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Paris climate conference ends with a weak deal, no emission reduction targets

16 December 2015

The COP21 UN climate change conference reached an agreement on December 12, 2015, which aims to hold the global temperature rise to below 2°C, and possibly to below 1.5°C, above pre-industrial levels, but does not contain any greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction mandates, targets, or specific actions to achieve that goal. Instead, the agreement envisions that future GHG emission reductions would rely on a scheme of voluntary emission reduction pledges by each of the 195 countries that signed the deal.

The Paris conference ended in a self-congratulatory mood, with several government leaders hailing the deal, including the US president Barack Obama and the French president François Hollande, who called the agreement “a major leap for mankind”. A number of world’s top environmental groups were also pleased with the final agreement text.

The most important aspect of the Paris conference appears to be that it legitimizes the threat of climate change. And yet, the absence of any mandatory emission reduction mechanisms in the adopted text seems to signal the inability of the world’s political-economic system to address this threat in a meaningful manner.

The Paris talks were sharply criticized by James Hansen—the top NASA climate scientist, now retired, considered the father of the global climate change awareness—who called the climate talks “a fraud” and “a fake”. Hansen is pointing out that as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest form of energy, they will continue to be used, in preference to renewable energy. The only way to sharply reduce emissions is to impose carbon taxes or “fees”, but the idea does not have many supporters—many governments and even some environmental groups remain opposed to carbon taxes.

The key components of the Paris agreement include:

The adopted text “notes with concern” that the initial INDC pledges submitted by countries before the Paris meeting are insufficient to reach the 2°C global warming target. With the submitted pledges, global emissions would reach a projected level of 55 gigatonnes of CO2(eq) in 2030, compared to an estimated 40 gigatonnes that would be necessary to meet the 2°C goal. The global GHG emission level that would allow meeting the 1.5°C goal is currently unknown, but it will be provided in a special IPCC report in 2018.

Negotiations on climate change began in 1992, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). An annual international climate change conference called the Conference of the Parties (COP) has been organized annually. In 1997, the participating countries reached the Kyoto Protocol, which specified GHG emission reduction targets for a number of developed countries, to be achieved between 2008 and 2012. A second Kyoto Protocol commitment period was agreed on in 2012, known as the Doha Amendment, which contained GHG emission reduction targets for 37 countries, to be met through 2020. Negotiations on a post-Kyoto legal framework to reduce GHG emissions were held in Lima in 2014, where several major economies, including the United States, China and India, had signaled that they will not ratify any treaty that would commit them to reduce CO2 emissions.

Source: UN Climate Change News