It has taken twenty years of deliberation but the world has finally adopted a legally binding agreement to curb climate change collectively. The 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has finally reached at a long sought legally binding agreement on climate change that spans nearly all state actors in the international system.
Held 30 November to 11 December, 2015 in Paris, COP21 put a considerable pressure on officials and professionals drawn from around the globe to finally come up with a notable agreement on climate change. Despite some complaints that the Paris agreement is not far-reaching enough, the general consensus is that it is a big historic step on its own.
Let’s, therefore, consider what the major provisions of the agreement are now that the document has become public. In due process, I will also look into the implications of such rulings and the factors that necessitated such a move. The Paris agreement consists of twenty-nine articles that have numerous paragraphs within them.
Article 2 clearly states the objective of the agreement. It stipulates:
1. This Agreement, in enhancing the implementation of the Convention, including its objective, aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, including by:
(a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;
(b) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production;
(c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.
2. This Agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.
Article 2 (1a) has been one of the highly contentious provisions with the group of island nations fiercely battling for the figure to go down to 1.5 °C. Considering some of these nations have their highest geographical locations lower than 4 meters above sea level, the slightest rise in sea levels claims a considerable portion of their land.
Various sources indicate a global mean sea level rise of 1.7 -+ 0.5 mm per year in the 20th century. However, between 1993 and 2003, global mean seal rose by approximately 3.1 mm per year. That represents a considerable acceleration of the rise over previous periods.
The main concern of these low lying island nations has to do with the fact that increased levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere cause the oceans to warm. Since warm water occupies more volume than cold water, the water column expands and sea level rises. Accordingly, if the entire water column (up to 4,000m depth) were warmed by 1 degree Celsius, sea level would rise by approximately 50 cm. However, explain sources, such a homogenous warming within a short time period is unrealistic, because the deep ocean layers only exchange very slowly with the ocean surface.
The same source indicates that based on different greenhouse emission scenarios for the future, climate models project a global sea level rise between 18 and 59 cm between 2090-2099 (relative to 1980-1990). Such scenarios clearly indicate that the land these countries are already losing rapidly to the sea is only going to grow considerably over the coming decades. Such rises would mean that some of these states are completely wiped off the face of the globe.
The provision of ‘well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C’ is, therefore, a compromise that intends to incorporate the concerns of the low lying island nations.
Article 2 (1b) deals with the need to adapt to such considerable climate changes around the world and create a climate resilient development. 1C of article 2 provides that financial flows need to be geared towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development. That means those nations registering success in this front would be prioritized in receiving financial support.
Another important issue is raised in Article 5 of the agreement. It states:
1. Parties should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases as referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1(d), of the Convention, including forests.
2. Parties are encouraged to take action to implement and support, including through results-based payments, the existing framework as set out in related guidance and decisions already agreed under the Convention for: policy approaches and positive incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries; and alternative policy approaches, such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests, while reaffirming the importance of incentivizing, as appropriate, non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches.
Paragraph 1 of Article 4 deals with global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and subsequent rapid reductions with best available science to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century. Accordingly, paragraph 1 of Article 5 calls for conservation of forests and other greenhouse gas sinks. Paragraph 2 encourages implementing and incentivizing guidelines and decisions aimed at curbing climate change.
By stipulating financial flows should be geared towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development, the agreement encourages developing nations to conserve forests and enhance afforestation. With countries like Ethiopia surging their forest cover from lower than 2% to over 12% in the last couple of decades, such actions would be financially rewarded per the provisions of the Paris agreement. As ranked by a Climate Action Tracker research, part of the COP21 conference, Ethiopia is the third Greenest country in the world following Buthan and Costa Rica. It seems like the time has come for its efforts to be recognized and compensated.
Talking of financial rewards, Article 9 deals with the provision of financial resources to developing countries from various sources. The article has nine paragraphs and it would be very lengthy to have all of them featured in this article. I have, therefore, opted to include some selected ones.
1. Developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention.
2. Other Parties are encouraged to provide or continue to provide such support voluntarily.
3. As part of a global effort, developed country Parties should continue to take the lead in mobilizing climate finance from a wide variety of sources, instruments and channels, noting the significant role of public funds, through a variety of actions, including supporting country-driven strategies, and taking into account the needs and priorities of developing country Parties. Such mobilization of climate finance should represent a progression beyond previous efforts.
4. The provision of scaled-up financial resources should aim to achieve a balance between adaptation and mitigation, taking into account country-driven strategies, and the priorities and needs of developing country Parties, especially those that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change and have significant capacity constraints, such as the least developed countries and small island developing States, considering the need for public and grant-based resources for adaptation.
7. Developed country Parties shall provide transparent and consistent information on support for developing country Parties provided and mobilized through public interventions biennially in accordance with the modalities, procedures and guidelines to be adopted by the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement, at its first session, as stipulated in Article 13, paragraph 13. Other Parties are encouraged to do so.
