Editorial: The road from Paris

At the UN climate conference in December 2015 in Paris, 196 countries will hopefully adopt a new global agreement for strong greenhouse gas reductions. Back in 1992 all the UN countries agreed that rich countries should take the first step to stabilize GHG emissions by the year 2000. This was unfortunately not a legally binding agreement and it failed. The USA refused for more than 20 years to fulfil this agreement, refused to join the Kyoto Protocol for modest GHG reductions of five per cent and instead increased CO₂ emissions by nearly 10 per cent between 1990 and 2013. Under the leadership of the European Union, in a legally binding agreement process under the Kyoto Protocol (adopted in 1997), some industrialized countries stabilized and started to reduce GHG emissions, by almost 20 per cent between 1990 and 2013.

Lessons should be learned from this and it is therefore important that key parts of the new Paris agreement are legally binding. The agreement has also to confirm the principle of common but differentiated capabilities based on equity. A balance must be achieved in the agreement between mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology transfer, capacity building and transparency. The industrialized countries must also agree to establish a mechanism that will enable the poorest and most vulnerable countries to deal with the loss and damage caused by climate change. By 1 October, more than 110 countries had submitted their national targets for GHG reductions to the UN. Different assessments of these targets suggest that the combined efforts from all these proposals would still lead to a global temperature increase of 3–4 ˚C by 2100. This should be compared with IPCC business-as-usual scenarios, which predict a global temperature increase of more than 5–6 ˚C by 2100, and the targets submitted by countries at the Copenhagen and Cancun UN conferences in 2009 and 2011, which add up to 4–5 ˚C by 2100.

The Paris agreement will only be the first step and must be strengthened soon after. The road from Paris therefore demands serious ratcheting up of CO₂ reduction commitments so that the target of below 1.5 ˚C can be achieved. The 1.5 ˚C target is already demanded by more than 100 countries, and the UN Review on the adequacy of a 1.5 or 2 ˚C target in 2015 came to the same conclusion (see cover article). For the Paris agreement, Climate Action Network is demanding an “ambition-accelerating mechanism”, which includes a regular review of countries’ commitments and most importantly that the first commitment period should be only five years, from 2020 to 2025, and not as presently suggested until 2030. The proposed mechanism would also allow countries to regularly upgrade reduction targets and immediately add them to the Paris agreement.

Reinhold Pape

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