Nations strike UN deal in Paris to bind all to emission curbs

Published 18:50 on December 12, 2015  /  Last updated at 14:11 on July 5, 2017  /  Americas, Asia Pacific, Climate Talks, EMEA, International, REDD  /  No Comments

UN negotiators from 195 countries have agreed a new global climate change agreement from 2020, requiring them to scale up every five years voluntarily pledged greenhouse gas emission curbs to increase chances of preventing catastrophic warming.

UN negotiators from 195 countries have agreed a new global climate change agreement from 2020, requiring them to scale up every five years voluntarily pledged greenhouse gas emission curbs to increase chances of preventing catastrophic warming.

The pact, agreed in extra time on Saturday evening following 14 days of talks in Paris, ends four years of negotiations to extend regulation of heat-trapping gases to all nations, rather than just the 38 industrialised countries under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

The Paris Agreement to eliminate net man-made emissions this century allows for international emission trade and makes provision for a new mechanism to replace Kyoto’s CDM and JI carbon markets starting next decade.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who steered the conference – attended by 30,372 officials, interest groups and media – called it an “ambitious and balanced” agreement that marked a “historic turning point” for the world.

Environmental groups praised the deal as a major but partial step towards tackling climate change. “This deal alone won’t dig us out of the hole we’re in, but it makes the sides less steep, ” said Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo.

Unlike a failed 2009 effort in Copenhagen to put global emissions under a single cap sufficient to limit global warming to 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, the Paris Agreement has no direct link to the national voluntary pledges, which analysts say are currently on track to limit emissions to 2.7C.

Instead, it foresees a ‘bottom-up’ system to measure every nation’s emissions and check the progress their voluntary targets are making towards the collective long term goal with a global stocktake every five years, starting in 2023. A voluntary stocktake will take place in 2018 that aims to see if the existing goals can be made more ambitious.

The Paris deal calls for developed nations to extend their 2020 goal of mobilising $100 billion a year in climate finance to poorer countries to “a progression beyond previous efforts”. From 2020, $100 billion will be the minimum annual funding level, with a new amount to be decided by 2025.

The Agreement contains an insurance-based loss and damage mechanism to support poorer nations suffering from climate effects they can’t adapt for, but has a clause demanded by richer nations specifying that liability and compensation are not included.

LONG-TERM GOALS

The agreement set a collective target to hold temperatures “well below” 2C on pre-industrial levels and a non-binding aspirational goal to “pursue efforts” to limit temperature rises at 1.5C.

Falling short of a long-term full decarbonisation target that would eliminate the burning of fossil fuels, the deal instead constructed an odd wording that requires man-made emissions to balance with removals in sinks in the second half of the century.

“This will require net carbon dioxide emissions to be reduced, in effect, to zero. It seems governments understand this, even if they couldn’t quite bring themselves to say so,” said Myles Allen, a climate scientist at the UK’s Oxford University.

Net emissions would need to reach zero by 2080-2090 to meet a 2C goal, or by 2060-2080 for a 1.5C goal, according to Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute, a US-based think tank.

The goal would allow for some discharges being buried underground,  offset by planting huge numbers of trees, or other negative emission technologies, all of which are largely untested measures that concern environmentalists.

Scientists’ views vary over whether 1.5C is still feasible but some low-lying islands point to models that suggest they will disappear if temperatures hit 2C, which would have made it unthinkable for them to sign up to a pact that fails to mention deeper ambition.

Environmental campaigners say the inclusion of 1.5C will guide future policy ambition, a notion already backed up by senior UK lawmaker Ian Duncan, who said it may force the EU to at least consider adjusting its post-2020 EU ETS reform proposal, as that had been written based on a 2C global goal.

“I think this is rather remarkable long-term goal with a very clear trajectory on where the global economy is going. It sends a very powerful signal to world markets,” said Michael Jacobs of the New Climate Economy project and a former climate adviser to UK government.

FIVE-YEAR REVIEWS

The decision text alongside the main agreement allows countries to keep varied timeframes for their national emission goals – for instance the EU and China have 2030 goals and the US 2025- but urges all to return to the table every five years.

