Over 13 days in December, representatives from 196 countries gathered in Paris to negotiate a universal agreement on climate, commonly referred to as COP21.
The resulting Paris climate pact forms a first ever commitment by 195 nations to take concrete actions to reduce carbon emissions in order to halt the anthropogenic warming of the planet. The 32-page document is the outcome of a deal that includes actions for developed and developing countries alike. The attempt to forge a similar deal in the 2009 climate change summit meeting in Copenhagen failed after participating countries could not agree upon a deal.
The ambitious goal is to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels (we are currently at 0.7 degrees Celsius). To achieve this, sustainable forest management was recognized as a priority to counteracting temperature increases due to human actions – to “achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.” Instead of having emissions neutrality as a goal, the language suggests that fossil fuels can still be burned, as long as they are balanced by a greater number “greenhouse gas sinks,” such as forests, soil and oceans. This compromise was agreed upon due to fierce resistance of oil-producing nations which did not agree with a reduction of the burning of fossil fuels.
Another priority was to help developing nations to switch to renewable energy by providing financial assistance. Nevertheless, the goal of at least $100 billion a year in financial support by richer countries is not legally binding.
As negotiations encompassed numerous interests and a wide variety of developed and developing countries, it is unsurprising that the COP21 agreement did not fully please every county’s representative. Some leaders of developing countries were disquieted about the lack of legally binding financial support by developed countries to help with climate change mitigation measures.
Prior to this meeting, each county submitted a public plan that detailed how they would cut emissions through 2015 or 2030. Countries committed to gather every five years, beginning in 2020, with updated plans to cut their emissions. The success of the deal will hence depend heavily on future governments.