After two weeks of negotiations COP21 concluded with ministers and representatives of 195 nations worldwide agreeing to a 31-page text on addressing climate change, known as the Paris Agreement. Cheers erupted in the plenary hall as Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Affair and International Development Minster and COP21 President, brought down his gavel to signal that the deal had been struck. So what does the deal entail?

Temperature rise

The text says that all parties will uphold the goals of the convention on climate change by not just aiming to hold the increase in global temperatures to ‘well below 2°C’, but to also pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5° above pre-industrial levels. The inclusion of 1.5°C, a figure that came into the text midway through negotiations, come as a surprise to many observers who were not expecting it to be mentioned at all. Some vulnerable nations were still not happy with this aspect of the document, long arguing that 1.5°C should be the absolute upper limit of temperature rise.

Increasing ambition

As we reported in December’s Energy World, collective country pledges in the form of Nationally Determined Contribution (NDCs) fall short of limiting temperature rises to 2°C. As predicted, the Paris agreement text recognises that these pledges have to be strengthened in order to reach the lower-than-2°C aim. Pre-COP21 there was talk of revisiting NDCs on a five-year basis and this is reflected in the Paris Agreement. Countries are to first meet in 2018 to take stock of cumulative efforts, then again for the first post-2020 ‘global stocktake’ in 2023. This process is to be repeated on a five-year basis, with parties invited to update and enhance their contributions.
The document does not give any concrete details on the methodologies for reporting on NDC progress, but it does bind parties to report regularly on their emissions levels and mitigation actions.


One of the key factors for getting vulnerable nations on board with the agreement was the adequate provision of finance from the developed to the developing world to help adapt to the effects of climate changes and invest in low carbon energy. Developed countries wanted to widen the definition of a donor to any country that was in a position to do so.

The Paris Agreement make a compromise – there is a legal requirement for developed countries to provide finance and other countries are encouraged to do so voluntarily. Countries are to decide on a new goal on the level on finance in 2025 from a floor of $100bn per year in 2020.

Long-term emissions

The agreement aims to peak global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and to ‘achieve a balance’ between emissions and sinks post-2050. This is interpreted to mean that in the second half of the century the world should be achieving ‘net-zero’ emissions – meaning such technologies as carbon capture and storage will likely have a role to play, potentially taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Emissions trading is allowed in the text; however nothing is included about emissions from shipping and aviation. Reaction to the deal was a predictable mix of relief and enthusiasm that – after 21 years of meetings, a truly global deal on climate, including not just developed but developing nation has finally been reached – along with reservations about the level of ambition in the text and whether in contains enough substance to achieve its aims.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: ‘ We have entered a new era of global cooperation on one of the most complex issues ever to confront humanity. For the first time, every country in the world has pledged to curb emissions, strengthen resilience and join in common cause to take common climate action. This is a resounding success for multilateralism.’
Despite any reservations, it is certain that 12 December 2015 will be remembered as a historic day for the climate and the world coming together to agree on its future. Now the real work needs to start, and reaching the aims outlined in the Paris Agreement will mean huge changes for the energy sector and further afield.


Source: Energy World News January 2016

Photo credit: Carbon Brief