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My Blog on the Paris Agreement

What Makes the Paris Agreement, Historical?

 by Srinivas Krishnaswamy, Chief Executive Officer, Vasudha Foundation

 For many of us, who have been following the Global Climate Negotiations, tend to think that the Paris Agreement is indeed a historical movement for the climate negotiations.  This perception largely stems from the fact that the agreement has a broad consensus from all countries, globally on various elements of the agreement that can put the world on definitely  a “Under 2 deg C temperature rise pathway, but also a step forward in striving towards keeping temperature rise to 1.5 deg C, above pre-industrial levels.

To unpack this further, lets look at the various elements of the agreement that gives us the perception that it is indeed historic!

Firstly, for the very first time, countries have unanimously agreed that while holding temperature rise to under 2 deg C, countries to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.  Keeping temperature rise to 1.5 Deg C has been a long standing demand from a number of vulnerable countries for some time now and the Paris agreement has finally seen this fructify.

Further, for the very first time in the climate negotiations and in the light of the above, countries have agreed to a quantitative long term goal of aiming to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.

In the light of the above and again for the first time in the history of climate negotiations, countries have agreed to put in place a mechanism that will ensure a sustainable and regular process that will not only monitor but also ensure increased action by all countries, in order to realize the stated long term temperature rise goal. This will in the form of a global stocktake of implementation and collective progress every five years and importantly submission of updated nationally determined contributions from each country every five years, which would be informed by the results of the “Global Stocktake”.  The first global stocktake will happen in 2018, where parties will reconvene to take stock of their collective efforts.  This convening will be a facilitative dialogue.  Based on these facilitative dialogues, countries will either submit new Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) for the period of 2025/2030 or will update their INDCS as required.

Yet another highlight of the agreement, related to emission reduction ambition is  the requirement of all countries to communicate to the UNFCCC secretariat by 2020, a mid-century/long term low greenhouse gas development strategies.

While mitigation ambition is indeed a very important component of any agreement to address climate change, finance and technology to enable countries to embark on a low carbon trajectories and adaptation requirements of developing countries are equally important and critical for a success of any arrangements to address climate change.

The Paris agreement has ensured that while determining what the Global Stocktake will assess in terms of mitigation requirements of countries every five years, there is also a process for increasing adaptation action and the provision of climate finance to meet the adaptation and mitigation requirements of countries.  The agreement provides for country parties to communicate their adaptation priorities, needs and efforts in a  periodically updated cycle and further are required to communicate climate financing they have either provided or receive every two years and importantly to indicate the levels of support they expect to provide or receive in future, in line with their plans.

While, many would argue that the financing section of the agreement is weak, the decision text, does have language that reiterates the fact that developed countries will have to provide USD 100 Billion, every year up to 2025, starting from 2020 for developing countries to meet their adaptation and mitigation requirements.  It further, stipulates that the USD 100 billion will be the floor and efforts will be made to enhance this requirement.  Hopefully, the global stocktake will ensure that an honest assessment of the financial requirements of countries will be made available every five years, with countries, both developed and countries that have the capacity, contribute to the financing pool.

The success of any agreement hinges rather deeply on transparency and accountability of actions taken by countries not only on meeting their mitigation actions, but importantly on ensuring that adequate and appropriate finance and technology support is provided to developing countries to meet their adaptation and mitigation goals.   The Paris agreement has fairly strong clauses that could deliver a transparent accountability framework by ensuring universal and harmonized report and verification requirements, while maintaining the diversity of actions and capacities of developed and developing countries.  It also has legally binding rules and process that is applicable to all countries and makes all of them accountable.

Having said all of the above, there are weak links to the Paris agreement, particularly on the issue of Loss and Damage, where sections related to compensation has been eliminated.  However, given that the climate negotiations have been fairly tumultuous in nature, the fact that countries have agreed to some of the hitherto tricky issues, in itself, makes this agreement historic.

 The above views are my personal views.

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