From Paris: we have a global climate agreement!

13.12.15 By
This article is more than 8 years old

— live updates from the conference floor —

Im writing from the floor of the final plenary at the Paris Talks. The room is absolutely buzzing after the COP President, the star French negotiator Laurent Fabius, took to the stage and announced the Paris Agreement was universally supported!

We’ve looked in detail at the Paris Agreement with our team back home in Australia. It looks good. Better than any of us anticipated.

The top line summary is this:

1. The agreement is strong, and referenced to science.

Any plan for the future needs a clear, credible, and well-justified goal. A core discussion at the climate talks has been about the level at which we should limit the Earth’s temperature rise. As you know, warming of almost 1°C has already occurred, and with it, significant increases in the intensity and frequency of many types of extreme weather – longer and hotter droughts, more heatwaves, longer bushfire/wildfire seasons, and inundation of low-lying coastal areas. These events have put people and the environment at risk. As global temperatures continues to rise, the risks escalate.

Importantly, the Paris agreement enshrines that countries must: “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels”. Previous agreements had referred to a global temperature rise limit of 2°C. This is one of the most significant and important aspects of the agreement. It is an acknowledgement from countries that climate change is happening more quickly and with larger and more devastating impacts than we first thought. It means that all countries will have to ramp up action. As the Chilean representative just stated, “without civil society groups, 1.5 degrees wouldn’t be in the agreement,” so well done to everyone!

2. The agreement is universal.

All countries, big and small, rich and poor, are part of the agreement and the majority have contributed positively to the process. Climate change is a global problem and this represents a truly global approach to solving it.

3. The agreement makes clear that countries will have to up their game over time.

Almost all countries submitted pledges to reduce their emissions over the next 10 – 15 years prior to the conference. However, the Paris agreement notes that the current pollution reduction targets are insufficient and countries will need to ratchet up their efforts.

The agreement incorporates a “ratchet mechanism” so these targets can continually be reviewed and strengthened. The formal review and updating of targets will occur every five years. This is critical to the integrity of the agreement and governments will have to dial up their ambition over time.

For greater analysis check out our briefing paper here.

What does the agreement mean?

1. The world changing.

This agreement, signals the end of the fossil fuel era as the world rapidly replaces coal, oil and gas with clean, renewable energy sources. Renewable energy has been front and centre through the entire conference. The technology is ready to go, it is profitable, and now with this agreement, collectively countries world-wide have now effectively committed to move rapidly away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Nations are following mayors, companies, and citizens to accelerate the massive scale up of renewable energy that is already well underway.

2. We are on the cusp of global innovation the likes of which the world has never seen.

Change so far has been slow, as we battle the inertia of economies, businesses, legislation, and public attitudes. But this conference represents a tipping point. As US Foreign Secretary John Kerry noted, one of the crucial achievements of this agreement is that it sends a loud and clear signal to markets across the world that technologies to address, adapt, and mitigate climate change deserve massive investment and acceleration.

As Keith Tuffley CEO, The B Team said: “This transformation will be fast, exciting and prosperous for those who “get it”. And if we now know that we’re going to zero, why would you invest in fossil fuels. Massive amounts of capital will now start shifting to where it is most needed.”

3. Australia will have to do a LOT more.

Australia is the back of the pack in terms of climate change, just this week a report released in Paris found that Australia was coming in last of the OECD countries; another found we are third last among all developed countries in front of only Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia. Australia faces an enormous challenge: after years of inaction we have a long way to go to catch up and modernise our energy systems. There are huge opportunities for the sunny country but we are getting left behind.

If all countries adopted the emissions targets Australia has, we would be headed toward perhaps 3 or 4 degrees of warming. So to do our bit, you can see that we will have to really pick up the pace!

4. Progress here was driven by countless citizens world wide pushing change.

The reason nations were able to make such progress is that so many people right around the world have been pushing for change. As the Chilean negotiator just said: “we wouldn’t have 1.5°C in the Agreement without civil society”. All the efforts are vital and will continue to be critical as we push for the implementation of the Agreement.

So what is the bad news? This agreement can’t be perfect.

1. This Agreement is not enough to solve the climate crisis.

It is clear that much more must be done. Alone, these commitments are not enough to tackle climate change. As Tim said to me the other day “This is the end of the beginning. The next phase is where the real work will have to happen.”

The emissions pledges given by nations for this agreement will not keep us below 1.5 degrees. That’s why the process for ratcheting up commitments over time is so important.

2. It doesn’t do enough to support and protect the world’s poorest.

Finance has been one of the toughest issues facing negotiators in Paris and some advances were made with the provision of a minimum of $100 billion per year by developed countries to developing countries. The purpose is to support the poorest countries to cope with climate change impacts and to implement strategies to reduce emissions and move to renewable energy. It also encourages a scaling up of resources from developed countries over the next few years. However, many developing countries, particularly those most vulnerable to climate change, have pointed out that the financial commitments from developed countries (who have done the most polluting) are not sufficient to help developed countries both adapt to the harsh impacts of climate change, and to invest in clean energy technologies.

The gavel has gone down and the Agreement is adopted. Now the hard work starts in implementing it! It is not perfect and there is such a long way to go, but the agreement is strong and will be an absolute game changer.

We’ve been briefing media and doing interviews since the early morning when Tim did BBC radio until just now when I did a live cross to Sunrise. We will do some breakfast interviews, then have champagne and sleep for a week! But before I sign off for now, a big thank you to Climate Council Founding Friends and donors who have made all our work here possible.


Amanda McKenzie
Climate Council CEO