 11 are insufficient, leading to a 2 to 3°C increase (among them, EU, Canada and Australia);
- 6 are highly insufficient, leading to a 3 to 4°C increase (among them, China),
- 6 are critically insufficient, leading to more than 4°C increase (among them, US and Russia)
- Lack of a fixed date for the emission peak and 2050 is way too late to start rapid emission reductions: they should be started now. The Agreement takes into consideration carbon sinks as resource to achieve the 2°C goal, but they are however still a highly debated topic in the scientific community.
- There is no control and sanction mechanism. The Agreement only provides for the establishment of a mechanism to “facilitate implementation and promote compliance”, which should be facilitative and non-punitive.
- It is possible to withdraw from the Agreement in the first 3 years.
- There is a reference to technology transfer but not to intellectual property rights.
- The financial contributions are voluntary. Only 10% of the targeted $100bn has been reached so far.
- Fossil fuels are never mentioned.
- Civil aviation and maritime transportation, representing 10% of global emissions, are out of the agreement.
- International trade agreements are never mentioned.
- The responsibilities of multinationals are not identified.
Marrakech COP: “the action COP”
The Marrakech COP (COP22) was held from 7 to 18 November 2016. Key discussion items were:
- Evaluation of the INDCs and elaboration of transparency criteria and related targets
- Establishment of the global fund
- Definition of the modalities and procedure to guarantee the work of the committee in charge of the Agreement implementation
- Financial commitments
- Agreement operative by 2018 and not 2020
- Many issues related to flood, drought and agriculture have been postponed to the 2017 agenda
- The UN stated that $100bn/year to support less advantaged countries is totally insufficient, $500bn/yr to $700bn/year are needed instead
Cop 23 in Bonn – November 6th-17th, 2017
The presidency is in the hands of the Fiji Island, one of the small island nations at risk because of climate change. Its Prime Minister, Bainimarama identified climate adaptation finance, effective monitoring of compliance through the rulebook to the Paris Agreement and the objectives of the Climate Action Agenda as key issue areas for the Fijian presidency.
Session “Paris agreement and climate change, regional and national criticalities”
Lucie Greyl – A Sud onlus, Faikham Harnnarong – Thai Climate Justice Working Group, ZaZemiata – Bulgaria, ERA/FoEN – Nigeria, Acción Ecológica – Ecuador.
Paris Agreement criticalities – Download
Paris Agreement criticalities – Eu and Italy focus – Download
Paris Agreement criticalities – Bulgaria focus – Download
- Interactive map explaining the Paris Agreement and related decisions
- Climate Action Trackers’s analysis of various INDCs
- World Resources Institute’s interactive map to track ratification of the Paris Agreement