Five things we have learned from COP21

The Paris climate change conference, which took place between November 30th and December 12th, was one of the most remarkable events of last year. With a record number of over 36,000 participants, Paris-Le Bourget exhibition centre became, for almost two weeks, one of the most crowded places in France. The accommodation of various and often-contradictory interests represented by 196 Parties that participated in negotiations was not an easy task either. But they finally managed to agree on a new convention – Paris Agreement. Here are five things that we should remember from COP21.

 

The 2-degree target is now legally binding

Conférence des Nations Unies sur les changements climatiques - COP21 (Paris, Le Bourget)
Laurent Fabius recognising the adoption of the Paris Agreement

Paris Agreement will replace currently binding Kyoto Protocol in 2020 and contrary to its predecessor, it has been adopted for an unspecified period of time. It confirms that the rise of temperature on Earth should be kept “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and pursue efforts” to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. While the 2°C target is enshrined in climate change negotiations since 2009 Copenhagen conference, the 1.5°C objective signifies the advance of global ambition and response to the request from small island states that are the most vulnerable to the rise of sea level. In practice, the 2°C target means that energy and industrial emissions must be decreased by half by 2050, and must near zero after 2050.

Inclusiveness and transparency are at the heart of Paris Agreement

Many commentators are sceptical about the outcome of climate change negotiations in Paris. For some it is meaningless because global green house gas (GHG) emissions are predicted to increase whether new climate change agreements will be adopted or not. Pursuant to World Energy Organisation projections, energy-related CO2 emissions will be 16% higher by 2040. However, the projections may not work. By the end of COP21 negotiations a record number of 187 countries have proposed their contributions to fight climate change post-2020. The so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) covered nearly all global emissions (98.6%). This gives a reason to be more optimistic, because in contrast to currently binding regulations, all countries will be responsible for their emissions reductions, not only developed. What is more, INDCs are publicly known as they have been already published at the webpage of UNFCCC Secretariat and every 5 years they will be revised to maintain constant increase of ambition (Article 14). The implementation of objectives by countries will be supervised by the special implementation and compliance committee (Article 15), which creates another incentive for countries to fulfil their obligations.

 

There are more and more incentives to invest in green technologies

In fact, the adoption of a global climate change agreement can only help to accelerate the energy transition that is already underway. In fact, global renewable power capacity amounted to 1829 GW at the end of 2014, compared to around 829 GW in 2000, according to International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). It means that production of renewable energy increased by more than 45% in just 14 years. The most popular sources of clean energy are: wind, sun, hydropower and biomass. China is a global leader in production of hydropower (26% of installed hydropower capacity in 2014) and wind energy (31% of installed wind capacity in 2014). In both examples, it is followed by the USA. Whereas Germany is a leader in solar energy sector with 21% of installed solar capacity, which is 5% higher than in China and 8% more than in Japan. China is the largest investor in renewable energy with a record 83.3 billion USD spent in 2014, which is 39% higher than a year before.

WildfireEU will become more polarized?

There is a significant body of academic literature concerning the notion of EU leadership in climate change negotiations. Yet, the EU can lose its position in favour of the USA and China. These two main CO2 emitters agreed, for the first time, to take responsibility and reduce their emissions on the basis of a bilateral agreement. The USA set a new target of 26-28% net greenhouse gas reduction below 2005 levels by 2025, whereas China committed itself to peak its emissions by 2030. We can expect more debates concerning new climate change targets within the European Union, but advancing the existing objectives may be difficult. Why? Because Member States are divided as countries investing in energy transition will push for more ambitious EU targets. But Member States from Central and Eastern Europe are very unlikely to accept higher renewable energy or emissions reduction targets. In effect, EU climate change policy may become one of the main battlefields in the years to come.

 

France is a homeland of diplomacy

We have already come across this, but the French have once again proven that they mastered the art of diplomacy. In fact, the task was very difficult. The conference started just two weeks after a series of terrorist attacks, organised by the Islamic State militants, which left 130 people dead and hundreds wounded. This raised serious security concerns and called into question the COP21 kick-off. The conference took place according to the schedule and French Presidency was praised for a good organisation and skilful facilitation of negotiations. French minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development – Laurent Fabius – was nominated the President of the COP and can be prized for handling an inclusive process which led to the conclusion of an agreement which is more meaningful than many thought possible. Chapeau bas! This could be an important lesson for the next Presidency, as the 22nd Conference of the Parties is expected to take place in Marrakesh (Morocco), between November 7-18, 2016.

Maria OLCZAK
Member of the Natolin Energy Group

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