Five key points from the Paris climate accord
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Dec 12, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Five key points from the Paris climate accord

Here are five key points from Saturday's historic climate accord


Drawing a line on temperature rise

Countries aim to hold the rise in average global temperature to “well below” 2 degrees C compared to pre-industrial levels. They also agree to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C,” recognizing that those efforts must be sustainable and maintain the goal of eradicating poverty.

There has been so much carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution that many scientists say a 1.5-degree target is virtually impossible to hit, though others say if we don’t do it the consequences will be severe.

Staying below 2 degrees is challenging but doable, requiring an accelerated shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy and other low-carbon sources. “Countries would be de facto required to completely decarbonize the global electric sector by 2050,” according to science communications organization Climate Nexus.

A eulogy for fossil fuels?

The agreement envisions reaching a global peak in greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible,” though it acknowledges that peaking will happen in different countries at different paces to reflect unique circumstances.

Beyond peaking, the aim is to reach a balance by the second half of the century between human-caused GHG emissions and the planet’s natural ability to reabsorb them. This keeps the door open to using biofuels, so long as it “does not threaten food production.” More importantly, it reinforces the need to stop deforestation and promote reforestation, achieved in part with financial incentives such as “results-based payments” from rich countries to poor countries.

The language in the agreement differentiates between developed and developing countries. Developed countries “should” lead in making absolute economy-wide emission reductions, while developing countries are “encouraged” to do so.

“This agreement will keep the foot on the pedal,” said Thomas Spencer, program director at the Paris-based Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations.

Raising the bar over time

If you thought country emission-reduction goals heading into the Paris summit were the beginning and the end of climate action over the next couple of decades, think again.

Prior to the agreement going into force in 2020, there will be another meeting or “facilitative dialogue” of countries in 2018. At this point, countries will be asked to review their efforts and reassess their original emission-reduction pledges with the idea of submitting more aggressive targets.

Five years later, in 2023, countries will do it again — and again five years after that — each time with the aiming of bringing stronger action to the table. This allows countries to adjust to market realities, such as the dramatically falling cost of renewable energy and clean technologies, as well as the impact climate change is having on their land, infrastructure and citizens.

Accounting for emissions

There was concern at the start of negotiations that some countries would resist having to report actions and progress in an open, transparent and consistent way. Without all countries following the same rules for reporting, getting an accurate handle on who’s doing what and who’s paying who would be tricky, if not impossible.

The agreed text has “sunshine” provisions that set a minimum standard for measuring, reporting and verifying emission reductions, but it won’t be overly rigid. Developing countries will have some flexibility, as long as they meet the minimum requirement. Of note is that all but the poorest and smallest countries must report at least every two years.

Also of interest is that co-operation between countries, while encouraged, can’t devolve into a game of double dipping, where two countries take credit for the same action.

Show me the money

Money was a big concern for developing countries, not just to help them with efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, but more importantly, to help them adapt to climate change and bounce back after being devastated by climate-related events.

Under the agreement, developed countries “shall” provide financial and technological support for adaptation and enhancing community resilience. They’ll also help pay for losses and damages from the unavoidable, such as sea-level rise, and this can also include early warning systems or help with emergency preparedness.

Developed countries are to take the lead on financing, but unique to this deal is that developing countries are encouraged to also pitch in when they can. This recognizes that countries such as China, Brazil and India, while technically “developing,” aren’t lightweights either and need to start doing their part. The goal is to have at least $100 billion (U.S.) in committed annual funding in place by 2020, with the expectation that annual minimum will be bumped up against in 2025.

Human and indigenous rights

Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna urged during an earlier phase of the negotiations that human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples be given prominence in both the preamble and core operational text of the agreement.

In the end, it only got referenced in the preamble within a paragraph that acknowledges climate change as a “common concern” for humanity. It says countries, when taking actions to address climate change, must respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, including those of indigenous peoples, but also migrants, children, persons with disabilities and others in vulnerable situations. The text also emphasizes gender equality, the need to empower women, and consider future generations.

Toronto Star

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