The Paris Climate Agreement offers hope; now let’s get to work

December 15, 2015

A historic climate agreement was adopted in Paris on 12 December 2015. Historic because all 195 nations participated and indicated the steps they will take to drastically reduce CO2 emissions. Historic also because the agreement includes a commitment to keep the rise in global temperatures “well below” 2 Celsius, while striving to limit them even more, to 1.5 degrees. Hivos is therefore hopeful. This climate agreement is especially crucial for people in low and middle-income countries, who suffer most from the consequences of climate change and are least able to take adequate measures.

Now that all the solemn words have been pronounced, we must put that positive energy into action. As we have seen in the past, inaction is often the main problem, and in order to remain well below an increase of 2 degrees Celsius, action is needed now. Rich countries in particular must act decisively to reduce their own emissions and leave fossil fuels where they are: in the ground. In the Netherlands for example, that means no more coal. At the same time, the agreement asks for a firm commitment towards low-income countries to enable them to adapt to the impacts of climate change (“adaptation”) and focus on climate-neutral development, including the use of renewable energy. The means providing financial resources and sharing knowledge and expertise.

However, the agreement is not convincing on these points. The national climate plans that countries submitted prior to the summit still wander dangerously close to a temperature rise of 3 degrees Celsius. So there still remains an enormous gap to bridge, and this requires a solid pricing of carbon and an immediate end to subsidies for fossil fuels.

Financial support for developing countries is laid down in the agreement as a formalisation of what had been agreed in Copenhagen in 2009: developed nations will provide $100 billion in climate finance annually to developing countries by 2020 to help them combat climate change and foster greener economies. However, experience shows that industrialised nations use their development budget for climate funding, while at the same time allowing their own companies to implement climate adaptation projects. This is how they “soften” the financial consequences of the commitments they have made. As a result, poor countries often bear the costs of climate adaptation and climate-related disasters such as floods and droughts while they could be using their resources to get a head start at re-shaping their growing economies in a sustainable manner. Therefore, there is still much to be gained in terms of ??climate-neutral, innovative solutions that likewise offer clear opportunities for business investments.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as the English say. The coming years will be critical for putting this agreement, which represents a real turnaround for the entire world, actually into practice. The commitment nations made to evaluate their climate plans and emissions targets every five years, and adjust them if necessary to meet the long-term temperature goal, represents in Hivos’ opinion a big stick to keep the agreement on track.