COP21 climate deal praised for scope and ambition

In what many are hailing as an “historic” agreement, 196 countries finally reached a deal at the COP21 climate talks in Paris over the weekend.

Key points include the aim to keep temperatures “well below” the 2°C widely accepted as a threshold for dangerous warming, with an “endeavour to limit” change to a much more ambitious target of 1.5°C. Plans to reach zero net carbon emissions at some point in the second half of this century have also been agreed, and countries have signed up to review their individual targets and pathways every five years.

(Credit: Deror avi via Wikimedia Commons)
(Credit: Deror avi via Wikimedia Commons)

The deal has been praised for its scope and ambition, but with global temperatures already 1°C higher than pre-industrial levels, significant innovation and investment must now follow if these targets are to be reached.

“Over the past fortnight we have already seen governments and the private sector commit to hugely increase levels of investment into the innovation and deployment of low carbon energy technologies,” said Michael Rea, COO of the Carbon Trust.

“But we need to make sure that the money and resources put into addressing a global problem are used prudently and effectively. This will require a clear understanding of innovation needs and good quality programme management, as well as an understanding of how to balance market forces and competition with international collaboration.”

Claire Jakobsson, head of climate policy at manufacturers’ organisation EEF, called for measures that will allow the UK to remain competitive in light of the agreement.

“Although the world’s economies have successfully agreed targets and actions, these alone are not enough to prevent serious competitiveness impacts on the UK’s manufacturing, particularly for energy intensive trade exposed industries such as steel,” she said.

“Until such a time when comparable actions are being taken, we must continue to have strong measures in place to ensure that investment, jobs and emissions are not simply off-shored to the detriment of both the UK economy and the global environment.”

But with developing nations such as China and India now finally signed up to a global agreement, others claimed this would ultimately be positive for the UK.

“Most importantly we now all move forward together, and the UK no longer needs to fear being out on its own as it decarbonises its economy,” said Matthew Spencer, director of the Green Alliance.

While reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, it has also been widely noted that current pledges are not enough to limit warming to 2°C, never mind the more speculative goal of 1.5°C.

“It is remarkable that a text of this ambition has been agreed by all Parties, given the much less ambitious options still on the table just three days ago,” said Ajay Gambhir, senior research fellow at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London.

“However, the gap between the agreement’s goal to limit warming to well below 2 degrees C and the current combined level of countries’ emissions pledges – which are not nearly enough to achieve this goal –  means there is considerable work to do over the coming years.”