8. The Financial Mechanism of the Convention, including its operating entities, shall serve as the financial mechanism of this Agreement.
Identified as the main culprits in destroying the natural balance mankind has always had with the environment, developed countries are expected to mobilize their tremendous financial resources towards combating the problem. Having ensured their development at the expense of the environment, the developed countries of the world have the responsibility of making current attempts by developing countries towards development significantly less destructive.
The financial pledges that they make also need to be available in due time as the severity of the problem does not allow the planet waste more time slaking. The developing countries that are at the receiving end of the destructive efforts of the developed world in their march towards development constantly have their land claimed by rising sea water, have their coral reefs destroyed, their regions flooded and hit by drought. Desertification, migration, flood and crop failure are also identified as the main results of climate change in the developing world.
Yet another important provision is the one in Article 10 that deals with technological development and transfer. Although the article has six paragraphs, some selected paragraphs have been featured here.
1. Parties share a long-term vision on the importance of fully realizing technology development and transfer in order to improve resilience to climate change and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
4. A technology framework is hereby established to provide overarching guidance for the work of the Technology Mechanism in promoting and facilitating enhanced action on technology development and transfer in order to support the implementation of this Agreement, in pursuit of the long-term vision referred to in paragraph 1 of this Article.
5. Accelerating, encouraging and enabling innovation is critical for an effective, long-term global response to climate change and promoting economic growth and sustainable development. Such effort shall be, as appropriate, supported, including by the Technology Mechanism and, through financial means, by the Financial Mechanism of the Convention, for collaborative approaches to research and development, and facilitating access to technology, in particular for early stages of the technology cycle, to developing country Parties.
6. Support, including financial support, shall be provided to developing country Parties for the implementation of this Article, including for strengthening cooperative action on technology development and transfer at different stages of the technology cycle, with a view to achieving a balance between support for mitigation and adaptation.
One major constraint that holds states back from extensively using renewable energy sources is that the technology used to harness them is very expensive. The invigorated efforts of the private sector and state owned technological companies during the COP21 along with current efforts to build that up in the coming years show a glimpse of a better future to come for technology in combating climate change. The private sector seems to have understood the financial viability of being engaged in the production of such technologies.
The additional emphasis on the sector should increase production and lower its cost in the coming years pushing down on the price of these technologies considerably. That would create a conducive environment for the developing world to adopt more environmentally friendly paths on its way towards development.
In addition to the business side of this technological development in the rich favoring international market, the developed world also has a responsibility of spreading the technological knowhow to the rest of the world as well. The acknowledgement of this fact in the last paragraph of this article is highly encouraging.
On a similar note, Article 11 deals with capacity build of the developing world in coping with the problem. Out of the five paragraphs in this article, four are featured here.
1. Capacity-building under this Agreement should enhance the capacity and ability of developing country Parties, in particular countries with the least capacity, such as the least developed countries, and those that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, such as small island developing States, to take effective climate change action, including, inter alia, to implement adaptation and mitigation actions, and should facilitate technology development, dissemination and deployment, access to climate finance, relevant aspects of education, training and public awareness, and the transparent, timely and accurate communication of information.
2. Capacity-building should be country-driven, based on and responsive to national needs, and foster country ownership of Parties, in particular, for developing country Parties, including at the national, subnational and local levels. Capacity-building should be guided by lessons learned, including those from capacity-building activities under the Convention, and should be an effective, iterative process that is participatory, cross-cutting and gender-responsive.
3. All Parties should cooperate to enhance the capacity of developing country Parties to implement this Agreement. Developed country Parties should enhance support for capacity-building actions in developing country Parties.
5. Capacity-building activities shall be enhanced through appropriate institutional arrangements to support the implementation of this Agreement, including the appropriate institutional arrangements established under the Convention that serve this Agreement. The Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement shall, at its first session, consider and adopt a decision on the initial institutional arrangements for capacity-building.
Creating an umbrella for all sorts of support developing countries would get from the developed world and other volunteers, capacity building promises to be a vital part of future endeavors in developing countries towards combating climate change. Financial, material and human development aspects of the support that developing countries are expected to receive propel them to a better standard of mitigating and adapting to climate change.
In a broader realm, Article 12 sets out to build public awareness and participation in combating climate change. It states:
Parties shall cooperate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information, recognizing the importance of these steps with respect to enhancing actions under this Agreement.
As the first line of defense against climate change, the public needs to be well informed about the causes, effects and mitigation strategies against climate change.
The agreement has also put in place a mechanism to facilitate implementation of and promote compliance with the provisions of the agreement in Article 15. Paragraph 2 of this articles states that the mechanism shall consist of a committee that shall be expert-based and facilitative in nature and function in a manner that is transparent, non-adversarial and non-punitive. The committee shall pay particular attention to the respective national capabilities and circumstances of Parties.
Although the agreement does not seem to have provisions that force nations into accepting internationally set standards, it clearly sets out a common legally binding agreement that is set to be strengthened in the future. For now, it just sets the lowest bar for international cooperation in combating climate change.