Climate change agreement: Views from Paris

by Megan Rowling and Laurie Goering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Saturday, 12 December 2015 09:28 GMT

A placard with the slogan "1.5 degrees Celsius = rich countries do your fair share" is seen on a replica of the Eiffel Tower at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) in Le Bourget, near Paris, France, Dec. 11, 2015. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

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What does the final draft of the Paris climate agreement mean for the world's poorest and most vulnerable?

PARIS, Dec 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Ministers and officials at U.N. talks in Paris have received the final version of a landmark global accord to tackle climate change.

"This will be a major leap for humankind," said French President Francois Hollande, encouraging countries to adopt the agreement in Paris later on Saturday.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the time had come to acknowledge that national interests are best served by acting in the global interest.

"Nature is sending urgent signals. People and countries are threatened as never before," he told delegates assembled to hear the key points of the agreement from French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

"We have to do as science dictates. We must protect the planet that sustains us. For that, we need all hands on deck," said Ban.

Here are key points and views on the agreement from negotiators and civil society experts on the ground in Le Bourget, Paris:

TEMPERATURE GOAL:

The agreement aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, by 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.

To achieve that temperature goal, countries aim to peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter so as to achieve a balance between emissions and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.

Maarten van Aalst, director, Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre

"This deal is a critical step towards a safer world. The long-term goal is a strong collective commitment that should prevent future risks from getting out of hand. Importantly, the agreement also recognises that risks are already rising, and that we need to step up our efforts to build resilience, especially focusing on the most vulnerable groups and communities."

Michael Jacobs, senior adviser for the New Climate Economy project

"Historians will see this as the turning point: the moment when the world started shifting decisively away from fossil fuels and towards clean and safe energy systems. Remarkably this effectively signals the end of the fossil fuel era."

Bill McKibben, co-founder 350.org

“Every government seems now to recognise that the fossil fuel era must end and soon. But the power of the fossil fuel industry is reflected in the text, which drags out the transition so far that endless climate damage will be done. Since pace is the crucial question now, activists must redouble our efforts to weaken that industry. This didn’t save the planet but it may have saved the chance of saving the planet.”

Tasneem Essop, WWF head of delegation 

“By including a long-term temperature goal of well below 2°C of warming with a reference to a 1.5°C goal, the latest draft text sends a strong signal that governments are committed to being in line with science. What we need now is for their actions, including emission reductions and finance, to add up to delivering on that goal. There are opportunities to do so built in the agreement."

Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace International executive director 

"Now comes the great task of the century - how do we meet this new goal? The measures outlined in Paris simply don’t get us there."

Tim Gore, Oxfam climate change policy chief

A temperature goal of 1.5 degrees C of warming is "good, but may ring hollow unless we see significant action in years ahead."

LOSS AND DAMAGE:

An existing international mechanism to deal with the unavoidable losses and damages caused by climate change, such as creeping deserts and rising seas, is anchored in the legally binding deal. A promise that it will not be used as a basis for "liability and compensation" - a demand from the United States that proved very controversial - has been moved to a set of accompanying decisions in a compromise.  

Mohamed Adow, Christian Aid's senior climate advisor

"For the first time in an international treaty clear consideration has also been given to loss and damage - support for countries facing climate change so severe it can't be adapted to... Because of our failure to provide adequate support for adaptation, we now have loss and damage as an integral part of the climate regime."

Sven Harmeling, climate change advocacy coordinator, CARE International

“Climate change is already causing devastating impacts for poor people around the world. Developed countries politicised the issue of loss and damage in the Paris talks, trying to limit options for poor countries to deal with climate  threats. With the Paris Agreement, all countries promise not to leave the poor behind. Developed countries leave Paris with an even higher moral obligation to scale up support for the most vulnerable people and to cut their emissions more rapidly.”

Adriano Campolina, ActionAid chief executive

“The issue of loss and damage was a clear point of contention throughout the negotiations. Developing countries called for a deal which would offer support to people suffering the catastrophic consequences of rising sea levels and soaring temperatures. The US and several other rich countries instead took the opportunity of the Paris talks to deny people this right putting them at their mercy for dealing with climate change impacts.

"The phrase ‘does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation’ in the final agreement cannot be taken lightly. In practice this will strip developing countries of their rights to assistance from richer nations and means, as climate-related issues such as displacement and loss of land continue to destroy nations, many will be left to face up to these disasters alone. Essentially those polluting the earth are getting off scot-free, with no threat of future compensation. Cooperation alone should not wipe out obligation."

FINANCE:

A floor has been set of $100 billion a year in funding for developing countries to make their economies low-carbon and adapt to the impacts of climate change from 2020 through 2025, but it is not in the binding part of the agreement, as some had hoped. A new target for climate finance will be defined by 2025.

