Envoys to the United Nations climate talks handed down a 31-page document on Saturday outlining their boldest steps yet to rein in global warming. Here are the key points of the text, along with comment on why the decisions made in Paris matter:
1. Temperature and Long-Term Goal
The deal calls for nations to work toward capping global temperature increases since pre-industrial times to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The text acknowledges the need to strive for 1.5 degrees, a key demand of the countries most vulnerable to warming, including island states imperiled by rising seas. Nations will reduce emissions as soon as possible to “achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks” like forests that absorb greenhouse gases.
- “That’s basically saying that by some time in the second half of the century, you have to get to a net zero balance between emissions and sinks, meaning land use, forestry, agriculture, which are now responsible for about 25 percent of emissions,” says Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
- “The 2- degrees limit means emission reduction between 40 percent to 70 percent by 2050 compared to 2010 levels, which is substantial,” says Ottmar Edenhofer, chief economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research Institute near Berlin, and a lead author of the UN’s most rigorous assessment of climate economics.
2. Revision Mechanism
To encourage more ambitious efforts, countries will need to update their current pollution-reduction pledges by 2020 and then do so every five years. That’s because plans submitted so far by 186 nations would guarantee a temperature cap of 2.7 degrees at best. Nations will periodically analyze collective progress toward achieving the goal of the Paris agreement. The first assessment, or “global stocktake,” will take place in 2023.
- “In other words, we will analyze how far we are in reaching the 2-degrees Celsius goal; then will have an update of our policy plans,” said Jos Delbeke, director general for climate at the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm. “If we have that cycle repeated every five years we’re going to reach the target.”
3. Carbon Markets
The agreement establishes a “mechanism to contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and support sustainable development” and paves the way for voluntary cooperation between countries in meeting their pollution goals. Detailed rules for the market mechanism will be established at a later date.
- “It is a mechanism that would allow countries to bring forward projects and strategies that promote sustainable development and reduce greenhouse gases. These will have credits awarded that can be used for compliance. The deal makes very clear that such credits could be used for compliance by one country. That’s a fundamental that we have always supported,” said Dirk Forrister, president of the International Emissions Trading Association.
Governments agreed to set up a framework for monitoring, measuring and verifying emissions reductions. This will promote transparency on who is doing what and give those seeking to bring pressure on underperformers information to fuel their arguments. Developing countries were given some flexibility on different provisions, including on the scope, frequency and level of detail of reporting. Small island states and the least developed countries have lower requirements.
- “It’s not that intrusive,” said Samantha Smith, head of the climate program at the environmental group WWF. “It requires countries keeping comprehensive records about what they buy, what they burn and what they dispose of as waste. That requires a pretty detailed level of reporting for big countries, and there’s difficulties in places like China and India where you have different levels of government.”
The deal obliges developed nations to help developing countries pay for reducing pollution and adapting to the impacts of climate change. Negotiators agreed to establish by 2025 a new target to scale up climate finance. The next goal will be to increase the $100 billion a year that they had previously agreed to provide by 2020. The text says developing nations in a position to do so “are encouraged to provide or continue to provide such support voluntarily.”
- “There is little in this agreement to give the poorest communities around the world comfort that they will see an increase in funds to cope with climate change in the years ahead,” said Tim Gore, head of climate policy at the development charity Oxfam.