on 18th December 2015

Historic climate deal signals hope for the poor, but its significance hangs on the actions that follow

The Paris Agreement on climate change is no doubt a historic deal that could become a trigger for transformational change in our world, building climate resilient and zero-emission development, whilst overcoming poverty. At the same time, it is far from perfect, and its significance hangs on the actions that follow. The fight to build a climate safe world is not over.

1.5°C temperature limit: a win for the most vulnerable

The inclusion of the 1.5°C temperature limit into the Paris Agreement was a potentially ground breaking accomplishment. De facto, 1.5°C is the new benchmark, and any interpretations that the global community should aim to limit warming to 2°C can now be declared as politically inadequate. Most importantly, it has not come at the expense of a more operational emission reductions goal, as governments agreed that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and removals have to ‘balance’ in the 2nd half of the century. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios this basically requires getting to zero emissions from fossil fuels by 2050, with the shift to 100 per cent renewable energy as the main strategy. The climate vulnerable countries, supported by civil society, drove forward this key demand – something only a few thought possible at the beginning of the Paris climate talks.

Adaptation, and loss and damage are left in murky waters

Climate change affects us all, and now the clear language pinned into the Paris Agreement prevents anyone from arguing otherwise. Increasing the ability to adapt to adverse impacts is enshrined in the purpose of the agreement, further reinforced by detailed provisions. Unfortunately, this has not been matched with clear and reliable commitments of new and additional finance to be delivered primarily by richer countries.

Moreover, developed countries politicised the issue of unavoidable climate devastation, also known as ‘loss and damage’, straying away from their historical responsibilities and making a strong stand against including liability and compensation in the agreement. Eventually, loss and damage made it to the Paris Agreement, with a commitment to strengthen its implementation through the Warsaw International Mechanism and its key work areas, such as how to address loss and damage from irreversible threats, risk insurance and non-economic losses.

A clause to exclude compensation and liability is definitely an unfortunate caveat, but its exact impact remains to be seen. Developed countries have now left Paris with an even higher moral obligation to rapidly cut their emissions and scale up support for the most vulnerable people.

Paris Agreement strengthens human rights and gender equality

Civil society and a broad coalition of countries fought hard to ensure that human rights and gender equality are enshrined in the Paris deal. Eventually, due to the opposition of very few countries, these aspects are addressed only in the preamble of the Paris Agreement, but in a manner which sends a clear message to governments: respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, as well as gender equality and women’s empowerment. Overall, the Paris Agreement can be a springboard for strengthened action on human rights and climate change.

Call to action now and before 2020

The next five years are critical for scaling up climate action across the world – before the Paris Agreement comes into force in 2020. All countries, in particular the developed nations with mostly inadequate climate pledges, need to review their national mitigation plans. The agreed 2018 stocktake, combined with a mandated IPCC special report on 1.5°C must become the next big moment in our journey for climate justice.

The climate crisis was not solved in Paris, but governments promised more than many dared to expect. Now the real work begins.

This blog originally appeared here in the Outreach magazine of the Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future site on Friday Dec 18, 2015
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