The adoption of the Paris Agreement at the recent 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) marks a potentially revolutionary moment in the history of the battle against climate change.
For the first time we now have a global agreement that obliges all countries who are ‘Parties’ to the agreement to take meaningful action on climate change.
The main difference with the Kyoto Protocol, which had obligations for developed country Parties only – meaning that some larger developing countries, such as India, China, and Brazil, for example, had no obligation to reduce their emissions. Under this new Agreement, all countries are now required to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and take some form of action to address climate change.
What does the Paris Agreement mean for the Pacific? Agreement to limit global temperature change
As mentioned above, the Paris Agreement called for all parties to limit global temperature change to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperature levels. To put this into perspective, scientists have noted that the global temperature has already increased by 0.7 degrees from pre-industrial levels. The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (I.N.D.Cs) collected before COP 21 in Paris will put the world in a 2.7 degrees pathway.
Under the Paris Agreement, countries must take actions to ensure that the temperature increase does not exceed 2 degrees above pre industrial levels. Recognising that this level of warming would be too high for many vulnerable nations, the Paris Agreement also calls for countries to make further progress to limit warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This was a key ask from political leaders of the Pacific.
Efforts aimed at the 1.5 degree target will be supported by the obligation of all countries to look at the long term picture through their low carbon emission development strategies.
Under the previous arrangements, the majority of climate change funds focussed on greenhouse gas emissions known as ‘mitigation’ actions, with less emphasis on adaptation funding which is an important source of funding for the Pacific, to help address the impacts of climate change. Under the new Agreement, equal weight will be placed on mitigation and adaptation funding, which will bring about more adaptation funding opportunities to the Pacific.
Support for Adaptation
While the Kyoto Protocol focused almost purely on mitigation, the Paris Agreement adopted a global goal for adaptation – to enhance the capacity to adopt, strengthen resilience against impacts and reduce vulnerability to climate change. This has elevated the status of adaptation giving it equal importance as an issue. This is particularly beneficial to countries in the Pacific, who are amongst the most vulnerable to climate change.
A mechanism to address Loss and Damage caused by Climate Change
The Paris Agreement also provides for a mechanism to address loss and damage, caused by the impacts of climate change. While previous COP’s had agreed to such a mechanism known as the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage, the danger was that COP decisions could be over turned and may not be permanent. This new mechanism in the Paris Agreement spans issues such as insurance for climate change related events, and how to deal with the displacement of people due to climate change.
What are the obligations of countries under this Agreement?
Under the Paris Agreement there are different sets of obligations - some for all countries, some for developed countries only, and some for developing countries such as those in the Pacific island region.
All countries will now have to formulate national strategies to reduce their emissions of climate changing gasses - mitigation against climate change. These will be in the form of ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ where governments decide at the national level how they might best do this, for example, through their energy or transportation sectors, or in comes cases, through the protection of national forests which take carbon out of the atmosphere and store it.
All countries will be required to report against the actions that they take to both mitigate against climate change, and also what they are doing to adapt to climate change.
This information will be used in a Global Stocktake exercise held every five years. This ‘Global Stocktake’ will be used to measure progress against limiting the global temperature, and also to inform future discussions on whether or not more action is needed. Furthermore, all countries will have to formulate longer term strategies aimed at low carbon emission development.
Developed countries will have much more stringent reporting requirements, and are requested to provide additional resources such as financial, technology and capacity building, to assist developing countries to meet their climate change obligations.
Developing countries, like the Pacific islands will be provided with the assistance to carry out their obligations and to develop and implement strategies to cope with the impacts of climate change.
This demonstrates the willingness from the international community to tackle the global issue of climate change. The challenge now is for the region to be proactive and take the necessary steps for ratification and implementation of the Paris Agreement.
The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) will continue to work closely with its member countries, regional organisations and development partners to provide direct support to the implementation of this agreement as follows:
• Assist Pacific Island Countries to sign on to ratify the Paris Agreement
• Develop national strategies to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases which are referred to as Nationally Determined Contributions
• Provide assistance for countries to report against progress of meeting the goals of these strategies, every five years
• Work with members to develop long term low carbon development strategies
• Provide on-going support to adaptation and resilience building programmes
• Work with countries to complete their Adaptation Communications which all countries are required to produce
• Assist countries to access the financial opportunities provided by the Agreement, including mitigation and adaptation funding under the Global Environment Facility, Adaptation Fund and Green Climate Fund
To learn more about the Paris Agreement please access the below. You can also contact Dr Netatua Pelesikoti the Director of the Climate Change Division of SPREP at Netatuap@sprep.org
• You can read the Paris Agreement here or visit http://unfccc.int/files/home/application/pdf/paris_agreement.pdf
• To read the Decision adopting the Paris Agreement please click here or visit http://unfccc.int/files/home/application/pdf/decision1cp21.pdf
• To learn more about The Next Steps for the Paris Agreement please click here or visit http://unfccc.int/files/meetings/paris_nov_2015/application/pdf/paris_agreement_next_steps_post_adoption.pdf
• For a copy of All COP 21 Outcomes please click here or visit http://unfccc.int/meetings/paris_nov_2015/session/9057.php