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COP21 in Paris- An Historic Agreement

Dec 14, 2015

On Saturday the 12th December, a deal to attempt to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2C was agreed at the COP21 climate change summit in Paris after two weeks of intense negotiations. The deal unites all the world's nations in a single agreement on tackling climate change for the first time in history.

The fact that a consensus was reached among nearly 200 countries on the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions is regarded by many observers as "historic". Particularly when compared with the disastrous Copenhagen talks in 2009 and before that the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 which set emission cutting targets for only a handful of developed countries, however the US pulled out and others failed to comply.

The goal of preventing what scientists regard as dangerous and irreversible levels of climate change - judged to be reached at around 2C of warming above pre-industrial times - is central to the agreement. The world is already nearly halfway there at almost 1C and during the negotiations many countries argued for a tougher target of 1.5C - including leaders of low-lying countries that face unsustainable sea levels rises in a warming world.
The Paris agreement identifies the following targets as part of the deal:

  • To keep global temperatures "well below" 2.0C (3.6F) and "endeavour to limit" them even more, to 1.5C
  • To limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100
  • To peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and achieve a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century
  • To review each country's contribution to cutting emissions every five years so they scale up to the challenge
  • For rich countries to help poorer nations by providing "climate finance" ($100billion a year by 2020) to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy.

Speaking in the aftermath of the talks, John Danilovich, Secretary General of our partners the International Chamber of Commerce and one of the major voices of business at the climate talks, said, “This is a truly historic moment in our shared efforts to meet the climate challenge. Business has consistently called for a robust and ambitious deal at COP21 and governments have delivered just that.”

From the Irish perspective, Ireland was one of the few EU countries which went into the negotiations with its own climate change legislation. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill will become law in the New Year where it provides for a carbon neutral situation by mid-century and also commits to match Ireland’s targets with those of the EU. An expert advisory council, similar to the Fiscal Advisory Council, has also been established under the legislation and will advise Government Departments and agencies on the actions required to significantly decarbonise the Irish economy by 2050.

That being said, the Paris agreement will have a significant impact on the policy decisions Ireland will make in the years and decades to come as we move to a more decarbonised economy. Many issues will need to be addressed, from how we generate our electricity and how we store it, to how we build our infrastructure and operate our transport system. Business will also need to play its part by working with Government to support innovation and investment as we transition into a low-carbon economy.

For more information on the work of the International Chamber of Commerce on energy and the climate negotiations, please see their website here.

To read a copy of the full agreement, visit the UNFCCC website here.

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