This will start with a voluntary ‘stocktake’ of pledges in 2018 and revisiting of pledges in 2020. The first binding stocktake is in 2023 with a revisiting of pledges in 2025.

The agreement said each party’s successive contribution “will represent a progression beyond” the prior pledge, with developed countries required to have absolute emission reduction goals and developing nations merely encouraged to move toward them over time.

“This is not quite as strong as ‘shall’ but gives a very strong expectation that parties will continue to progress,” said Nat Keohane of environmental group EDF.

Europe’s climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said having a review before 2020 would mean the 28-nation bloc and many other countries would come under pressure to up their goals, albeit on a voluntary basis, as low carbon technologies advanced and get cheaper amid scaled up investment.

That could be the clearest signal yet the bloc could be willing to scale up its current 2030 emission reduction target of a minimum 40% cut from 1990 levels. Any deepening of the overall pledge would almost certainly mean a tighter cap for the EU ETS, which regulates around half of the bloc’s GHG output.

In a further signal, France’s President Francois Hollande told the conference: “I commit to revising our emissions targets and financial targets by 2020.”

His environment minister Segolene Royal in October broke ranks among her EU counterparts to suggest the increasing spread of global climate action should enable the bloc to scale up its ambition. Poland, on the other hand, raised the prospect that the 40% goal could be weakened should the Paris talks not yield comparable goals from other economies.

Of the world’s big three economic and emitting blocs, both the EU and China are already on track to meet or exceed their INDC emission pledges with policies already being implemented while the US will require some additional action, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

All parties pledges and financial contributions are required to be covered under a single “transparency framework” requiring monitoring and reporting, though developing nations can take advantage of ‘flexibility’ to implement the provisions.

The details of the framework will be hammered out in UN climate meetings ahead of 2020.

REDD+ AND LAND USE

The Paris Agreement specifically encouraged parties to make use of the REDD+ mechanism to protect tropical forests put in place in 2013. The text included the use of result-based payments and opened the door to including REDD in a future international market.

“Today marks a historic moment for forests as they are now enshrined in the new global climate agreement,” said Gustavo Silva-Chavez with Forest Trends, an industry, investor and NGO coalition that promotes market-based approaches to forest protection.

“We are hopeful that forest protection can help achieve deep cuts in global emissions as soon as possible. Most importantly, we want to (see) those emissions reductions achieved in a way that respects principles of environmental integrity and delivers meaningful benefits to local communities, in particular Indigenous Peoples.”

The REDD+ Safeguards Working Group, a coalition of forest NGOs, applauded the inclusion of references to REDD’s safeguard mechanism, put in place to ensure the rights of indigenous peoples, but some environmentalists were concerned about the possibility of cheap REDD credits being picked up in large numbers by fossil-fuel burning energy firms.

The section on markets opened for the use of “long-term” emission reductions, instead of “permanent”, which could see forestry-related credits used by developed nations to meet their future carbon targets.

The specific rules of the post-2020 market will be hammered out over the next two or three COPs, and some NGOs and rainforest nations are likely to work hard to keep REDD+ out of that market.

“Combined with the long-term instead of permanent language, this text could be interpreted to lead to a flooding of markets with land use and forest credits, not to mention lack of environmental integrity,” said Kate Dooley, a doctoral researcher with the University of Melbourne.

It is generally expected that offset supply in a future international market would be limited because most countries will have their own targets, and selling offsets or other units would restrict nations’ options in meeting their goals. But Dooley said the understanding of this might be limited.

“Brazil is certainly moving to protect its forest carbon credits while the price is low. I’m not sure all countries will be so savvy, some countries might not understand if they sell an offset they can’t count it towards their own targets,” she told Carbon Pulse.

She also pointed out that while the Kyoto Protocol had a built-in limit on how much of the collective emission reduction target could be met through forest sinks, Article 4.1 in the Paris Agreement had no such limitation.

This could also provide Russia with the means to go ahead with plans in its INDC to use its large boreal forested area to absorb considerable emission growth in other sectors.

By Ben Garside, Stian Reklev and Mike Szabo – news@carbon-pulse.com

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