Helen Szoke, Oxfam Australia CEO  

“This deal offers a frayed life-line to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Only the vague promise of a new future climate funding target has been made, while the deal does not force countries to cut emissions fast enough to forestall a climate change catastrophe. This will only ramp up adaptation costs further in the future."

Alden Meyer, strategy and policy manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists

"Even if we succeed in holding the increase in global temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius, the impacts of climate change will continue to increase over the next several decades. Vulnerable communities require scaled-up assistance to cope with these impacts, and while some progress was made on this front in Paris, more remains to be done.”

Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace International executive director 

“There’s not enough in this deal for the nations and people on the frontlines of climate change. It contains an inherent, ingrained injustice. The nations which caused this problem have promised too little help to the people who are already losing their lives and livelihoods.

 Adriano Campolina, ActionAid chief executive

“While the issue of providing climate finance to developing countries has been agreed upon, the final deal does not provide any real assurance to poor countries on how much finance will be delivered, when it will be delivered by, or how much of it will be available for adaptation."

Tim Gore, Oxfam climate change policy chief

Arrangement to set a new finance target in 2025 to go beyond $100 billion a year "is simply not good enough in giving the real certainty and predictability that finance will continue to flow at scale, particularly for adaptation”.

Camilla Toulmin, senior fellow,  International Institute for Environment and Development

“The poorest are most often at the sharp end of the extremes of drought and flooding that climate change brings. The deal in Paris, while not perfect, gives poorer countries the hope of a safer, cleaner and more prosperous future and it's huge significance cannot be over-stated.”

HUMAN RIGHTS & GENDER: 

Rights campaigners had pushed hard for human rights, gender equality and the rights of indigenous people and workers to be included in the legally binding agreement, but fears from some developed countries that it would impose obligations on them meant respect for rights features only in the non-binding introduction to the deal. 

Bridget Burns, Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO)

"(It) is beyond a huge disappointment - it is a failure of governments and leaders to take into account and enshrine the rights and the equality and the ecosystem integrity we have been calling for."

Frank Ettawageshik, National Congress of American Indians

"(Countries) have recognised that climate change is a human rights issue and that the rights of indigenous peoples should be at the core of any climate action... We realise that this is just one moment in time, and part of a continuous struggle - this is now a new floor upon which we have to build more work."

Kirby Fullerton, YOUNGO (Youth NGO constituency) human rights working group

"We are pleased about the appearance of intergenerational equity (the rights of future peoples) in the preamble as a term that has never appeared before in any kind of global agreement... We see this as a stepping stone, and as the first step to continuing to fight for these to be represented throughout the text and throughout the global climate treaty."

ADAPTATION: 

Development experts have welcomed a new global goal to build capacity to adapt to worsening extreme weather and rising seas, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change.

The goal aims to contribute to sustainable development and ensure adaptation in accordance with the temperature goal of the agreement. 

Maarten van Aalst, director, Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre

"The adaptation paragraph is particularly strong, with, for the first time, explicit attention for vulnerable groups and communities."

Tim Gore, Oxfam climate change policy chief

In this deal, "the rich don't want to talk about adaptation for the poor... but in years to come you'll see it take a more important position in this talks" as impacts spread.

MIGRATION:

A non-binding decision asks the Warsaw international mechanism on loss and damage to set up a task force to work with other organisations to develop recommendations to avert, minimise and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change. The introduction to the legal agreement says countries should take into account the rights of migrants when taking climate action.

Koko Warner, head of environmental migration, social vulnerability and adaptation at U.N. University

“I think it’s quite positive. We have a task force (and) a space for growth. I think that’s terrific." The deal "sends a signal to countries and parties" on the need to think about and plan for climate-related migration.

FORESTS:

The Paris agreement has a stand-alone article devoted to Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), a clear sign of its importance, experts said. The article enables the REDD+ package to be put into practice on the ground, they said.

Gustavo Silva-Chávez, Forest Trends’ REDDX programme manager 

“Today marks a historic moment for forests as they are now enshrined in the new global climate agreement. All countries have agreed on simple language that operationalizes forest protection and flips the ‘on’ switch for international finance to make it happen. Forests can now play a key part in our global response to climate change, helping to achieve both mitigation and adaptation goals."

Don Lehr, REDD+ Safeguards Working Group

The agreement's preamble "presents critical moral, ethical and ecological framing for the pact. It highlights human rights, including the rights of indigenous peoples, and draws attention to 'the importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems'. This framing is essential to ensure that we see the right outcomes for forests and people."

(Reporting by Megan Rowling and Laurie Goering)

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