The Paris Climate Agreement: Towards a climate-friendly future


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On the evening of 12 December 2015, Laurent Fabius, the then French Foreign Minister, and President of the 21st session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), closed the climate conference proceedings by stating, “With a small hammer you can achieve great things.” By bringing down his legendary green hammer, Fabius signalled that all of the UNFCCC’s 195 parties had accepted the new climate agreement.

Almost all of the world’s heads of state and government welcomed the Paris Agreement. Government leaders such as Xi Jinping (China), Narendra Modi (India) and Barack Obama (US) had even personally intervened to ensure that the agreement came about. Moreover, the agreement represents a huge success for multilateralism and the French diplomacy, and Laurent Fabius went on to describe the negotiations as “the most beautiful and peaceful revolution that Paris has ever seen”. The Paris Agreement stands in great contrast to the disappointing climate negotiations that took place in Copenhagen in 2009: whereas Copenhagen failed to produce an agreement, even the majority of civil society views Paris as a milestone in climate policy.

The Paris Agreement has also been celebrated world wide as a climate policy breakthrough. The Guardian (UK) stated that the agreement “may signal the end of the fossil fuel era”. The Economist (UK) argued that no other agreement had ever involved this amount of importance being placed on the risks associated with climate change. Finally, the Chinese news agency Xinhua called the deal a “particularly sweet victory for China”, as the country played a considerable role in the negotiations.

However, drawing up an agreement is not enough to prevent climate change, nor will it protect people and the environment from the devastating consequences of global warming. Furthermore, the commitments set out in the agreement so far are not enough to keep its temperature targets, or to provide sufficient financing for the necessary climate adaptation measures. Nevertheless, the Paris Agreement constitutes a landmark decision that will influence the future direction of policy, and it provides the required mechanisms to ensure that its aims can be gradually achieved. Brian Deese, an adviser to Barack Obama, expects the agreement to spark massive investment in clean energy technologies, and argues that this will lead coal, oil and gas to lose their competitiveness. Furthermore, the parties to the agreement are encouraged to submitting national plans by 2020 setting out how they intend to ensure that their development over the next 30 years will produce low levels of greenhouse gases. Finally, as the agreement focuses on the national level, it offers civil society opportunities to participate and to encourage broad public debate about a climate just future.

The agreement can also be interpreted as an expression of solidarity with poor and vulnerable states because it recognises the shared responsibility of mitigating climate risks, aims to step up cooperation, improve the climate robustness of countries with weak economies and promote their participation to ensure that they also benefit economically from the transition to sustainable development. Thus, implementing the Paris Agreement will lead to a transformation that goes far beyond what might be expected from a narrow view of climate policy.

Paris also managed to overcome the separation between industrial countries, which were viewed as having climate policy obligations, and developing countries, which were not. This division no longer reflected the reality of today’s world. Now that all states have assumed certain obligations it will be possible to distribute responsibility more dynamically and to strengthen climate justice.

  • Publisher: Food for the world, Act Alliance
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