Paris Climate Change Conference Successfully Concluded

Global climate agreement adopted – now actions must follow

 Berlin, 12 December 2015. In the WBGU's view, the Paris Agreement marks the successful conclusion of an historic climate-protection treaty after a tug-of-war that has lasted several years. All countries are setting themselves targets for changing the direction of their economies toward climate-friendly development. The procrastinators on climate protection were overcome not least by an alliance of ambitious states that was forged in Paris by the EU, the USA, Brazil, the Small Island States and many developing countries. Although the treaty will not come into force until 2020, it can already have a considerable impact today. The Agreement enshrines in international law the target of limiting global warming to well below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels and endeavours to limit it to 1.5°C. It states that a change of direction toward a climate-friendly global economy must be initiated immediately in order to reduce emissions to zero in the second half of the century. The Agreement is the first internationally binding treaty on climate change since the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, which had focused on cutting emissions in the industrialized countries, and places climate change mitigation onto a new, comprehensive basis, since it incorporates all countries. The Agreement documents the international community commitment to a global transformation towards a climate-friendly economy; but it also contains comprehensive stipulations on adapting to climate change, dealing with losses and damage caused by the consequences of global warming, and financial commitments and other offers of support by the rich countries. Although the most ambitious climate activists did not reach all their objectives, Paris has thus become a summit of sustainability. 


Long-term goal: initiate the decarbonization of the global economy 


The Agreement also succeeded in enshrining the long-term goal of reducing global emissions to zero in the course of this century, although the wording used in the Agreement still leaves room for interpretation. The WBGU points out that, in order to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2°C, global CO2 emissions should already fall to zero by about 2070. This goal, the "decarbonization of the global economy", has already been recognized by the G7 countries and should become the centrepiece of every country's mitigation strategy. This means the beginning of the end for coal, oil and gas. 


Mitigation commitments by countries are still inadequate


In the run-up to the conference, the countries had already announced the national targets and measures they intended to pursue as from 2020. However, as the negotiating partners themselves admit, these are not ambitious enough overall to achieve the goals stated in the Agreement. The current mitigation commitments (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, INDCs) made by the countries to date would only be enough to limit global warming to about 3°C. They must therefore be further tightened up as a matter of urgency. The EU should set an example here by increasing its reduction target from currently 30% to 40% by 2020. 

The WBGU welcomes the fact that the climate change mitigation contributions are now to be reviewed, and new targets submitted, every five years. However, this stipulation does not guarantee that these contributions will be implemented. 

The WBGU's co-chair Hans Joachim Schellnhuber comments: "If agreed and implemented, this means bringing down greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero within a few decades. It is in line with the scientific evidence we presented of what would have to be done to limit climate risks such as weather extremes and sea-level rise. To stabilize our climate, CO2 emissions have to peak well before 2030 and should be eliminated as soon as possible after 2050. Technologies such as bio-energy and carbon capture and storage as well as afforestation can play a role to compensate for residual emissions, but cutting CO2 is key. Governments can indeed write history today, so future generations will remember the Paris summit for centuries to come."

2015: year of the trend reversal toward sustainability


If the states toughen up their mitigation targets in line with the Paris Agreement's 2°C target, then, looking back, 2015 could become the year of the trend reversal towards sustainability. This year, the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations were adopted and consolidated in the 2030 Agenda; the encyclical Laudatio Si was published in which the Pope espouses fair economic practices and the protection of the earth system; and investment in renewable energy exceeded investment in fossil fuels for the first time. At the same time, the divestment movement gained momentum in 2015. In addition to the Norwegian pension fund and many other large- and small-scale investors, the Allianz Group and numerous companies – such as the Ceres' Investor Network on Climate Risk, which represents 381 investors with assets worth U.S. $25 billion – also announced their withdrawal from the fossil energy business. 


Dirk Messner, co-chair of the WBGU, emphasizes: "The new alliance of ambitious states is a great opportunity. There is nothing to stop them from moving forward faster than agreed in the Paris Agreement. The EU and Germany should give particular support to developing countries and emerging economies, cities and civil-society networks that want to speed up ambitious climate change mitigation. This could set in motion a positive spiral for decarbonization."


The next steps


In Paris the industrialized countries have committed themselves to an increasing mobilization of financial resources to promote climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation in developing countries. Other countries are invited to make voluntary contributions. Pledges amounting to U.S. $100 billion per annum are mentioned in the decisions made in Paris. Now the industrialized countries must swiftly implement their pledges. It will also be crucial for the effectiveness of the Agreement that the states flesh out the Agreement in additional implementation agreements. The roadmap for the review of the national mitigation commitments should be formulated more precisely. Questions also remain relating to the agreements on the so-called market mechanisms, in which measures within one country are attributed to the reduction efforts of another. It is important in this context to learn from the problems of the Clean Development Mechanism and other flexible mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol.

The challenge now is to breathe life into the obligations arising out of the Paris Agreement and to translate this into decarbonization roadmaps in all the states. This is the challenge of the hour for individual states, alliances, cities and urban partnerships. At the same time it should be ensured that the financial pledges made in Paris are honoured and technology transfers are undertaken. This will guarantee that global agreements are implemented at the national and local level.


The WBGU: serving global change politics


The German Federal Government set up the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) as an independent, scientific advisory body in 1992 in the run-up to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio Earth Summit). The WBGU's task is to analyse global environmental and development problems and to develop recommendations for action and research in the quest for solutions to these problems. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber and Dirk Messner are the two co-chairs of the WBGU. 


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