COP21: a universal agreement and a first for the ocean | Tara, a schooner for the planet

COP21: a universal agreement and a first for the ocean

© FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP

After years of work and negotiations, the Paris climate agreement was signed on Saturday December 12, marking a historic moment for the planet.

The text, presented with emotion by President of the COP21 Laurent Fabius, is the first binding universal agreement on the climate accepted by all member countries of the UN. This agreement, which will  become effective in 2020, lays the foundation for a gradual transition to a green and non-carbon economy by 2050.

The agreement anticipates that countries implement the means to “contain the rise in average global temperature well below 2°C” and “continue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C”. For islands and the most vulnerable countries, limiting the temperature rise to 1.5°C is a victory. This means the phasing out of investments in fossil fuels by 2030, leading to the end of carbon energy scheduled for 2050.

Although specific actions remain to be defined by each country to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, the text of the agreement is without doubt a good compromise between countries. This differentiated approach recognizes the specificities of the most vulnerable countries and the larger responsibility of developed countries for global warming. For developing countries grouped in the G77, the recognition of differentiated responsibilities is an important victory, notably wrestled from the United States who have always advocated the same commitments as valid for all.

In contrast to previous negotiations where the funding for adaptation to climate change was not consensual, the Green Fund will serve as the financial tool and be provided with 100 billion USD per year beginning in 2020. This long-term planning must be saluted, and is among the pillars in the fight against climate change.

The efforts and implementations of the countries will be subject to verification. Sanctions will be political before becoming economic: every 5 years, each country will be required to publish their national action plan to fight against global warming. In case of non-compliance, the Geneva Convention may apply and may lead to a trial at the national level, according to the legal framework of each country. This aspect signals a new climate justice based on international law.

Finally, for the first time, the mention of the ocean as an ecosystem vital for the climate is a symbolic victory for all advocates passionate about the sea – for Tara Expeditions and the Ocean Climate Platform – organizations that have worked for two years creating the momentum required for this recognition.

Appearing in the preamble of the final text (“noting that it is important to ensure the integrity of all ecosystems, including oceans…”) which is not however a binding part of the agreement, this reference is sign of a global awareness of the oceans’ major role in climate change (as a carbon pump, heat storage, etc.). This awareness is also reflected at the level of heads of state and national delegations with the signing of the declaration ‘Because The Ocean’.

22 countries pledged on the sidelines of the Paris Agreement to support decisions for a  greater consideration of the ocean.

Beyond the Paris agreement, the extensive mobilization of political leaders and civil society activists around the Paris Conference will perhaps remain in history as the moment our societies officially decided to opt-out of fossil fuels.

For two weeks, with the presence of more than 150 heads of state in Paris for the launch of the COP, the mobilization of citizens, the commitments made by financial and economic stakeholders to stop investment in fossil fuels, and the commitment of more than 100 major cities to target100% renewable energies by 2050 are all signs of a real turning point for years to come.

Six years after the failure of Copenhagen, today signals the defeat of climate-skepticism, the end of the deniers of climate change, a setback for the ultra-liberals who seek development and profit at all costs at the expense of nature and climate. The COP21 acts at the institutional level, the end of an era when development was built around oil and fossil fuels. Welcome to the twenty-first century!

What must be remembered

• The Agreement is a historic compromise: countries undertake to limit warming to 2°C, and even 1.5°C.

• The decline of financial investments in oil is expected from now to 2030, with a goal of  “zero carbon” by 2050.

• The efforts of countries may be modified only in a positive direction.

• Countries must review and publicly declare their plan of action every 5 years.

• Funding for adaptation to climate change will be provided in the long term.

• Developing countries have obtained differentiated regimes.

• The Paris Agreement is universal, ambitious, and must now be translated into action.

• For the first time, the Ocean is a part of a climate agreement which acknowledges its integral role in the climate balance.

 

But

• Specific measures are yet to be defined to achieve the stated goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C / 2°C.

• This agreement is based on voluntary commitments by the signatory countries. The binding aspect is linked to controls through international legal entities (eg, the Geneva Convention). Economic sanctions are not defined.

• Signatory countries committed to providing 100 billion USD to the Green Fund, but implementation remains to be clearly defined.

• The mechanisms for revisions, if any are necessary, will be determined too far in the future (around 2023-25).

 

André Abreu, Head of Environment and Climate – Tara Expeditions