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Paris Agreement

Important first step, but not the final.

Important first step, but not the final.

On 12th December at 7.37pm, stomping, clapping, crying, hugging, cheering and toasting erupted from Le Bourget as we all watched the Conference of Parties adopt the Paris Agreement. A negotiator next to me, whom I had never met, quickly hugged me and everyone around him.  After years and years of tireless work, he was amazed that it was gavelled so quickly. Everyone was on their feet, everyone was cheering, everyone was ecstatic.

Article 2 of the Paris Agreement states that we must hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees above pre industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

The other big, and surprising, win in the new agreement was forests. Article 5 encourages parties to undertake “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...while reaffirming the importance of incentivising, as appropriate, non carbon benefits.” The inclusion of REDD+ in this agreement is very significant and a first, as it was excluded from the Kyoto Protocol.

As with all good things, this unreserved and unconditional jubilation ended as quickly as it began. With French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and his team reading out the changes made to the agreement, everyone quickly came to realise this was but the first step in a long process of climate action.  

No matter one’s opinion on this agreement, it is a historical one. It is unprecedented. But it has not stopped sea levels rising, relieved the stress on ecosystems, or calmed extreme weather affecting  the quality of life for those most at risk. Yes, this agreement is an unprecedented and historical achievement, but it is not the be all and end all of climate action. We can only hope that it will usher the world into a new era of sustainability, clean energy and a new mindset that will frame development in accordance with the sustainable development goals, including Goal 13 on Climate Action. Like Agenda 2030, this deal moves the world towards a common future of sustainability, encompassing over 95% of global emissions, compared to the Kyoto model of only a fraction. That in itself must be applauded; however, more must be done.

The agreement fell short on a couple of crucial points.

Firstly, prior to the gavelling, countries were asked to provide their climate agenda. The Paris Agreement, and the speeches of Laurent Fabius recognise that countries did not go far enough in their pledges. The INDCs only come into effect in 2020. Countries are urged to start taking action immediately, and the first review of pledges is set for 2018. Perhaps it was due to politics, perhaps it was too complicated; instead of dealing with this crucial element, the agreement delayed action to a later date. If we have learned anything from the past 50 years of climate action we should know that delaying action on climate change is never a good sign. In Australia, coal plants are being expanded. In Latin America, frackingis still occurring and expanding in some regions.

Secondly, there is a huge gap in the INDCs and the temperature goals set in the agreement. The representative for Nicaragua used his speaking time to note that “according to the Paris Agreement, the world will emit 55GT by 2030, whereas 40GT is required for a two degree world. How will we achieve a 1.5 degree world? We are giving grandchildren a 3 degree world, and then stripping them of their legal rights to deal with the catastrophe.” Nicaragua is critical of the new agreement for not doing enough. It should be noted that Nicaragua is one of 10 nations that did not submit their nations plans to reduce emissions. Regardless, their criticism of the new agreement is a reminder that more must be done.  

Each and every country must take immediate action to undergo a rapid period of decarbonisation. This agreement cannot be the end; it must be the first step. This agreement must be followed by a revolution of climate action if we want to achieve a #1o5C world.

Melissa Peppin is the Project Leader for Communications at SDSN Youth. All opinions expressed on the blog are that of the author and not of SDSN Youth