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What agreement was reached at the COP21 UN Climate Change Summit?

Posted by Sharon Russell-Verma on 30 December 2015 at 10:40 am

On Saturday 12th December 2015, as the climate conference in Paris came to a close, one day later than planned, many people sighed with relief that finally an agreement had been reached.

The outcome:

  • A commitment to aim to hold global warming to 1.5⁰C above pre-industrial levels
  • $100 billion per year to go to developing countries to assist with less carbon intensive growth

As simple as it sounds, this pact has been the result of more than 20 years of negotiations just to get to Paris, followed by a two week marathon of discussions, dialogues and no doubt many sleepless nights for those who were involved in the negotiations. By the end of the summit 196 countries had signed up to aiming to keep global warming to not more than 1.5⁰C above pre-industrial levels (with a target of less than 2⁰C), which should help to avert the worst potential impacts of climate change.

The signing of the agreement means that both developed and developing countries are both required to limit their emissions, including China and they US. Why are they singled out? Well, it was imperative that these two in particular signed up for the deal because together they emit 35% of the world’s emissions (we cannot feel smug as many of our everyday goods arrive from China every day).

It was also agreed that there will be regular reviews (every five years) to ensure that these commitments align with findings of future scientific research and advice.

One of the sticking points in the earlier conferences was the question of how poorer countries could afford these limits. The Paris conference has resolved that problem by ensuring that finance will be available to poorer nations to help them cut their emissions and adhere to their commitment.  Developed countries have agreed to raise 100 billion dollars per year from 2020 to help developing countries finance less carbon intensive development strategies.

The caps on emissions are not stringent enough for many climate change scientists. An increase in global warming could still, they argue, lead to more droughts, floods, heat waves and sea level rises. Nevertheless, progress of sorts was made because for the first time countries big and small, each with an equal say (and when does that happen?) came together and made a pact to begin, in earnest, combating climate change, something that was unthinkable six months ago.

Photo: Martin

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